Extensive Cooperation with Rugged Individualism: George Mackey’s Guide for Practitioners of Mathematics.
The mathematician George Mackey (1916–2006) is often remembered both for his scholarly contributions and his methodical, solitary work habits, tempered by an eager affinity for discussing mathematics with all who took an interest. His broad view of the subject inspired his con- tributions in infinite-dimensional group representations, ergodic theory, and mathematical physics.
In 1982, Mackey’s daughter Ann was a student at Yale University. Her friend, Stephanie Frank Singer, was a sophomore in college trying to decide whether to major in math or physics. Mackey had faced a similar dilemma as an undergraduate, and throughout his career the two disciplines competed for his attention. To help Singer with her decision-making process, Mackey wrote two letters 1 to her in September and October of 1982. He also sent her the text of a talk he had delivered on “What do mathematicians do?” in Paris in March, 1978.2
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