Celebratio Mathematica

Robert Lee Moore


I am a math­em­at­ic­al grand­son of R. L. Moore, but have nev­er taken nor taught a course by the Moore meth­od, or so I used to think.

My Ph.D. ad­viser, El­don Dyer, cer­tainly knew the Moore meth­od. He was, like Moore, an ac­com­plished point set to­po­lo­gist, but he ap­par­ently had a change of heart when he dis­covered that the power­ful tools of al­geb­ra­ic to­po­logy could drastic­ally shorten (sim­pli­fy?) some of his work. By the time I took a few courses from Dyer, circa 1960, he lec­tured clearly with great black­board tech­nique, but in a rather form­al way. No hint he was a Moore stu­dent.

But look­ing back, I re­ver­ted a long way to­wards a some­what Moore philo­sophy. I did not want a Ph.D. ad­viser who told me what to work on and what meth­ods to use. Rather I wanted to choose my own prob­lems and work on them in my own way. Much of what I needed to know came from a daily one hour ses­sion with a fel­low grad stu­dent, Wal­ter Daum, in which we read and chewed over pa­pers and notes of Zee­man, Stallings, Smale, Hae­fli­ger and oth­ers (all high­er-di­men­sion­al geo­met­ric to­po­logy)

Dyer let me fol­low my nose with ap­pro­pri­ate en­cour­age­ments now and then, and things worked out well enough. Would not Moore have ap­proved of this story?

Later as an ad­viser of Ph.D. stu­dents, I gave my stu­dents free rein, en­cour­aging them to find their own thes­is prob­lems, to learn by talk­ing and work­ing to­geth­er, and by speak­ing in our weekly sem­in­ar. They mostly thrived in this Moore-like en­vir­on­ment, and went on to good ca­reers.

I didn't learn this from Moore or Dyer, but good ideas are dis­covered and re­dis­covered all the time, and I was only(!) five to six dec­ades be­hind Moore.