That Was the This Week's Finds That Was
August 14, 2010 7:19 PM   Subscribe

The 300th issue of This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics will be the last. It is not an exaggeration to say that when John Baez started publishing TWF in 1993, he invented the science blog, and an (academic) generation has now grown up reading his thoughts on higher category theory, zeta functions, quantum gravity, crazy pictures of roots of polynomials, science fiction, and everything else that can loosely be called either "mathematical" or "physics." Baez continues to blog actively at n-category cafe and the associated nLab (an intriguingly fermented commune of mathematicians, physicists, and philosophers.) He is now starting a new blog, Azimuth, "centered around the theme of what scientists can do to help save the planet."
posted by escabeche (17 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Awesome post.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:35 PM on August 14, 2010

Misread that first line as Joan Baez, got to the first "he," went "huh?" and reread. Makes a lot more sense that way.

Interestingly, they're cousins, according to his wikipedia page.
posted by axiom at 7:36 PM on August 14, 2010

Axiom: yes, and Joan Baez's father/John Baez's uncle Albert Baez was also a famous physicist.

Baez no longer looks like a legitimate collection of letters. Baez Baez Baez.
posted by dorque at 7:40 PM on August 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I hope he enjoys Azimuth and the n-category cafe. I started off reading TWF in my first year of undergrad math, when I couldn't understand a word in 20. I've kept it up sporadically since then, since 2003. It's a great resource for an interested amateur.

I now understand a word in 19!1

1: That would be an exclamation point, not a factorial. Both seem plausible, here.

posted by Lemurrhea at 7:50 PM on August 14, 2010

It is required by Internet law, I think, that any discussion of John Baez in forums which aren't just for mathematicians will include someone confusing him with his more famous cousin.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:00 PM on August 14, 2010

Oh, I should have included this 1999 issue in the original post -- Baez learns about Go and the proof of the Shimura-Taniyama conjecture in the same week! That's some week. In the same issue, my housemate from graduate school points out a small error in Baez's definition (with Dolan) of n-category.
posted by escabeche at 8:03 PM on August 14, 2010

It is required by Internet law, I think, that any discussion of John Baez in forums which aren't just for mathematicians will include someone confusing him with his more famous cousin.

Sadly, I am a mathematician. Or at least, I have a degree in mathematics. I haven't done anything hard core in about ten years, so my skills (such as they were) are quite rusty.
posted by axiom at 8:11 PM on August 14, 2010


I'm very glad he mentioned species theory, which is immensely cool.
posted by oonh at 8:45 PM on August 14, 2010

With a name like "axiom", I should have guessed! But I never said you weren't, just that metafilter is not (just) for mathematicians.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:59 PM on August 14, 2010

Thanks for this post. Loving Baez's blog, even though I'm no mathematician.
posted by scalespace at 10:11 PM on August 14, 2010

I love listening to very intelligent people talk passionately about subjects which they find intensely interesting and which I find intensely incomprehensible. Baez's writing is immensely entertaining in that regard (and when I do manage to comprehend something he's writing about, I get a little glow of pleasant satisfaction). Thank you for this.

Best of luck to him with his new blog, it sounds like something that's closer to my core interests and I shall watch closely to see how it develops.
posted by Scientist at 10:31 PM on August 14, 2010

John Baez's best contribution to science (so far) may actually be The Crackpot Index. A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics.
posted by RoseyD at 1:46 AM on August 15, 2010

I used to want to do science to benefit humankind. As the years go by, I realize it's getting urgent and I haven't done squat*. Humans aren't good at long-term planning, or listening to people who are advocating long-term planning. Last week I attended a symposium where we discussed the future of our discipline (agriculture), and one of the speakers was an IT guy who said scientists should be Twittering and friending people on Facebook. It seemed idiotic, but this blog looks like a good idea.

*Except to improve the yield of pumpkins for Jack-o-lanterns. This *does* benefit humankind gigantically, as I'm sure you'll agree, but isn't doing much for the millions of starving people threatened by global climate change.
posted by acrasis at 8:39 AM on August 15, 2010

Lemurrhea: you can't have understood just one word in 19!, because Baez hasn't written 19! words (that's a bit more than 1017). In fact I'm not sure if 19! words have been written in all of human history.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:21 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

acrasis: have you also improved the yields of pumpkins for pumpkin bread? Pumpkin bread is yummy.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:22 AM on August 15, 2010

Kinda blew my "His version of 'Drove Ol' Dixie Down' sucks," joke out of the water...
posted by Trochanter at 10:32 PM on August 15, 2010

Interesting that he calls it the Taniyama-Shimura-Weil conjecture -- some wag said it's the only conjecture where someone who doesn't believe it (Weil) somehow got his name attached to it.
posted by phliar at 2:45 PM on August 16, 2010

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