Introduction: Excuse Me, Is This the “Real” World?


This story goes back a long way, and so do I. In the spring of 1971, I was about to become a newly minted Ph.D. in abstract, or “pure,” mathematics.

I was thinking about what kind of job to get. Almost all the other Ph.D.s in pure mathematics wanted to become professors. That, however, was not my plan. I wanted to apply mathematics, not to teach it. I had always been fascinated by science and technology, and I wanted to be the best at applying mathematics to those fields.

But the Vietnam War raised problems for that plan. In the war’s earlier years, I had organized meetings opposing it. Now ...

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