Category Archives: math

What can one (such as myself) contribute to mathematics?

Here is a (part of) beautiful answer of Bill Thurston:

It’s not mathematics that you need to contribute to. It’s deeper than that: how might you contribute to humanity, and even deeper, to the well-being of the world, by pursuing mathematics? Such a question is not possible to answer in a purely intellectual way, because the effects of our actions go far beyond our understanding. We are deeply social and deeply instinctual animals, so much that our well-being depends on many things we do that are hard to explain in an intellectual way. That is why you do well to follow your heart and your passion. Bare reason is likely to lead you astray. None of us are smart and wise enough to figure it out intellectually.

The product of mathematics is clarity and understanding. Not theorems, by themselves. Is there, for example any real reason that even such famous results as Fermat’s Last Theorem, or the Poincaré conjecture, really matter? Their real importance is not in their specific statements, but their role in challenging our understanding, presenting challenges that led to mathematical developments that increased our understanding.

In short, mathematics only exists in a living community of mathematicians that spreads understanding and breaths life into ideas both old and new. The real satisfaction from mathematics is in learning from others and sharing with others. All of us have clear understanding of a few things and murky concepts of many more. There is no way to run out of ideas in need of clarification. The question of who is the first person to ever set foot on some square meter of land is really secondary. Revolutionary change does matter, but revolutions are few, and they are not self-sustaining – they depend very heavily on the community of mathematicians.

Indeed, this is the reason why I truly believe teaching mathematics is as important as studying mathematics for me.


My academic genealogy

Here is a list of my academical ancestors in a chronological order.
You can find your own ancestors at

  1. Friedrich Leibniz (Universität Leipzig, 1622)
  2. Jakob Thomasius (Magister der Philosophie Universität Leipzig, 1643)
  3. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (Dr. phil. Universität Leipzig, 1666)
  4. Nicolas Malebranche
  5. Jacob Bernoulli (Dr. hab. Sci. Universität Basel, 1684)
  6. Johann Bernoulli (Medicinae Dr. Universität Basel, 1690, 1694)
  7. Leonhard Euler (Ph.D. Universität Basel, 1726)
  8. Joseph Louis Lagrange (B.A. Università di Torino, 1754)
  9. Simeon Denis Poisson (Ph.D. École Polytechnique, 1800)
  10. Michel Chasles (Ph.D. École Polytechnique, 1814)
  11. H. A. Newton (B.A. Yale University, 1850)
  12. E. H. Moore (Ph.D. Yale University, 1885)
  13. Oswald Veblen (Ph.D. The University of Chicago, 1903)
  14. R. L. Moore (Ph.D. The University of Chicago, 1905)
  15. Raymond Louis Wilder (Ph.D. University of Texas at Austin, 1923)
  16. Frank Albert Raymond (Ph.D. University of Michigan, 1958)
  17. Ronnie Lee (Ph.D. University of Michigan, 1968)
  18. Young-Hoon Kiem (Ph.D. Yale University, 2000)
  19. Han-Bom Moon (Ph.D. Seoul National University, 2011)