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CHAT: conferences (Was: Re: THEORY: no more URs! [was: Re: Optimum number of symbols])

From:H. S. Teoh <hsteoh@...>
Date:Friday, June 28, 2002, 17:56
On Fri, Jun 28, 2002 at 06:18:33PM +0100, And Rosta wrote:
> In my experience, conferences come in three types. > > 1. The generalist conference, which follows exactly the pattern you > describe: stony silence, with the embarrassment punctuated by a > question to which the speaker has no ready waffle-free answer. But > if the speaker has cachet, then there is great competition as > members of the audience vie to ask a question that strikes the > optimum balance between sycophancy and cleverness.
> 2. The club/junket conference (for academics well-established in > their profession). The paper is either bafflingly impenetrable or embarrassingly > trite. Either way, the questions are prefaced by > profuse congratulations and followed by a question of astonishing > banality. The giver of the bafflingly impenetrable paper answers > graciously, pretending the question is worthwhile. The giver of > the embarrasingly trite paper, implicitly accepting the > congratulations, gives a profuse, magisterial and trite answer.
Once, I heard somebody talk about math conferences. Apparently, pure math today has become so specialized, that in any given conference, just about nobody understands what the speaker is talking about. Except for the few (of whom you can count on half a hand), who may have a very vague inkling as to the general area the speaker is in. It is difficult to imagine any other series of events than what you describe, when the audience feels compelled not to embarrass themselves by not asking any questions out of utter ignorance of the speaker's subject matter. And when you're talking about pure math, nobody but half a handful of specialists in that field can tell the impenetrable from the banal.
> 2. The specialist conference. The people who like asking questions > make a few points obvious to all participants. Then someone asks > an intersting question, someone other than the speaker buts in > to answer it, and the session ends with several members of the > audience standing engaged in discussion with other, sometimes > without the participation of the speaker.
[snip] And often the discussion has very little to do with what the speaker actually presented. T -- Long, long ago, the ancient Chinese invented a device that lets them see through walls. It was called the "window".