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Alec Marantz

Published onApr 19, 2019
Alec Marantz

It’s hard to fashion a tribute to a mentor that’s actually about him, rather than about oneself. Writing about how important Noam has been to my intellectual and professional development implies, perhaps counterfactually, that his time was well spent with me.

With that disclaimer in mind, I offer three lessons I learned working with Noam (that is, working in the ever-continuing role as his student):

  • First, one can talk to people apparently expressing the presupposition that they know everything you do, while still explaining things in a way that assumes they know nothing.

  • Second, one should engage in a meeting projecting the impression that one has all the time in the world for the meeting—that the discussion, at this point in time, is the most important thing in the world—even if one in fact has no time at all.

  • Third, there are ways to live intellectual humility—see lessons one and two—while effectively changing the landscape of scientific knowledge.

I will admit that I was much quicker at student-learning, e.g., Government Binding theory, than appreciating the more important lessons in humanity Noam was teaching every day. Thank you, Noam, for the example you set. However, I may pass on the coming out of retirement to teach undergraduates in my nineties. That may be a lesson too far.

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