Paul Halmos

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I read once that the true mark of a pro — at anything — is that he understands, loves, and is good at even the drudgery of his profession.

Paul Richard Halmos (Hungarian: Halmos Pál) (March 3, 1916October 2, 2006) was a Hungarian-born Jewish American mathematician who made fundamental advances in the areas of probability theory, statistics, operator theory, ergodic theory, functional analysis (in particular, Hilbert spaces), and mathematical logic.


I Want to be a Mathematician: An Automathography (1985)[edit]

ISBN 0-387-96470-3
  • I read once that the true mark of a pro — at anything — is that he understands, loves, and is good at even the drudgery of his profession.
  • The author discusses valueless measures in pointless spaces.
    • Proposal for a humorous first sentence to a review of a mathematical paper, rejected by editors.
  • 'André Weil suggested that there is a logarithmic law at work: first-rate people attract other first-rate people, but second-rate people tend to hire third-raters, and third-rate people hire fifth-raters. If a dean or a president is genuinely interested in building and maintaining a high-quality university (and some of them are), then he must not grant complete self-determination to a second-rate department; he must, instead, use his administrative powers to intervene and set things right. That's one of the proper functions of deans and presidents, and pity the poor university in which a large proportion of both the faculty and the administration are second-raters; it is doomed to diverge to minus infinity.
  • Mathematics is not a deductive science — that's a cliché. When you try to prove a theorem, you don't just list the hypotheses, and then start to reason. What you do is trial and error, experimentation, guesswork. You want to find out what the facts are, and what you do is in that respect similar to what a laboratory technician does. Possibly philosophers would look on us mathematicians the same way as we look on the technicians, if they dared.
  • Don't just read it; fight it! Ask your own question, look for your own examples, discover your own proofs. Is the hypothesis necessary? Is the converse true? What happens in the classical special case? What about the degenerate cases? Where does the proof use the hypothesis?
  • What does it take to be [a mathematician]? I think I know the answer: you have to be born right, you must continually strive to become perfect, you must love mathematics more than anything else, you must work at it hard and without stop, and you must never give up.
  • I like words more than numbers, and I always did.
  • It takes a long time to learn to live — by the time you learn your time is gone.
  • I was too near it then to see how shallow it all was...

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