Re: Surrogate factoring, mapping, hyperbolas

From: Tim Peters (
Date: 04/22/05

Date: Fri, 22 Apr 2005 00:51:08 -0400

[Tim Peters, self-servingly snipping his own post so that it looks
 less insulting than it really was]
> ...
> So we have to face the possibility that JSH's best work is already
> behind him, that it's all downhill from here. The quality of his
> current arguments in trying to cling to the idea that his SFT is "a
> major result" sure aren't worthy of the JSH of old, who at least
> managed to count primes correctly.

[Nora Baron]
> This is a serious possibility. If you go back through the archives
> a few years, you will find that (1) at one time, 1997 and earlier,
> Harris was actually reasonably polite, even apologetic when some-
> one corrected his mistakes;

I have a different working hypothesis for that: James's sense of morality
appears defined by what he can get away with, period. If he can cheat or
lie, no problem, he's too special to play by external rules, and his
manifest destiny justifies "shortcuts".

So he started his Usenet life reasonably civil, but as time went on he
learned (sadly, in part because of vicious abuse directed _at_ him too) that
what he did on Usenet had no visible effect on his real life. The more he
learned that he could "get away with" being an ass, and in oh-so-many ways,
the more he acted like an ass, in oh-so-many ways.

I don't have a rigorous proof of that <wink>. There are two things I offer
for consideration: the SWJPAM incident totally rocked him. He's still
obsessed with it at times. If posting trash on Usenet had no real-world
consequences, then how-oh-how could his guinea pigs on sci.math manage to
get his paper yanked? There have been lots of posts since then trying to
reconcile that, see-sawing between insisting Usenet is of no importance, and
hilarious (to everyone but him) revenge fantasies starring "math society"
and increasingly sucking in specific sci.math'ers.

The other thing here is related: his bizarre offer to "compromise" on the
APF paper, agreeing to make an inconsequential change in the conclusion in
return for sci.math'ers promising not to oppose his paper anymore. That was
unmistakable evidence of his morality ("ok, so I can't get away with it
as-is -- what little thing can I change, right or wrong, so I _can_ get away
with it?") -- and also more thrashing trying to get back to his happy "my
bad Usenet behavior has no bad consequences" illusion.

I think there's something to that, but it's not enough:

> (2) at one time, he was using the Barlow-Abel relations in his
> attempts to prove FLT; (3) at one time, I don't know exactly when,
> it was claimed that he actually had a valid proof of one nontrivial
> case of FLT. He has mostly degenerated.

Yup, he has. I was more than half serious about that part too.

> Yes, at one time too he claimed that integers were irrational - I
> regard that as merely a problem with terminology, not a problem with
> concepts. But more recently, he has claimed vehemently that the
> rationals are not a field, that fields must be closed under infinite
> (presumably convergent) sums, etc.; now, that an obscure
> correspondence between two hyperbolas is automatically a bijection;
> that given 4 choices of events, each one must have probability 0.25
> [corollary: play the lottery! there are only two outcomes - win or
> lose - so your chance of winning must be 50%!], that any statement he
> derives, no matter how trivial, is a "theorem", even if it is a total
> dead end, etc., etc. And clearly his paranoia has increased.
> This *inability* to even test his "theorem" out of sheer terror
> is new behavior.

I agree. I think he's also less capable of discourse now (point,
counterpoint, point, counterpoint, ..., he used to be able to keep that up
for at least a few rounds, at least once a week; now every attempt at
discussion degenerates at once). The percentage of "pure rant" posts seems
to be increasing too; there's not even a pretense of on-topic content in
most stuff he posts these days. And I can't remember the last time there
was evidence that he'd opened a book or read a paper; there used to be.
Closest it came this year was an announcement that he'd have to study up on
ideals in order to find the flaws in Dedekind's work, almost instantly
dropped in favor of mindlessly repetitious "promoting" of SFT again.

> In my view he is dangerously close to a mental breakdown, in the
> most literal sense of the term. Has he deteriorated because of
> excessive drinking, or continual anguish over universal rejection,
> or just some natural process? Not clear, certainly; he is too
> young for senile dementia.

Demonic possession? That would have been my mother's first guess <wink>.

I don't know. Could just be a "natural" consequence of increasing
self-absorption; if James is anything in real life like he his on Usenet
(and he may well not be at all), I've never met anyone in real life anything
like him. Jeez, if he was like that in real life in his Army days, he would
have been fragged. I did know a guy so obnoxious that his buddies tossed
him out of a helicopter in Vietnam; he survived, and when I knew him lived
in an abandoned oil drum near the U of W (Madison) campus. We got along
fine -- but he was a sweetheart compared to James's online persona.