Hugo Dominil Cobain: “We discover by making mistakes” –

Hugo Dominil Cobain: “We discover by making mistakes” –

Professor at the University of Geneva Hugo Dominil Copin was awarded the prestigious Fields Medal in 2022, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in Mathematics. In an interview on Tuesday in La Matinale, he reminds us that a researcher does not have all the science. On the contrary, error is part of the game of scientific discovery.

Hugo Dominil Cobain demystifies the image of a scientist so gifted that he would be infallible. “By presenting only the final results, we may have given this impression for years that the scientists were not wrong and that what we obtained was irreplaceable,” notes the professor.

>> Read again: EPFL’s Marina Viazowska and UNIGE’s Hugo Dominil Cobain receive the Fields Medal

The Covid crisis has highlighted this inaccurate vision, which has made it possible to blame scientists for a certain slowness. Indeed, science is progressing little by little, sometimes going the wrong way. “We test our ideas. We check them. Sometimes they are wrong or a little wrong. In the end, we move forward,” explains the mathematician.

years of preparation

There are many moments of illumination, as one shouts “Eureka!”. But Hugo Duminil-Copin reminds us that flashes of genius are only acquired after long preparation. “You can’t get to eureka just because you wake up one morning. There are usually years of ideas, missed ideas, little mistakes, things that worked, but not quite. Those things — there were maybe five scores.” [trop] left, five degrees [trop] On the right. Then there comes a moment when you hit the mark exactly.”

It is a very brief moment that comes after a very long process.

Hugo Dominil Cobain

Thus, Hugo Dominil Cobain advocates pedagogy in the modus operandi of science for non-specialists. His notoriety attached to the Fields Medal provided him with a platform which enabled him to present mathematics, a public role which was not without influence on his activities.

“In my job, things haven’t changed much,” he says, “I’ve already had recognition among my colleagues. The connection with the public and society has really changed.”

Learning from error

The mathematician points out that, for him, media exposure is synonymous with “too much mental overload”. “You have to be careful what you say and not be misinterpreted,” he said. “I found that out a little late—only by making my own mistakes, as usual, by trial and error.”

Basically, science and life are the same battle. “People learn from their mistakes,” says Hugo Duminil-Copin. “We see that very well in children.” But this is also seen in older people, he continues: “We don’t become adults by completely changing our way of discovering things. We discover by making mistakes, by trial and error.”

Interview conducted by Benjamin Lewis
Web Adaptation: Antoine Michel

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