Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Remembering Grisha Mints

This is the text of a short eulogy that I delivered on the 2nd Sept 2014, in honour of Professor Grigori Mints. This was over skype for a session part of WOLLIC 2014 in Valparaiso, Chile.

Ruy de Queiroz, Grisha Mints and myself organized the volume from the WOLLIC meeting in 2006 at Stanford. We had many other projects that I would've liked to have  completed with Grisha, but that was not to be. I miss him lots!

(a somber mood today for many reasons).

Dear Colleagues,
It's with a heavy heart that I'm joining you over Skype to share one or two quick memories of Grisha Mints.
Grisha was a wonderful teacher and mentor, as I'm sure most of you know.

 Speaking in his seminar (the Logic Seminar in Stanford  has  always been his and Sol's seminar, for me at least), it was always kind of a bit nerve-wrecking as you had this feeling that things would always be checked, because what we do requires this kind of attention to detail in proofs, so you do need to know the details of what you were saying. so you're always (or at least I was) always  afraid you'd be found wanting in rigour or wanting on the quality of your responses or of your explanations,  but you knew you wouldn't be ignored... whether you're talking about baby logic or cutting edge stuff, rigor was and is necessary and expected.

Grisha's love was `tough love', as many of the tributes to him have shown. He was wonderful at asking people what they were doing and why they were doing it, but you had to be prepared to hear that it wasn't worth doing  and why so...

I always knew about this side of his personality, the strict Russian professor, who knew much and did not tolerate fools, as far the mathematics of what we do is concerned.  What I did not know much about, to begin with,  was this other social side of him as the friend, colleague and mentor always willing to give people a helping hand when he knew they needed it.. This is also coming up in all the tributes to Grisha, and I'm one of ones who can  say that when I needed help, (as the start-up I was working on disappeared as part of the big economic crises of 2008), he was there for me, offering me to lecture at Stanford, a sure way to make me more noticed and more employable.  Just the chat we had about it, was already a big boost for my morale, which was in a bad state.. Knowing that he thought I could teach one of his  classes in Stanford did help, as did the classes themselves as they were lots of  fun. For this, as well as everything else, I will always be grateful...
I am only sad that (when looking over all the gmail we exchanged in the last fifteen years) I saw lots of plans and good ideas, some purely mathematical ones, some more about getting other people interested in the subjects of Logic, Language, Computation that you guys are discussing in Valparaiso, that we didn't have the time to do together. I thought we had plenty of time, so many of the things that I would've done with someone else, I didn't do, because I thought they weren't good enough for Grisha. I hope to be able to do  some of this stuff in his honour, but I know that they will have to be  good, very good, as the master did not approve of mathematical frivolities. But this is another, a third important lesson I learned from him directly: do let your ideas fight with other ideas, have the courage of expressing yourself in the seminars and in the discussions. Our field is a difficult one, it's very mixed, you can always have the impression that you know much less than others in the room, but at least we can ask questions and all mathematical questions can be asked. if they are easy we answer quickly and move on, if they're too hard, we acknowledge it and move on to whatever we want to discuss today. Just ask the questions, he said.
Rest in peace Professor Mints, you are very much missed here!

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