This question arises from the commentspace in this question on stats.SE.

My comment was:

Last I checked Terry Tao was the pre-eminent mathematician of this generation?

To which another commenter replied:

Which generation is that?

Note that I said "this generation" as opposed to our generation. My question is: does "this generation" associated with a date (timestamp) uniquely identify a generation, particularly in the academic context? How else can I identify a generation -- through reference to a specific person?

  • 1
    If you said his generation rather than this generation, the meaning would be quite clear. And it is hard to see how he could be the pre-eminent mathematician of somebody else's generation. – Peter Shor Feb 9 '15 at 12:55
  • Are you worried by the ambiguity (span) of "generation"? – anemone Feb 9 '15 at 12:56
  • It would be more common to say "his" generation, but "this" generation is also fine. It means the current generation, the one ascendant and in control of world affairs. That's different from "our" generation, for example, when it's referenced by, say, a pair of cranky septuagenarians. – Dan Bron Feb 9 '15 at 12:59
  • @PeterShor Are you then suggesting the use of "the generation" in this context? I would argue that that is the same as this. – tchakravarty Feb 9 '15 at 13:02
  • @anemone Yes, as a side issue, I can't say I am entirely clear on what a generation is, really. – tchakravarty Feb 9 '15 at 13:05

I don't think it's particularly possible to identify a generation as starting and ending on specific dates, unless you're talking about one particular family tree (in which case, born-adult dates of a single person would probably do).

His generation would certainly be more clear as far as defining what you meant goes, but you could also have defined a time period, for instance the 90's, and that could also go some way in defining a start and end date for a generation.

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