Daniel Lemire's blog

, 1 min read

Grounded versus Pure Theory

My previous blog post generated quite a number of comments and much criticism. Let me summarize the main objections:

  • What I describe is not pure theory but bad research.
  • Pure theory is useful: consider the n log n lower bound on sorting.

My replies:

  • Our brains are bandwidth-driven machines, not standalone computers. You will only thrive given sufficient feedback. And peer review is a low-bandwidth high-latency feedback system.- Pure theory is low-bandwidth Science: few results depend on it, whether it is useful or powerful is entirely a matter of opinion. It is pure because it is not tainted by external feedback.
  • Theoretical results are the reason why we do Science.
  • Pure theorists are likely to describe themselves as engineers.
  • I have done and will do pure theory work. It is a very tempting trap.
  • If a new Engineering concept seems like a good idea, wait before you make a book out of it. Try it out in practice first.
  • If a theorem seems useful to you, wait before you make a career out of it. Can you relate it to anything in the world out there?