Massively collaborative mathematics

Keith Sawyer highlights an article from Nature. It describes how a complex mathematical theorem is solved by massive collaboration hosted on a blog. Here’s a key point that Keith identifies from the piece:

For the first time one can see on full display a complete account of how a serious mathematical result was discovered. It shows vividly how ideas grow change, improve and are discarded, and how advances in understanding may come not in a single giant leap, but through the aggregation and refinement of many smaller insights.

Keith’s own research emphasises that the notion of the lone genius and the sudden leap of insight are actually quite misleading representations of the creative process. A lot of the time, I see groups of people straining for insights or the big idea, and/or engaging in subtle power struggles to do with whose idea it is. Both of these are probably just blocks to the more natural emergence of new ideas.

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