Even though I wrote this piece seven years ago, as an undergraduate at Cornell, I still get more mail about it than about anything else I’ve written. Which depresses me, because I know I couldn’t write it today. I’d be too embarrassed to trot out the Ackermann and Busy Beaver numbers as if they were the awesomest things ever. This is standard, decades-old material! Doesn’t everyone know it by now?
They don’t, of course. But the price I paid for learning enough to do science is that I can no longer work up childlike wonder over, say, humankind’s inability to pin down BB(7). The things that are new to me are too hard to explain to a popular audience, and the things that are easy to explain are no longer new to me. How I long for the power to return, at will, to my intellectual adolescence.