We’re a pretty sorry bunch, and many of us don’t have so much professionally to live for, at least not at the relevant margin — it is easy to lose forward momentum and never recover it, given the constraints and incentives in the profession and broader pressures toward conformity. Rates of depression in academia, and especially in graduate school, are fairly high. Many of the core processes are demoralizing rather than inspiring. It is remarkable to me how much other people simply have accepted that is how things ought to be and perhaps they believe matters cannot be that different. I view the high rates of depression in academic life as a “canary in the coal mine” that doesn’t get enough attention as an indicator of bigger, more systemic problems in the entire enterprise. What are you doing with your lifetime sinecure?
Your favorite things Soviet.
Shostakovich. And the Romantic pianists, most of all Richter and Gilels. Constructivist art and ballet up through the late 1920s. The early chess games of Tal. Magnitogorsk. War memorials, most of all in Leningrad. Tarkovsky. I admire the “great” Soviet novels, but I don’t love them, except for Solzhenitsyn, whom I would rather read then Dostoyevsky. Probably the poetry is amazing, but my Russian is too limited to appreciate it.
The optimal number of math PhDs worldwide.
I would think fairly few. I am happy having lots of mathematicians, with independent tests of quality. But is the Ph.D such a great test or marker of quality? Did Euclid have one? Euler? Does it show you will be a great teacher? Maybe we should work toward abolishing the math PhD concept, but out of respect for the profession, not out of hostility toward math.
What historical works of art were anticipated to be great prior to creation, were immediately declared to be great at creation and have continued to be judged great ever since?
Overall it is striking how popular how many of the great revolutionaries have been. Michelangelo was a major figure of renown. Mozart was quite popular, though not fully appreciated. Beethoven was a legend in his time, and every Wagner opera was an event. Goethe ruled his time as a titan. A significant percentage of the very best writers were well known and loved during their careers, though of course there was uncertainty how well they would stand up to the test of time.
The future of Northern New Jersey.
Much like the present, plus defaults on the pension obligations and over time the Indian food may get worse, due to acculturation. The Sopranos will fade into distant memory, I am sorry to say, as will Bruce Springsteen. So many young people already don’t know them or care. I feel lucky to have grown up during the region’s cultural peak.
Who are the greats that still walk among us (other than McCartney)?
The major tech founders and CEOs, Stephan Wolfram, Jasper Johns and Frank Stella and Richard Serra and Gerhardt Richter and Robert Gober, a number of other classic rock stars (Dylan, Brian Wilson, Jagger, Eno, etc.), Philip Glass, Richard D. James, and note most of the greatest classical musicians who have ever lived are alive and playing today (Uchida anyone?), at least once Covid goes away. Many of the major architects. Ferrante and Knausgaard and Alice Munro. Many of the figures who built up East Asia and Singapore. Perelman. Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David. Magnus Carlsen and all sorts of figures in sports. A bunch of other people whom Eric Weinstein would list.