The HLF Portraits: Simon Donaldson

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The HLF Portraits: Simon Donaldson
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The Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation presents the HLF Portraits: Simon Donaldson; Fields Medal, 1986 Recipients of the the Abel Prize, the ACM A.M. Turing Award, the ACM Prize in Computing, the Fields Medal and the Nevanlinna Prize in discussion with Marc Pachter, Director Emeritus National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, about their lives, their research, their careers and the circumstances that led to the awards. Video interviews produced for the Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation by the Berlin photographer Peter Badge. The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation or any other person or associated institution involved in the making and distribution of the video. Background: The Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation (HLFF) annually organizes the Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF), which is a networking event for mathematicians and computer scientists from all over the world. The HLFF was established and is funded by the German foundation the Klaus Tschira Stiftung (KTS), which promotes natural sciences, mathematics and computer science. The HLF is strongly supported by the award-granting institutions, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM: ACM A.M. Turing Award, ACM Prize in Computing), the International Mathematical Union (IMU: Fields Medal, Nevanlinna Prize), and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (DNVA: Abel Prize). The Scientific Partners of the HLFF are the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) and Heidelberg University.

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let's begin at the beginning were you
born into a scientific household yes I
think I was on both sides but my mother
was she she'd had a degree in Natural
Sciences in Cambridge but she didn't
pursue pursue in her generation we might
typically didn't obviously got married
didn't so she married a scientist my
father was a he was an engineer he was a
replace he sought his career in the Navy
but he left the Navy about the time he
got married and then he worked in the
the physiology lab in Cambridge so he
was here build our experiment that the
apparatus and thanks for explanations
for the Natural Sciences but but as an
engineer building there the equipment
they need in that sort of thing him not
I remember he was working with I think
well known people in the head like
hodgkin and huxley the the founders of
yes that area of understanding the
nervous system as far as I understand
sir because I'm at the moment interested
in the biography of your origin I am
wondering what your parents temperaments
were like equable I think is that the
right word well I really I suppose I'm
looking for influences so I'm I'm
wondering whether they are at least as
parents particularly interested in your
future those and you have siblings I
believe yes we have the full there are
four so are they are there books
everywhere are they pushing you are they
letting you be to develop your own
interests the first to third but not
really the second I never really pushed
us there were books
sent his handful supplies of books but
also of other they were definitely there
were verses develop our own interests
that was maybe them right what the
tenders to be I'm even more conspicuous
than books would be I've know various
shall I describe it projects my father
always had many projects he was doing in
the house things yes is that's exactly
the kind of thing people model
but even say he would mend things in the
house and in general he so a lot of
activity and yes interest in doing
difference it feels like the sort of
thing I might guess an engineer yeah
would would would be interested in so
you're you're the third of four all boys
all girls a mixture three boys on the
girls I'm three three boys my oh yes mr.
Silva yes that's right
and again you know expectations were not
severe and in other words were you in if
you were interested in whatever you were
interested in they would support it that
sort of thing got my thing means of
underlying expectations
all right valleys but they won't that
wasn't they weren't and the small-scale
never not particularly right wasn't
cinematic they were you were bent over
your desk and with them standing over
you saying
study hard it was generally expected
that somehow want to do that was there I
know you're gonna move as a family at
some point and that will be important to
to look at but right now in Cambridge as
a family is the schooling available to
you good is it in any direction is it
is it a public school is it a state
school that's very it was what's called
a a prep school yeah which is feeder
schools for private schools so so go up
to 13 that follows the academic
expectations yeah which was very good
I'm I think I'll learn but since most
things I know I learned I love really
let's see I it was it was sobering can I
find in your life a mentor yet at this I
suppose it's I think it's 12 you you
move is the family so up till 12 is
there is there somebody at school that
is taking an interest that's sending you
in any direction
no not specifically I was the most
interested in history at that time were
you so you know that's sensible of you
of the history school masters were keen
on me in it but up but channel there's
no specific no push no specific
directions said yet you know again it's
part of the adventure of the people I've
had the privilege of interviewing that
at a certain point somebody gets them or
sends them somewhere but I'm we haven't
reached that point yet in your life are
you seen as particularly clever it's an
odd question but or you're a good
student among good students that sort of
thing I think
maybe something between the two I was
lucky I think I was yeah cuz I used to
do well in but not I wasn't neither
neither did I do extraordinary well nor
was i extraordinary hard-working so I
didn't do I didn't do but those are the
elements yeah variants so I'm gonna get
you to another point where maybe there's
something well dramatic is too strong a
word but something significant happening
so the family moves why because my
father's got a different job when Ashley
was working with some of the same people
but rather than working that for the
four Cambridge University they set up a
research unit funded by the Medical
Research Council to develop some
particular through a what he was working
on at that time was a special vision
really so and they had some very they
had some success in doing that yeah that
it was maybe it was a bit before its
time I think I have a impression that
now that area has got much further but
huh maybe maybe some of the technology
wasn't quite quite there at that deal
yeah is what they're working on but also
other other that's less ambitious things
but basically where you you stimulate
the nervous system artificially yes yes
replace some damaged did he bring any of
those questions or interest home
oh yeah we're talking about he was
always talking about what what he was
struggling like that really so he shared
that with his children well that's where
did you move as
family we worked a Kent just near to
attack will Sevenoaks which is a
commuter town about 20 miles south of
London and that's where obviously you
enter a new school both geographically
in terms of age you're at what age
roughly at this point I was 12 12 10
it's a very important age for transition
so what was the school you went to
I've been physical yes a school called
seven like school that just never know
school yes slightly it was one of these
it slightly anomalous things that exist
in the purest of it was it a private
school yes but since there was no local
grammar schools therefore I am instead
of a high level the secondary school for
a state secondary school for more
academically strong people the the state
paid for people so half of the pupils
were actually supported by the states
they and half of them were private in a
social sense that I don't believe there
has been officials yes it was not it had
a broader social mix than ray my
thinking and a range of intellectual
interest or any sorts of specialties at
the school we were all headed in an
academic direction I understand that but
when it was known it was some it had a
reputation that has been quite
innovative there were lots of then
trendy theories in education that were
they took up that right and this is so
when we're in the early 60s mid sixties
rush was about 1970 a 70s right no so
I didn't I didn't completely like it to
begin with it took me it took me some
years to kinda settle into the school it
was just the natural business of an
adolescent in a new area or was it the
approach that you weren't enjoying that
they they seem to take bit of both
either grown up thinking that I had a
kind of a a path in this this the
schools in Cambridge that I was going to
fall then this was different than it
wasn't but but actually the disruption
was probably quite quite good for us it
was it suited you but you didn't think
so yet no I didn't for a time I was not
especially happy I having read about
your some somewhat about your life I
know that your hobbies and side
interests are gonna be perhaps as
important as the formal studies I know
you're quite interested in boats can you
tell me a little bit about that and
where that fits in to your growing
interests well that was very important
because that was really my passion
please come through this time so um so
that's really what we should be talking
about you and boats
well that was at this place right yes so
let's start that I so that part of my
life I was I wanted to grow from beer a
designer of yachts that was okay and I
was but I should go going back to the
school yes it was it was fortunate in
fact sailing was a big thing at this
good was in fact so you were compared
actually through the through the sailing
I I I'd be very happy in the school ah
you know okay I - oh God
but that's but no good - humble done
that but what are the elements either in
sailing or in the contemplation of a
career there
encouraging you in certain directions
what what did you know perhaps from your
engineer father that you had better
understand in order to perhaps one when
they wind up designing yachts yes that
was quite important because I was
alright so I would design these yachts
and the none of them are ever
constructed of course but I what I was
quite serious about it I'm out I had
books about the calculations you must do
all the things you must think of all
that time and you must have seen within
yourself the talent that might actually
lead to that kind of a career so it's
not just the the will to do this numbers
may be coming into it are you are you
beginning to feel quite quite
comfortable in the world of numbers well
I became intrigued by that was his part
part partly through this because I
wanted to learn about was more
mathematics involved in these things
tonight learnt at school so I loved some
some things that advance president and
yeah and my father Inka my father showed
me some mathematical techniques and I
was so as using describing curls by what
school Demi there's a superstition of
sine waves so yes it's a prism so so I
was I was intrigued by maybe it's rude
of me but I'm also interested in your
talent as well as your interest so are
are you finding yourself quick with
these things are you beginning to see
imaginative problems in the context of
ship design and so forth that are
drawing you in one way or the other it
doesn't have to be so I'm just curious
whether that was happening at the same
time when was it that was it was all
about this time know that I became more
interested in mathematics partly was
this line from the yacht designer partly
from well just I found it that maybe the
number of things what one I just found
it very interesting that he sort of
beautiful another it it fitted in with
what I was capable of doing in the sense
that most of my family would be doing
more projects that actually have you
felt you build something you know they
were they would make a boat or make an
aeroplane was yes exactly but I I some
have already got on very well with
actually making of physical things but I
could make things not physical things
but I could make make things existed
sort of in the realm of ideas so we're
meeting the young theorists we're
meeting the young theorists in a way yes
I or at least it was something there
were things that they were like projects
but they were not practical projects
like I like to purchase of the mind so I
found that likely congenial so the the
practical results was was not the beauty
you you were looking for yeah it was the
beauty itself of the the concept well
just it may be the beauty would not be
of that stage quite the right please it
was just entry I just wanted to I wanted
to learn calculus right when I heard
about it some years before would have
been covered in school I the other
reason I'm pressing and genuinely a out
of interest is because I find among the
mathematicians I've had the pleasure of
meeting and talking in the South within
this context that so often the word
beautiful comes up more elegant that was
that would definitely that's very
think about me I probably wasn't what
was like yeah front of my mind yes but
there's something else I should
mentioned yes please which maybe I
should have mentioned before when we
were talking even back at the days of
Cambridge yes my um my grandfather
please my mother's father yes who was uh
and he wasn't a master at all but he was
a retired schoolmaster yes but he was
but he was extraordinary keen on a nice
penny that's a he took a huge interest
in my development and so he would give
me many many books he was he would give
me of all kinds but in particular coming
to the stage we were talking about now
he would give me he would go down to the
bookshop in Cambridge and buy some
suitable maths books right center so he
was told some of them are still in these
really that was another another so the
mine I might have had some interest but
it might have stayed dormant it hasn't
been that there was a book that was yes
develop it so in a way when I was
looking at your mother or your father I
should have been looking at your
grandfather for that Hey well intellect
came a little he was the verb somehow he
took her he took a special interest
he took his speciality in you in all his
grandchildren but all his protector
enough it's not really said probably
particularly me
well now that you're in good school and
with academic intentions and a curiosity
that's going to actually serve you well
later on can I find a mentor among the
teachers in this school for you too
carry you forth or I suppose I'm really
wondering whether you're completely what
at least in America would call a
self-starter or whether you're having a
nurturing intellectual environment along
the way they will throw some play-doh
nice look Mattox teachers of the school
who - were who run yeah they did take a
special interest me but I wouldn't I
wouldn't quite say that they were as
they were they were maybe nurturing
would be the word well all right they
weren't the seed but right they were
right they were nurturing which is was
helpful for you as you progressed
there's there are formal structures in
education where at a certain point
somebody decides whether you go on to
university I suppose that was expected
in your case but you're going on but
where do you go and what are you likely
to specialize in so let's have that
conversation return to the conversation
in your last year's when decisions are
being made with you and for you and one
by you as to what would be next
how are you deciding where to go from
the time I was about 14 I I gave up the
idea of being a yacht designer and I
decided to be at a mathematic and you
would attend to yourself I'm going to be
a mathematician um like I said I I'm try
I going to write a bit but in the sense
that it was presented to me well the the
picture one had at least at that time
would be that was something like saying
I'm going to be a concert pianist or
something which but lots of people might
want to do it right but only if you were
called yes but I mean in reality it's
not quite like that but that was that
was how I thought about it at that time
right this was some very desirable thing
to try to do right
and I had a plan B was are gonna be an
accountant or something
yes something something like something
I'm probably not as demanding a form of
working with numbers that sort of thing
well some I mean that's I think an
accountant is just but some more
standard professional career though yeah
I understand but in order to at least
have this shot as they say of being a
mathematician we're gonna have to go to
a good department a good university is
that pretty much prescribed by faith
that it became bridge since that was so
important to your parents and you had
lived there yeah and we never really
considered because Cambridge well for
one thing it was most of my family went
to Cambridge from another yeah my so and
we've been so and also particularly a
mathematics it was it has this long
tradition has been the main Suzy in the
Oxbridge context okay be rather see also
building just as good but it wasn't it
was in the family didn't it didn't it
didn't know but also it doesn't have to
in the general reputation I thought it
was like fair enough there was those
that have decisions of them a the place
you was it necessary to apply in a
particular field or were you given some
time to roam at Cambridge before you
said well this is the the faculty I'll
are you already a confirmed aspirin in
mathematics so you are going to
Cambridge in order to read mathematics
oh yes it would have you hot that way
out the system Roberta nurse you have to
you have to designate the field but
there's also quite you know quite a big
element in that time is there's a kind
of a competitive tradition so the world
very the
there was scholarship starts filling
heritage at that time whichever they
were not worth very much so eventually
they were not very much but they're what
but you were a scholar and as I getting
the so the way of being celebrated as a
potential scholar and next on you I mean
I was not outside this small world
probably don't notice but I think in the
in the world a world in the world of
people at schools applying rancid
encounters this was like a big and did
you get a scholarship in the end yes but
I mean it was it was some white I'm
trying to make is that there was there's
an element in mathematics just a
competition I was saying yes yes being
that yes the smartest quickest person
yes I said which is not what of that
particular period this was this kind of
significant right and they're also in
Cambridge as well to some extent that
there's a sort of a competition to be
the top yes and did you notice that in
yourself did you notice that in yourself
that and I never was the die I was never
it was it was a competition that I was
would enter but I was never really the I
I was did recently in these kind of
competitive things but not times never
the shouting hello I actually read in
one of the accounts of you one of your
you know the world in time is going to
be very astonished by what you can't do
but in retrospect those who had known
you at Cambridge or maybe one or two who
had taught you said things like he
wasn't the top one he he wasn't the one
I would have had my eye on for this kind
of achievement so you were able you were
present you were certainly the
helping as a mathematician but you
weren't the one they were betting on so
this one I'm putting it in this way but
no not the conception was different but
you know people didn't know what you had
in you let's can we put it that way and
perhaps you didn't but you're doing well
I'm here you're doing well and at
Cambridge you're doing significantly
well sufficiently well in order to then
go to graduate work yeah
so let's put you at the cusp of that the
end of that
Cantabrigian period unless there's
something that happened in mathematics
in your study of mathematics that's
important to to note at this point
before before you're deciding about
graduate school was there a lot I
thought was their intent was there a
project ask ya again a mentor a way of
finding direction I became intrigued by
the the branch magnetic school geometry
which is yes maybe a bit distant from
what most people might think of us and
I'd like to I know is that Euclidean but
tell me so um what what in my geometry
to you at this point
that's quite hard to pin down um bear
that is it
it does involve working with ideas in a
visual way even if they're very abstract
ideas so actually that says a lot yeah
it's the core many things he will do in
the future so this overlap of the visual
yes worked with theoretically you're
beginning to feet I get a feel for at
this point so I can actually it was in
the Cambridge course of that time there
was nothing about geometry it was but
there was there was one small course and
there were various also through the
through the applied mathematics through
the courses in relativity of things
thank so I I am somewhere I just felt
this was also in fact the the fact that
it was not nearly taught somehow added
to the intrigue it was like there's a
secret no a secret subject also possibly
and again I'm making guesses about your
temperament how you're the expert in
that that that intrigues you but also
it's almost a challenge in the sense
that as I see it in the sense that it's
not really quite respected I mean it's
it's not considered important anymore or
maybe it's belongs to the past not to
the present in the future is that fair
to say in in the world around you that
you're as geometry has thought about and
so forth it's in the I know in the world
around me at that time in Cambridge yes
yes but it was just not a you probably
just not something people knew about
really having to logic right you but you
pursued it I mean yeah yeah
where I'm going with this because your
great achievement and continuous
achievement has been to not listen to
assumptions about whether something was
important or still had validity or could
be done yes it feels like a bit of the
secret of how you progress and so this
the notion that geometry was not
particularly with featured or favored
among among mathematicians then yeah
seems to have been important in your
development yeah it was yes
I mean I'm a great leader right in
temperament as I subsequently both as I
soon found out just down the road at
Oxford yeah there are lots of people who
did exactly that but where you were but
there were yeah
and in fact in Cambridge as I touched on
there were people around more on Stephen
Hawking who were doing in a sense the
same kind of thing but from a on a plot
yes applied directions so that and that
was maybe a part of it a part of all
this was that in Cambridge the
mathematics is divided into pure and
applied okay so
ice have decided I was going to be pure
but then a lot of a lot of a lot of the
activity was something I was not very
applied yes would have but there's this
was not true Boxford which you'll go to
very soon they did not make this a
severe a distinction between applied in
do you know it's all in its more unified
analysis and more traditional to get you
to Oxford what will it take will you
have to do an undergraduate thesis I
mean what what is again the the the
formal progress of your mathematical
training well i just i'm not applied to
do a a PhD yes as with the DPhil in
Oxford and
I done these exams in Cambridge and they
you did alright I didn't write here
there was something there was someone in
Cambridge who was very important to me
okay please I was cool but there were
several but personally because my mind
now is someone cool Adams Frank Adams
who and he was not he was a topologist
really so not really but he and me he I
somehow managed to impress him when he
wrote to I think he he was one of my
references roxrite which is that I think
I convinced him and wrote please here's
what he was he was a very kind he had a
sort of them
that's off up to one of my exams in
Cambridge Adams wrote to me saying I was
think one of the examiners and I want to
congratulate you on what you what you
wrote in these examples which is what
which is kind to me yes kind to do that
but important to think that in terms of
being a sponsor of yours your future in
a way so nothing was I didn't just
answer the questions
I kind of get the maximum marks in the
least time but I have my own way of
doing things your own medication I think
we're sensing that yeah that's what you
this there's in the context of your way
of doing things and one of the things
that I will of course talk about your
great insight and when it happens
your first great insight but that being
said I I notice in you something which
is one could call modern or postmodern
as one chooses which is the the the lack
of interest in the relationship of
various categories that are normally
kept apart I mean I I suppose we can say
particularly so here in the case of
physics and mathematics it's not that
they're kept apart but they're assumed
they have different natures and so forth
and you don't seem to be bite
temperament or inclination interested in
the Givens of category is that fair to
say I mean that well that's that and
that's the habit I got there as well
so that's a nice thing yeah and it's
it's clearly apparent already as a
Cambridge undergraduate it's this
tendency which has been picked up by by
your professor well you get it if I have
maybe please doing going to later time
that maybe and most of my work I stopped
tend to know I just know a little about
a number of things rather than being a
the great experts any particular things
I am bringing together different well as
a culture serious I think that that has
to have been very significant in a lot
of your achievement because it was
really the the 20th century the earlier
20th century that was captured by
specialization almost to the point of
losing the possibility of insights
because of those little prisons of
specialty yes and it would be exactly
your generation and I would argue your
temperament that took us to the next
stage because that neat categorization
hasn't been the basis for some of the
great insights that we're not working
with so it seems to me you have the
temperament and perhaps even the moment
in time where people are going to begin
to listen to another way of thinking
you're at Oxford again if I press too
much on this it's the cultural historian
in me but the the spirit of Oxford's
mathematical culture when you get there
we've already gotten a sense that it's
not split very neatly into the
theoretical and the applied but I think
you you've praised the atmosphere you
enter there the the nature of Oxford
mathematical culture can you talk a
little bit about your discovery of it
and how it affected you
I think it was my punch and save someone
Oxford in itself that was because of
already to remotely a tear and Penrose
yeah both that and so it was some the
the culture had developed around the
activity and culture developed around
them that was not the only police so
it's great that it wasn't Austin but it
was yes ok it was there enough I will
give credit where credit is due but what
was that culture in a way well how did
that affect the way you were thinking as
a graduate student when it was part of
it as you mentioned about the kind of
historical month okay so one thing is
that they're both remarkable PS and also
I pick you a tear was a very charismatic
mm-hmm person who could have he would
have he would have been the top of any
area he wanted to go and use to the end
of us but but it was also there was a
kind of a wider movement in that time in
mathematics from partly in general as
you were saying with less division and
compartments but also specifically in
extending the connection with with
putting geometry and physics that was so
that was that was a much more general
thing going on about just a general
intellectual movement of everyone below
but in particular Oxford was kind of the
center for that mm-hmm
and just suited you yes based on the
kinds of interest yes I'm saying exactly
that you have the right thing would you
have said at that point that you were
the right word but I'm gonna use it
anyway competent in equally in physics
and some of its interests and directions
and what it could teach and mathematics
or were you sort of weak and one and the
other I mean you you you will work
together with them but I'm just
wondering where did the physics come
into it now I I i have been and i have
now quite very limited technical
knowledge of advanced physics i okay III
had a good background in classical
physics from but really good but I
actually have no or very little
technical knowledge of the on the front
line of yes there's a game but but it
was more than certain certain ideas and
questions arose in physics which could
then be understood about terraces so
it's the lack of technical knowledge of
physics was not a not a major oh yeah
and I do believe I landed bandage
although to be obviously at some level
but also you're also not bound yes so
you can take from it what your needs to
speak I remember someone telling me at
that time write something I don't don't
try to learn quantum field theory until
you have a tenured job haven't yeah well
this is a bit so yes that was very that
so it took a lot to really understand
things in a significant way what it was
right you know a large dispatch at
disadvantage which is wonderfully
ironical that being said I know it's
formally initially Hitchin who is
your your formal director yes yes I saw
it yes I went to weapons Angela yeah
right is that he who suggests a
direction for your dissertation and how
was that articulated to you as a problem
to be solved or that might that you
might take on oh he he he explained a
problem or a conjecture which had come
to sort of growing out of what this this
area of interaction I'm taking about
that work he'd done videos before with
with it yeah but but I don't think he
really meant me to work on the
conjecture in general he really loved me
what he suggested he was I check some
kind of construction for a special case
and I should assume haha he never really
said this is your project
okay but nevertheless that's what I I
started trying to solve this conjecture
my job that he presented to you is I
should say Nigel you know I didn't meet
a tear for the first year I'm so not
just that all this so much I was so
you're at work on this conjecture yes
I'm the thing there was that right so
the always geometers in also they didn't
do analysis and they didn't that's kind
of things getting a partial differential
equations and things Ray Arden
so that was exaggerated it was but they
so there was a kind of a gap there
intellectually in that there was a
particular blips with nonlinear partial
into question yes this is not something
look good I somehow part because I had a
lot of analysis in Cambridge so I was
partly because that's something I find
congenial aren't really nice in a word
but I sort of embarked on solving this
problem using techniques finatus right
partial differential equations the
person I'm so intrigued by the
scientists the mathematician is the
fellow who is proceeding down a path and
will eventually come up with an insight
that will astonish the profession I mean
you won't be so modest to deny that I
mean when in the end you produce your
insight that perhaps somebody so young
did it is the least of it what was
remarkable as it it ups didn't upset it
overturned fundamental assumptions yes
and maybe there's no way for you least
of all Lisa paper doin to answer how you
did that or why you did that or why you
didn't stop and this path and say well I
won't proceed there because doesn't make
sense or you know I could also write I
Ives I know quite clearly why but it's
nothing there's nothing very it wasn't
entirely accidental you could say but
oddly due to the I was I was struggling
to understand the pace of techniques
from partial differential equations yes
things like that which was not not
something I had any kind of but I had to
learn it for myself that I've been there
wasn't any more training than that so I
in general in trying to understand
something a way is to do a lot of
thought experiments you say if this is
true then what would be the cost of
coasters we'll see where it easy so I
was I so doing that I had this idea
about how these solutions this equation
could behave for then that gave me this
picture and then so that we there was
where you have a did this equation but
to give you a space for Abbott rising
all the solutions so I was looking at
the properties of this space right now
then sort of I just I just saw what in
Vincents not difficult to see from
on the side of topology yes you have
such a space there are basic things you
that has leads to basic consequences so
I put this two consequences together and
then it transpired that that would be
some new information about the manifolds
that girl we all studying the full
dimensional manifold ensue so it was it
was wrong I was not starting off
thinking they want to get deranged about
thought that was not I know I and I
didn't even knew that I didn't even know
that this information was new really oh
that's very I thought the one time I
thought that it would be some sort of
interesting new approach to some
well-known think about a formal affluent
self yes that I had a I had a colleague
who we shared I shared an office with
got Mike Hopkins who has now a very
distinguished topologist video he filled
me in on some crucial information don't
know they remember another I realized
that this information would be important
new information so basically again I'm
just saying in a certain way just to to
get a response but the truths revealed
themselves it's not that you set out and
said well now this is a direction and
that you knew the implications of that
journey you just proceeded yes but once
once the first so we go back to the
first thing as the point was that there
were it depended upon having these
interests both in interest and knowledge
both of the the partial vision equations
but also of the depalo that around you
which i i i happen to have through my
eventually maybe the the cambridge
background is
good there because although we hadn't
learned this drama tree in a formal way
we had long leaves anything so with
those two things anyone could sense see
that you've got information from this
space but probably in reality not many
people there were not many people who
would have and that combination of exact
background you know the once once some
once I had this basic observation that
it was clear that one should go full
steam ahead to develop into a much
bigger a much bigger theory of how these
these spaces could give information
about four-dimensional uh no thoughts
was there we don't have much more time
but we're we're on the central point and
goal of this interview which is exactly
that process of inquiry is there a
Eureka moment in at that time in the
creation of the thesis and some sense of
what you had begun to see and how it
might have a significant effect in
mathematical inquiry or do not know
there wasn't quite a single moment as I
said because Eureka moment will be when
I thought oh I found her I found him I
found a beautiful formula about
something yes but maybe it's I don't
quite know what it's good for I mean
maybe it's something that's already
known oh yes I know but you know
something new here I know it's something
I know it's something beautiful for me
laughs yes yes but but then it took
maybe a month or so to find out what it
was good for potentially because yes at
this stage this was all but a thought
experiment saying if this was true then
this happens but so I know there's a lot
of hard work in
fitting in all the approves the details
yes it's the hard work of inquiry a
formal inquiry yes was there and sort of
end with this salute so you presented it
to clearly the all along you've probably
been having chats with Hitchin and Atia
as you proceed and are they manifesting
excitement yes well let's see so I've
been from my first year announced what I
was working with hitch aging but then he
suggested I moved to Atia he suggested I
say that well between them they
suggested so yeah so I thought then it
was about I think was about a month
after I'd started seeing up typically
the Tice came along and said look we've
got this it's forward right and then
yeah he wasn't he was excited yes it's
quite important actually when somebody
respect says my god you're you're a very
interesting going in a very interesting
direction yes because we don't have the
time I wish we had I do want to ask what
seems to me implicit in the rest of your
career which is up to now which has been
quite rich and respected and you good
positions and good faculties and so
forth is it fair to say at this point
and you're still a young scholar and
what would you will what you will
achieve that you're still working within
the framework of that insight that
happened in in in the course of that
significant dissertation and or the
paper that you'd then wrote
it'll be reasonable to say if it's very
broadly interpreted in there in the
following way that even I'm still
working in somewhere in between these
partial differential equations
approaches and more topological ideas
and geometry and all these different
things so although the precise things in
that mix as I've worked on have evolved
over the years company so that's one way
it's supposed to say another is that now
so from that time in 1980 and early
1980s we suddenly discovered a lot more
about these four dimensional manifolds
well for the roughly four ten years
after that there was a commotion of
knowledge but then that reached has
reached apparently line I'm not
exhausted then the pace of discovery
slowed up so not it hasn't been much
radically new and so so I still and then
of fundamental questions that we don't
we just they seem pretty excessive you
have no real way of attacking so I would
still really like to be attacking these
questions I still think about them that
again because because they're not really
accessible I've sort of gone off to work
around that work on other things around
them but somehow they're still the
center of my interest in something if I
if you said what what do I really want
to understand it would be these years
questions about four of interests and
one of those and not not does the answer
the questions but also why there are
these connections with equations coming
from physics and things like that
what is and you're certainly not alone
now in that in that universe of inquiry
oh no no no this whole area of the brain
this whole area has and I very the
broader sense of the interaction of
doing these different fields has thrived
and I'm the younger for younger people
so they they have to get much broader
there are younger people who have the
deep understanding of yet and field
theory and things combined with they may
not even that cool techniques realize
now how revolutionary concept it was now
that it is part of the discourse
probably it's fair to say there's a
little time just yeah well I'd like to
have to be the last words thank you very


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