Wednesday, August 17, 2011

More Later...

I love the story of Fermat's Last Theorem.

In 1637, he wrote a note in the margins of the book he was reading.  It said, "It is impossible to separate a cube into two cubes, or a fourth power into two fourth powers, or in general, any power higher than the second, into two like powers."

So far so good.  A math geek being geeky.  Whatever.

Now for the kicker.  The next line read, "I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain."

He never did get around to writing it out for all of us, even though he lived for almost another 30 years.

It was finally solved in 1994, and it took 100 pages to prove, using mathematical knowledge that wasn't available to Fermat at the time when he was thinking and procrastinating.

So either Fermat had a different method (which may or may not have worked, in the end) or else he was writing the 17th-century precursor to the self-aggrandizing Facebook status update.

He wasn't wasting time, he just had an idea too big to Tweet.

I do enjoy procrastinators and procrastination in general.  I tend to be considered a highly productive person, but I think it's largely because I spend most of my time doing the things I'm doing instead of doing the things I think I should be doing.

Basically, in order to avoid doing something, I'll go do something else.

As I told one friend, it is not uncommon for me to find myself vacuuming the drapes and suddenly wondering, "Why am I doing this?" only to remember, "Oh, that's right, I have papers to grade."

So now, when those moments occur, I'll think of Fermat.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."