The Unapologetic Mathematician

Mathematics for the interested outsider

History of Knot Theory

A friend of mine said offline that he’s looking forward to hearing more knot theory here. I’m looking forward to it too, especially as I get more of the algebraic basics down. I have a few posts I’m waiting until I get the chance to crank out some pictures, probably over spring break the next two weeks.

So I was excited to see today thar Jozef Przytycki has posted a chapter of his book on knots dealing with the history of the subject. It’s up on the arXiv.

Jozef was the first speaker I ever saw at an AMS meeting. The summer between my senior year of high school and my first year at the University of Maryland, they held a regional meeting in College Park. Since I’d already started getting into knot theory (more about that later), I sat in on the special session on knots, 3-manifolds, and their invariants. I was, to put it mildly, terrified. I understood nothing beyond the most basic terms.

I ran into a bunch of undergraduate students at the Joint Meetings back in January, and I remembered how it felt that first time. I’m sure it was small comfort, but I pointed out that just by being there, immersing themselves in the language, they were getting that step or two ahead of the game. After hearing the words flying around they’d wake up one day and just know something without really knowing where it came from. It’s like learning your native language: you don’t sit reading grammars, you’re immersed in it. You hear it all around and it just sinks in. Generally there’s also a lot of crying and messing yourself involved somewhere along the way, but you get past it and the language just feels natural.

One young student I remember in particular: an undergrad from Bard College named Tomasz Przytycki. Good luck, and remember to wipe.

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March 6, 2007 - Posted by | Knot theory

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