But Mochizuki’s papers, which totalled more than 500 pages, were exceedingly abstract and cryptic even by the standards of pure mathematics. That has made it tough for others to read the proof, let alone verify it. Moreover, the papers built on an equally massive body of work that he had accumulated over the years, but that few were familiar with.
I love this. It reminds me of the history of the works of James Hutton, the British geologist that was one of the first to truly understand how long it took natural forces to shape the earth.
His story is very amusingly retold in A Short History of Nearly Everything
Encouraged by his friends to expand his theory, in the touching hope that he might somehow stumble onto clarity in a more expansive format, Hutton spent the next ten years preparing his magnum opus, which was published in two volumes in 1795. Together the two books ran to nearly a thousand pages and were, remarkably, worse than even his most pessimistic friends had feared. Apart from anything else, nearly half the completed work now consisted of quotations from French sources, still in the original French4. A third volume was so unenticing that it wasn’t published until 18995, more than a century after Hutton’s death, and the fourth and concluding volume was never published at all. Hutton’s Theory of the Earth is a strong candidate for the least read important book in science (or at least, it would be if there weren’t so many others). Even Charles Lyell, the greatest geologist of the following century and a man who read everything, admitted he couldn’t get through it.
What I like about this, is that it reminds us that besides the plains facts, there are many other ‘soft’ forces at play that influence how information is transmitted and received. Sometimes cultural barriers and mere human psychology can be all that is preventing insight and acceptance of new knowledge to occur.
I often think on this when I think about the vast Chinese internet ecosystem. Separate and isolated in many ways from the western internet, yet vast and full of people that likely have many interesting things to say.
What additional power of collaboration are we missing out on through the language and culture barriers.
And back to science and technology. How much potential development is being wasted and ignored, because of an inability to clearly communicate ideas.