I haven’t been to any scientific conference for a year, so attending one in Santa Fe is refreshing. I have been in this field so long that going to a conference is like attending a family union: lots of familiar faces, with a few new additions. There are a few people whose presence can be depended upon. There is one man who has indefatigably come to every conference that I recall going to, and he asks the same set of questions and makes the same set of comments in the sessions that his attendance can be accurately reproduced from recordings.
In conferences, the audience often pretend that they understand the speaker. In one lecture, the speaker opened with a mathematical problem. He went over the problem so quickly that I did not understand it. Seeing no confusion in the audience, I assumed that I was the dumb one. After the session, I asked around for a clarification of the problem. Yet no one understood the problem enough to explain it. In a conference, none of us is as dumb as all of us.
Someone spoke about the state of the field. It was essentially a summary of the unsolved research problems. It was depressing to hear the list because I had heard the same list years ago. It upset me also to observe that most people, who could all eloquently critique the status quo of the field, were attempting nothing to change it. Moreover, there were skeptics who outright reject any possibility of significant advance in the field. They arouse in me a sense of pity. Why keep doing something that you don’t even believe in? Inertia is the source of all misery.