Taking the Long View

Nan Xiao May 2, 2018 2 min read

The world is a fast-changing place. Eleven years ago, when iPhone was first launched, people probably didn’t anticipate that was the end of Nokia. Today, I don’t even use the voice calling feature on my phone anymore, unless really necessary. This might not be good news for AT&T, and maybe I’m an outlier, but this is the truth, this is the world we live.

After walking a long road in such a changing world, it is easy to forget why we started at first. For example, we judge things by their values, instead of their merits, and make short-term decisions. Sometimes, when consciously realizing that I’m losing directions, I would rewatch this documentary about a mathematician: Taking the Long View: The Life of Shiing-shen Chern. Here is a short, digested version.

In the full version of the film, among many good interviews, there was an interesting description of Chern’s pure, dignified lifestyle of choice:

His routine was to get up, have a cup of tea, do his math. Have another cup of tea, then do his math. Have lunch, take a nap, have a cup of tea, and do his math…

This might sound pretty idealistic, but I guess it reflects Chern’s love of the career he devoted to, his purely spiritual pursue of mathematics — for math itself, and not for anything else.

He peacefully worked with the world, while did not lose himself in the world. I think that is an admirable lifetime achievement.