One-upmanship

A quip of S. Lang states that “analysis is number theory at the place infinity”.  (Which implies, correctly, that analytic number theory is some particularly exalted form of number theory).

The equally quipful E. Witten goes rather further in reducing mathematics to its essentials: during the conference organized by the Mathematics Department of Princeton University in honor of the 250th anniversary of Princeton University, he said something like: “Most of 20th century mathematics is the study of the harmonic oscillator”. (This can be seen, in a slightly different and weakened form, on page 120 of the Google Book preview linked above; my memory is that he did state, during his lecture, something closer to what I wrote; but that was a while ago, so I may be over-reacting in hindsight…)

P.S. For the obligatory etymological epilogue: the word “one-upmanship” is quite recent (1952), but “quip” goes back to the early 16th century. I didn’t know about the charming derivative “quipful” before looking in the OED.

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Kowalski

I am a professor of mathematics at ETH Zürich since 2008.

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