MY LIFE AS A MATHEMATICIAN
I have been doing mathematics for 30 years, since I graduated from
high school. I myself was surprised to realize this fact. How did
mathematics first interest me? Why have I been doing mathematics
so long? Answering these questions led me to reflect on my life,
past, present and future.
I became interested in mathematics while I was reading the biographies of Einstein and
Newton in high school. Their lives, full of
scientific adventures and vicissitudes, fascinated me. This
fascination led me to mathematics.
After some time, however, I
became skeptical about my mathematical ability. Einstein and
Newton were geniuses, but my intellectual capacity was not
comparable to theirs. So I decided to do something else and tried
to find another field to which I could devote myself. But I
soon found that I did not have talent in other fields either. So
I changed my mind and went back to mathematics. Although I knew that I was
not a genius, I could enjoy solving problems in mathematics,
and I could be satisfied with myself even if I did only 1% of
what a mathematical genius could do.
After that my life took a single direction. Almost every day I
learned a new definition, studied how to prove a theorem, and
tried to solve exercise problems in a textbook. Sometimes it was a
very hard and painstaking process, and at other times there were
moments of joyful discovery. One day I wrestled with a hard
problem for a long time but the clue was never in sight. That
night while I was sleeping I was able to figure out how to solve
the problem in my dream. In this way, as time went on, mathematics
entered into my personal life more and more deeply.
For nine years I studied mathematics in school, sometimes by myself
and sometimes following a mentor's suggestions. After school I was
supposed and encouraged to do mathematics independently. I set myself the challenge of finding
my theorem completely on my own. Finding a new theorem is
like finding a gem deep in earth. No one knows where the gem
is, and even if one knows where it is, one does not know how to get
at it. It is either an almost impossible task or a very exciting
and rewarding one, depending on one's ability and attitude toward
the gem, mathematics.
Most people think mathematics is such an accurate science that it is
very inhuman. I do not agree with this opinion. When I teach
students I encounter so many types of students. Some ask for help,
some need personal attention, some give me the feeling of
accomplishment, and some show me what life means. Relating with
the students one can see the completely human side of mathematics.
Every moment another chunk of time is coming toward me and passing
by me, as it did in the past and as it will in the future. As a
human being I am supposed to convert this new valuable time into a
fruit that other people can enjoy eating. As a mathematician I
will keep trying to prove new theorems and write new papers on
mathematics, for my own satisfaction and for the interest of others.