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Frank Ramsey: A Genius by All Tests for Genius (hnn.us)
70 points by sillysaurusx 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments





> The economist John Maynard Keynes identified Ramsey as a major talent when he was a mathematics student at Cambridge in the early 1920s. During his undergraduate days, Ramsey demolished Keynes’ theory of probability and...

> Keynes, in an impressive show of administrative skill and sleight of hand, made the 21-year-old Ramsey a fellow of King’s College at a time when only someone who had studied there could be a fellow. (Ramsey had done his degree at Trinity).

Wow, seriously, that's the way we ought to treat people who "demolish" our ideas :-)

Edit: I should probably say that I have been trying to behave like this for a few years already at my scale, my point is that this is inspiring.

Oh, and there exist people who are so toxic on top of being blunt that I probably wouldn't work with them even if it gave me a 5% chance to make the worlds first commercial viable fusion reactor.


By the way, it's alleged by a famous professor(?) and amazon reviewer Michael Emmet Brady that Ramsey in no way "demolished" his theory and that this particular problem has drawn people away from respecting and appreciating Keynes immense work in philosophy of probability

here is the review: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2927587

"An Examination of the Fundamental Reasons Why Frank Ramsey Failed in His Reviews of J M Keynes's a Treatise on Probability"


If you would like to know more about Frank Ramsey from the perspective of his wife, brother, friends, coworkers and even himself, I found the BBC program "Better than the Stars", from 1978, blissfully exciting.

You will hear what he thinks about Bertrand Russells remark on the small size of men in relation to the universe, truth and probability, mountain walking and even how many hours he worked every day +++! :-) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAeDc8UB2Gs


> He had a profound influence on Ludwig Wittgenstein, persuading him to drop the quest for certainty, purity, and sparse metaphysical landscapes in the Tractatus and turn to ordinary language and human practices.

Interesting. In the preface to the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein credits the Neo-Ricardian economist Pierro Sraffa with something like the same influence. I'd be curious to know what led Misak to this conclusion.


Ramsey was the one who dug Wittgenstein up out of his self-imposed village solitude and convinced him that the Tractatus was fatally flawed (he attacked W’s treatment of the color exclusion problem), and remained a significant influence on W. More so the Sraffa in real terms.

In the preface to Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein mentions Ramsey in the sentence immediately before the one in which he mentions Sraffa.

His proof of Ramsey's Theorem [0] is possibly my favorite proof of all time.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramsey%27s_theorem


What is it you like about the proof?

There is a section that uses the same type of thinking that you can use to prove the R(3, 3) = 6 case (often known as the Theorem of Friends and Strangers [0]), towards the end of the paper [1] (though in a pretty different way). Proving the general case of things is often very removed from the proofs of a specific case, so its interesting to see similar thinking in the general case.

Also, I really like the simplicity of the proof of the Theorem of Friends and Strangers. You can show someone the proof with two colored pens in 10 minutes. But at the same time, it uses some interesting proof tools: contradiction, the pidgeonhole principle, creating a boundary by counterexample (ie that R(3, 3) must be greater than 5). So I like the Friends and Strangers proof for its elegance and how fun it is to show people, and I like Ramsey's proof because it captures some of the fun of the R(3, 3) case while proving something much, much more difficult.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theorem_on_friends_and_strange...

[1] https://www.cs.umd.edu/~gasarch/BLOGPAPERS/ramseyorig.pdf


It was pretty mind-blowing to realize during a discrete math class that chaos is basically impossible. Then learning that Ramsey passed away very young felt terrible.

I'm not sure I'd interpret that result as "chaos is impossible". I'd rather say that you can always find some apparent pattern (of smallish size) by searching through enough randomness/chaos. That seems intuitively to be fairly unsurprising considering everyday experiences like cloud gazing, or the existence of conspiracy theorists. Whether the pattern you find has any important meaning is an entirely different question.

I think a reasonable interpretation of the result is the idea that all "chaotic" graphs of sufficient size _must_ contain order, which isn't as strong as "chaos is impossible", but isn't very intuitive to me.

Not to mention that thermodynamics and classical/quantum mechanics mean that in our world chaos is basically inevitable.


> It is hard to get our ordinary minds around the achievements of the great Cambridge mathematician, philosopher, and economist, Frank Ramsey.

How is anyone not immediately repelled by this style of writing? Seriously, though.


I find the whole Genius-fetish quite annoying - people who actually call themselves geniuses tend to be more Tommy Wiseau than Tom Kibble

Did he call himself a genius?

I think my all reasonable estimates, he was a polymath, maybe not on the level of Kolmogorov or something but it's the fact that he died so young, had such immense influence, and worked in so many fields.

lol yeah

Right or wrong, this is an assertion not a style. Given that according to whoever wrote the Wiki article on Ramsey he was a 'British philosopher, mathematician, and economist who made major contributions to all three fields before his death at the age of 26' most people would have to rely on the judgement of specialists in these fields to appreciate his achievements. So it probably is 'hard' for the rest of us.

To be fair, it's exactly what the title should lead you to expect.

yes! thank you



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