Sandeep's Blog

February 16, 2010

Longing for Perfection… A losing strategy??

Filed under: General thoughts — Sandeep Thilakan @ 9:01 pm

               No I am not referring to the perfectionists or the near perfectionists in the real world. They do almost everytime end up on the winning side. The best examples that spring up are Roger Federer and Sachin Tendulkar who seem to be defying all human records. Rather it’s the thought that  invaded me when I went for my daily evening tea at the staff canteen. So, after 21 years and 48 hours, I am into blogging!!!

                Then what to publish?? Let me start off with the real motivation behind I starting to blog. One person who really made a mark in my mind in this regard is Prof. Terence Tao. If you have not heard enough of him, then its better to wiki him as this space is too small to describe him. The best  thing one feels about him is “More than a person, Terry is a phenomenon.” These were Prof. Gowers’ words about him at the ICM 2006 where he was awarded the Fields medal. Prof. Tao is an active blogger and exposes his brilliant results and courses through them. Another person who influenced me is Vipul Naik, a graduate student in the Math department of University of Chicago. His blog is a blend of technical, expository and popular articles.

         So much about others, let me tell something about myself. The first para must have given you a good indication that I talk a lot of math. But the sad part is that I do it very less. I will start off with some experiences from my life which I feel have hurt me and would help atleast some of you while making certain decisions.

        Now I am no way close to being a perfectionist in any field. But I have always tried to be one in almost everything that I have tried. I know my Professors and classmates may not agree with me, but it’s true. The story goes on like this..

       I was in class X and was considered to be among the smartest kids in school and had quite a few credentials in my kit. Then one fine day, I get to know that I have secured 11th rank in Karnataka Regional Math olympiad and was invited to IISc for a week long training program. There was just one more guy from class X in the selected lot of 30 and so the selection became all the more prestigious. But, I had a torrid time at IISc, bewildered by the proofs of problems taking scores of blackboards to explain and the lightning speed of answering by the future JEE toppers sitting beside me ( One guy Ajit Kumar Nema from that camp went on to secure AIR 10 in JEE that year). What followed were days of self realisation when I decided that I will try to be Mr. Perfect in whichever subjects I study. Now it seems to be a great decision, and truly speaking it is. But the fault is in postponing things till perfection is met and thats exactly what I have been doing ever since.

         Class XI and XII, when most if not all Indian students would be preoccupied with Entrance coaching classes or correspondence material for JEE,AIEEE etc I was busy trying to understand the first page of a book on real analysis. No, I had not mastered calculus and taken up analysis. It was just that I could not live with the concept of a limit and hence pondered over to real analysis in hope of finding a better justification. The result: All calculus problems in JEE 2006 seemed to be from Mars. Ya maybe I was just searching for perfection in the depth of a subject and adding breadth to it would have been a winning strategy. But the essence that I learnt from it was: “Never postpone trying to learn a subject or an idea with an excuse that you dont know its very foundations.” Infact, lot of work in physics and maths have progressed without having a rigorous foundation for those concepts.

        So much for a first post. Share your thoughts  regarding  this topic.



  1. So you also into blogging… Good…
    Your style of writing is pretty good… but plz don’t use short forms(like Para) if U mean to write formal stuff..

    And It wud be gud if u can put some of your physics funda in simple language so that people like me can Understand some concepts…

    Comment by Rahul — February 18, 2010 @ 8:03 pm | Reply

  2. After 21 yrs and 51 hrs, I am still confused. How can one proceed without conceptual clarity? We cannot expect to find a solution to a problem if we donot know the tools needed to proceed. Like we cannot win a race if we’ve skipped the lesson of walking!
    I think we should target perfection but should seek help from experts to acheive it. I mean for the concepts example, we should go to physics fodus to get things cleared that would save a lot of time. “You can’t get there alone”-Prof.Randy Paush (‘The last lecture’ Professor,CMU).
    What do u say?

    Comment by Brajesh — February 19, 2010 @ 6:09 am | Reply

    • As far as consulting with experts is concerned, I agree with you. And collaboration has almost become universal in scientific activity these days. But, I actually wanted to reflect on the issue of relucting to develop on an idea or theory due to lack of knowledge about its deep foundations. I feel both should be planned and concurrent. Hey wait, I think I have some matter for my next post..

      Comment by Sandeep Thilakan — February 19, 2010 @ 6:46 am | Reply

  3. Good Start……..
    My daughter started studying “Division” this year.As the NCERT lesson describes division in terms of sharing (wrongly or rightly I don’t know) she understands it in that way, If she has 2 chocolates, sharing it with her friend reduces it to one!! a loosing game. Now you are about to share a bit of Maths & Physics, but that doesn’t cause division. All the best.

    Comment by HARIKUMAR — February 23, 2010 @ 5:27 pm | Reply

  4. hmm…. nice one.. let me add a few points to it
    1) say suppose we learn a subject, understanding your so called “deep foundations” as well. we feel supremely confident of the subject. Generally once we are in this position we start to feel as though nothing more can happen than what we think. one fine day someone comes up with a paper/report that gives entirely different perceptive of the subject(say in its applications or what ever). Then suddenly we feel so frustrated for having not thought the way the other person thought and feel as though the entire process of its understanding was a waste.
    2) There are some sect of people who question these very set of fundamentals and without a bother on its applications comes up with very unique findings. These findings are later incorporated or exploited in sciences by some others, i guess Einstein’s equation can be grouped into this category and so are many other mathematics equations.

    to summarize one cannot move ahead without the foundations while one who is pondering (effectively) in the basics also is not wasting his energy.

    Comment by ajit — March 23, 2010 @ 11:27 am | Reply

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