virus: Genius or Gibberish?

Reed Konsler (
Wed, 10 Feb 1999 09:53:17 -0500

>From the New York Times website:

February 9, 1999

Genius or Gibberish? The Strange World of the Math Crank


The letter, dated Christmas Day 1998 and addressed to a professor at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, began portentously: "Nowadays, we seek to comprehend our comprehensions and call that comprehensiveness knowledge in the mistaken belief that as a science it is immortal. Such omniscience diffuses like
Helium-3 into the penetralia mentis of omnipotent impotency within any God-head such that any caveat actor is saved. . . . "

My research advisor, being a Harvard professor, has received his own fair share of crank letters. Given that frontier chemistry is difficult to practice in your basement, there aren't nearly as many as in mathematics.

I thought this piece was critical reading becuase it reveals a number of the criteria that academics use in determining what correspondance is worthy of attention. Even the most erudite mathematicians judge letters based upon their presentation. Effective communication would appear to require a minimum of extraneous babble or grandious claims. Double space, and spend the money at Kinko's or whereever to make sure the presenation has a polished and professional feel. Spend a little more at the post-office to send your messages first class.

The point is made in the piece: the line between crank and eccentric genius is usually presentation and packaging.

But we knew that already, right?


  Reed Konsler