If you want to know what a successful life looks like, Cédric Villani seems to have it nailed. His autobiographical account of his journey to win the Field’s Medal (the most coveted prize in the world of Mathematics) is cool stuff.
This is what I learned from Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure by Cédric Villani:
- “You can’t expect to go forward if you’re not prepared to expose yourself to chance, risk and danger.” On academia, he says: “nothing is more precious than an unlit path…this gloomy tunnel is a like the one you pass through when you begin work on a new mathematical problem. Total obscurity. The first phase of a familiar cycle. After the darkness comes a faint, faint glimmer, if all goes well, you unravel the thread – and suddenly it’s broad daylight!”
- Feel free to steer life in random directions. The author talks about an area of applied mathematics called Marcov Chain Monte Carlo Methods, which are strategies for navigating a space which is too rich in possibilities. He says “you are often better off moving about at random rather than exploring it in a systematic way”, but best is “…a compromise between choosing the best possible path at every step and choosing each successive step at random. That way you are free from time to time to choose a path that, although it may not seem the best one at first, promises to lead to increasingly better options down the road.”
- And this gem: “Always fly economy class, the girls are statistically cuter!”
it’s here if you like: