Munafo's Law of Mathematical Discourse  

This "law" is a sarcastic, or perhaps slightly cynical, statement on the nature of mathematical texts, reference material, and instruction.

For many years I was unable to use "generating functions" because, in all the instructional material on the topic, nobody gave an algorithm that takes a generating function as input, and produces the terms of the corresponding integer sequence as output. If someone would mention Taylor series, or taking successive derivatives and evaluating those derivatives at x=0, I would have understood immediately.

I ended up with a very counter-productive bias, and thought that "generating function" was an obfuscation meant to isolate the "real mathematicians" from the great unwashed masses.

There is a bigger problem in most mathematical works: the author will rarely explain anything that can be learned in another, earlier work. Of course, this is usually for good reasons: for example, explaining earlier results will make the paper bigger, and might introduce transcription errors. But all too often, the writer seems to relish the art of making his work as inscrutable as possible.

Thus, I formulated the somewhat sarcastic, perhaps even a bit cynical

Munafo's Law of Mathematical Discourse:

Never Repeat Anything You Have Learned From Another Mathematician

Part of the philosophy behind my web pages is based on the belief that the above "law" is a barrier to progress. I explain the things I have learned to many different people, from many different backgrounds, and have found it necessary to explain things in different ways. Thus, I err on the side of being generous with extra explanation, even when it seems redundant. If you subscribe to Munafo's Law of Mathematical Discourse, you'll probably be happier on some other website.

I later re-wrote and expanded this article; the new version is: Munafo's Laws of Mathematics.


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