What does a mathematician really do?

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If you think some parts of math are hard to understand, you should try understanding a mathematician. Here is a quick preview of what goes on in the average day in the life of someone who chose this field of work.

Mostly, I sit at my desk for some time. I stare at a blank piece of paper. When I get tired of that, I might stare out of the window, or at the wall if in a basement office. After some time – maybe half an hour – I can’t stand it anymore. Now I have several choices: distract a friend and colleague from work and drag them to get some coffee; take a stroll to get the circulation going; or write something on that piece of paper. What I write on that paper will usually be only a slight variation of whatever I wrote on a different piece the day before – a piece now safely filed away in the “circular file”, or else buried somewhere in my office, or at home. The hope is that sooner or later this slight variation will lead me to an insight.

Then, some day, out of nowhere, I may have an idea. This could work! It’s a very good feeling, an idea. Can be an extraordinary high, in fact. Better not to think about it again for a day to preserve the good feeling (I know from experience that the idea is likely to be wrong, or useless). After a suitable time of enjoying the feeling of my idea, I’ll go back and check it out. Does it even make sense? Care is needed – questions may appear easier than they are (especially when under the influence – even a little alcohol makes everything seem clear).

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