The Torture of Mathematical Research

In a manner more befitting to Edgar Allan Poe, Mathematics is a cruel and unforgiving mistress.

Mathematics will often dangle in front of you some ideas, and you will work them out, to find a mistake. Then you will go back to the beginning, find new ideas that she had in store, work those out and proceed only to find a mistake much later. Then you go back to the beginning, and you find yet another minor idea that was missing, and now when everything works you continue. But then you find another gap, and you have to go back to the beginning and hope to find yet another idea. And don’t get me started on those ideas that you find not to work during all these searches.

And finally, when things work out, when you’re in your eighth or ninth iteration of going back to the beginning, you’re not sure anymore if everything is falling into place because you finally nailed the right definitions, or maybe you just missed something again.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Mathematics enjoyed The Seventh Seal, and Antonius Block’s existentialistic journey. And most of all, I’d say it enjoyed their last sitting with the chessboard in the woods. When Antonius Block learns that the hour has come for him and his friends, and he learns that Death is not here to give us the answer, and the questions must forever torment us.

Curse you, Mathematics! You are a harsh mistress!