Parallel processing

December 11, 2009 in Math

Via Spontaneous Symmetry, a fascinating story about parallel processing and the power of blogging:

Normally, when [a mathematician] seeks a proof, he locks himself in a room with a chalkboard for long periods of time. He may consult his peers at his university, he may read books, he may look through papers, but the majority of thinking takes place within one brain. It’s serial. Gowers had a better idea. Instead of retreating to a dark room, he posted a section on his blog asking for help with the proof. Anyone from around the world could contribute to the idea by posting a comment. He hoped, in this fashion, to link together the brains of people from all around the world. Gowers eventually received hundreds of comments and, over the course of a few weeks, using the ideas in these comments, he was able to piece together a simple proof.

Though SS aptly notes:

I’m afraid to ask how many inane “comments” the poor mathematician had to wade through between each substantive remark.

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