About Erdős numbers and not wanting what you have – 2011-09-22 19:41 (last update: 2015-09-15 15:54)

An ag(e)ing hacker — Luca Saiu's blog

About Erdős numbers and not wanting what you have

Today at lunch with colleagues1 we were having a very nice, relaxed conversation. At some point somebody mentioned he knew somebody who knew Erdős (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Erd%C5%91s); so I asked him what his Erdős number (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erd%C5%91s_number) was, and he said it. Then —I think for the first time— the thought crossed my mind that I also could already have a finite Erdős number. I’ve just found that in fact that’s the case, and has been for several years now.

My Erdős number is2 at most 6. For example:

Oh, the happiness. Another silly badge of honor, one more piece of hacker culture I can brag about.

Well, no.

After computing the number, for some reason I don’t feel as impressed as I thought I would. Not because my number is high, of course: I was expecting that. The point is that I didn’t do anything particular except writing something with Jean-Vincent (which I did before knowing he had a finite Erdős number to begin with, and of course for reasons completely unrelated to Erdős numbers), to gain this little trophy; everything else happened out of my control and out of my knowledge.

Once more I suppose it’s a matter of identity: the category “Erdős number 6” is something determined by others much more than by me, so I don’t feel I rightfully belong to it.

Well, of course if I wanted to lower my Erdős number I could do something: for example I could study a lot of Linear Logic, which is what Marco, Patrick and Christophe do, and write a work with one of them. Since I don’t know much about the topic that would be difficult for me to do now but I don’t think it would be definitely impossible, given enough time: if I had something interesting to write about the topic, I’m sure they would accept to work with me. Otherwise I could try to convince one of them to work on something I do, and write a paper together; also unlikely now, but not necessarily impossible.

But why should I do that, just for lowering the number? It feels pointless, even for somebody like me who is very much into hacker culture. If Erdős numbers are just an idle musing or a way of visualizing the small-world effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_world_experiment), that’s fine: by all means a very nice idea by whoever first thought of it. But it’s irrelevant for me: it was something which was built around me, when I just happened to be there by chance.

That’s why I think I probably won’t mention Erdős numbers in my résumé.

— Luca Saiu, 2011-09-22 19:41 (last update: 2015-09-15 15:54)

Tags:
english, identity, myself, research, university

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Luca Saiu

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Footnotes

(1)

I don’t think there can be anything “confidential” here, but I won’t publish names and specific details without authorization.

(2)

As of 2015 it’s down to 4, thru Jacques Sakarovitch.