Flavor: Discussing with a colleague.

1. What’s going on mathematically?

A live conversation with a colleague, about research. For example, with my PhD advisor, or someone at a conference.

2. What is the emotional and logistical context?

The context is pleasant. We’re sitting together, with paper and pen or at a chalk/whiteboard. I’m mildly prepped, with comments or questions. There might be coffee. There is always time, and patience.

3. What thoughts are there?

A dynamic back and forth, sharing and building, going beyond either individual. We express old ideas, new ideas, shared ideas. Sometimes there is a bit of translation involved (e.g. topologists say “finite” and “smash”; algebraists say “compact” and “tensor”), or effort in communication. But overall the thoughts themselves seem to move unhindered in our shared collective mind, via common mental imagery. There is a lot of mathematical “body language” – conceptual shorthand, written scribbles and diagrams, and physical gestures that convey so much.

4. What quality of awareness?

My awareness is always sharp, like lightning. I feel like I’m reading someone else’s mind, seeing inside their head. Often I’m simply absorbed in the moment, without self-reflection; there’s nothing else around, no time, no bodies. When I talk with my advisor at our weekly meetings, I have enough perspective to reflect on the experience while it’s happening, to witness the mind-meld from outside as well as inside.

5. What emotions?

These discussions are usually exhilarating; I’m on the edge of my seat. There’s a deep, deep pleasure in connecting and speaking the same esoteric language, especially with someone who is a stranger in so many other ways. The math is a strong bond, of a common research philosophy (of how to think about things), common research modes (of how to go about doing research), and common upbringing (of learned content). The precision of our language allows us to go very deep very quickly, in spite of other cultural differences.

6. What does it resolve to, after how much time?

There are usually some of the following: new answers, new questions, new directions, and/or new perspectives.

7. How frequent is this flavor?

Usually once a week, with my advisor. Possibly twice a day, at a conference. During my recent Solo Math Intensive, I only video-chatted once a month.

8. What are good/bad ways to change or follow it up?

It’s helpful to quickly review any notes from the discussion, to document the new ideas, add things to a To Do list, or hunt down new references. Getting frustrated, intimidated, or discouraged is very unproductive.


One Response to “Flavor: Discussing with a colleague.”

  1. Weekly Picks « Mathblogging.org — the Blog Says:

    […] ordinaire remembered John Michael Hammersley while Azimuth studied Fool’s Gold. Flavors and Seasons shared a reflection on discussions and Regularize started a series on the uncertainty principle for […]

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