The Derbs are keeping busy. Paid employment aside, she has her beloved flowers and innumerable contacts on WeChat, the ChiCom messaging app. I have home-improvement chores: this month, stripping out and rebuilding a bathroom closet for maximum accessible shelving—nearly 28 square feet of shelf in a closet 3′×2′4″×8′. This was the last interior space still untouched since we bought the house in 1992. It takes me a while to get round to things …
Husband and wife also collaborated on translating a Chinese poem: See Segment Four below.
And then of course there's been reading.
Supernaturally smart. Through the middle days of July I read Cheryl Misak's biography of the English mathematician, logician, philosopher, and economist Frank Ramsey. It's an astonishing story. Ramsey must have been one of the smartest people that ever lived. He was staggeringly, breathtakingly, supernaturally smart.
Ramsey went to Miss Pate's secretarial agency in the winter of 1921-22 and translated the manuscript. He read it off an Annalen offprint to a shorthand writer who then typed it up … It is hard to adequately convey how astounding an accomplishment it was to more or less straight away translate this immensely difficult text from the German to English. Ramsey turned nineteen in the middle of the translation, in January 1922.
Those last italics are mine. Wittgenstein, who could read English, went over the translation carefully and was pleased with it. He and Ramsey became friends, to the degree it was possible for anyone to be friends with the pathologically prickly Wittgenstein.
For a few months in 1927-28, encouraged by John Maynard Keynes, another friend, Ramsey concentrated his thoughts on economics, producing two scholarly papers on that subject. Misak tells us that:
When the Economic Journal celebrated its 125th anniversary with a special edition in 2015, both of Ramsey's papers were included. That is, looking back over a century and a quarter, one of the world's best journals of economics decided that two of its thirteen most important papers were written by Frank Ramsey when he was twenty-five years old.
My italics again.
Having then had his fill of economics, Ramsey turned back to math and founded Ramsey Theory, which concerns the occurrence of order in situations of generalized dis-order. This is still an active field of inquiry, with obvious connections to Artificial Intelligence research.
So why isn't this tremendous genius world-famous? Because, as you know if you clicked those links, he died at age 26—January 19th, 1930—from an infection of the liver.
Should you ever be tempted to think of yourself as smart, Cheryl Misak's book is a wonderful corrective, a real humility check. Recall what you were capable of intellectually at ages 19 or 25. By comparison with the Frank Ramseys of the world, the rest of us are stumbling, mumbling dullards.
Ramsey was no spergery introvert, either. Big-built and active—swimming, hiking, tennis—he was also genial and gregarious, the far opposite of Wittgenstein. (Whose nephew Tommy described Ramsey as "the most natural, good-natured, kind-hearted person you could imagine.") He had a successful—although, by mutual agreement, "open"—marriage and was a loving father to two children, with sex affairs along the way.
Then he died, a month short of his twenty-seventh birthday.