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Grigory Perelman and the Poincare Conjecture

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the another-tortured-genius dept.

Books 241

EagleHasLanded writes "Russian mathematician Grigory Perelman doesn't talk to journalists. Actually, he doesn't talk to anyone anymore. So we'll have to settle for insights via his biographer, Masha Gessen, who, strangely enough, has never talked to him either. But she has spoken with just about everyone who has ever had any significant interaction with Perelman, and the result is the book Perfect Rigor, which more than adequately explains why Perelman has gone into self-imposed exile, and why he probably won't collect the million dollars he won by solving the Poincare Conjecture."

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Who cares? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30507488)

Brittany Murphy is dead and we're supposed to give a fuck about some Russian hermit? Life is not worth living anymore.

Re:Who cares? (1, Informative)

ta bu shi da yu (687699) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507662)

Oh come on! That comment is hilarious!

Re:Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30507810)

Yeah, but the discussion it produces is pretty awful, won't you agree?

Re:Who cares? (0, Offtopic)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508422)

Brittany Murphy is dead

I didn't even know she was sick.

Re:Who cares? (1, Insightful)

tenco (773732) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508734)

Brittany Murphy is dead

I didn't even know she was sick.

I didn't even know who Brittany Murphy was.

Re:Who cares? (2, Funny)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508402)

some Russian hermit

That sonofabitch Perelman owes me money!

We were having Chinese and when the bill came he claimed to have left his wallet in his other pants. It's not like I was surprised because he's a real schnorer. You think he'd ever pick up a check? Feh.

And he thinks he's such a big shot with the math and numbers. Well, let me tell you about Mr Smart-Guy Grigory Perelman. He's not in any "self-imposed exile" unless "self-imposed exile" is math-talk for "dodging the guy he owes money to".

I have it on very good authority from his cousin Vanya that since last weekend he's got his cell phone turned off and isn't it interesting that someone with the name "P01ncare_S0lver69" has been playing a lot of Modern Warfare 2 online?

Humankind Cares (4, Interesting)

reporter (666905) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508456)

Eccentric people are people who think in ways that are not constrained by societal norms. Such people are the source of geniuses who, unconstrained by conventional thinking, discover breakthrough technology or scientific principles that ultimately improve the human condition.

Albert Einstein is the most well-known example of an eccentric genius. Grigory Perelman is another example. So is Claude Shannon, the "father" of communications theory.

Yet another example will likely be Burkhard Heim [newscientist.com] . He formulated the mathematics for warp-drive, and the Department of Defense is actively studying his work in an attempt to build a prototype of a warp-drive engine.

Re:Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508612)

Russell Crowe will make you care about this Russian hermit.

From his earlier movie, I learned that Nash equilibrium was a theory developed as a way to maximize a guy's chances of picking up hot chicks in a bar.

Re:Who cares? (4, Funny)

Kartoffel (30238) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508688)

Perelman's picture in TFA looks just like Lazlo Hollyfeld (Jonathan Gries) from "Real Genius". They are actually the same person! I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, which this post is too small to contain.

Copy/Paste mathematics paper (2, Funny)

Kagura (843695) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507504)

... he probably won't collect the million dollars he won by solving the Poincare Conjecture.

May I collect it?

Re:Copy/Paste mathematics paper (2, Funny)

Pieroxy (222434) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507516)

Too late! I just befriended a "Grigory Perelman" on facebook. Once we're pals, he'll give me the details to collect it myself. Ha!

Re:Copy/Paste mathematics paper (-1, Offtopic)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507640)

Hey moderators: Lost your sense of humor again?
Happens quite often lately.

Or is the new average age for moderators somewhere around 14?

Re:Copy/Paste mathematics paper (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30507802)

The mods have been really bitch-like the past few days. They must live boring, unhappy childhoods as latchkey kids. They tend to become uppity "holier than thou" self-righteous pricks when they come back from mass and bible-study.

And the San Diego Chargers just won the fucking game! Holy fucking shit, did you see that fucking field goal? We're on fire, motherfuckers.

Re:Copy/Paste mathematics paper (2, Funny)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508686)

I'm expecting email from some lawyer telling me that Mr. ANDROIDCAT is the closest living relative of Grigory Perelman and that I can collect it as soon as I forward some banking details...

Hmm (-1, Redundant)

Jon Abbott (723) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507506)

I'll claim the money! Where do I pick it up?

Re:Hmm (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508134)

Isn't it great that a 1 minute difference in very similar comments produces a 4 point swing in moderation? Gotta love Slashdot.

Re:Hmm (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508618)

It's the gamble you make by posting predictable jokes.

Meh (5, Insightful)

melikamp (631205) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507528)

By not buying or reading this book, I am doing what Perelman surely would have wanted.

Logic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30507654)

Is it more logical to "wanted not to read" or is it more logical to "not want to read" ?

Re:Logic (1)

melikamp (631205) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507960)

It's about equal.

Re:Logic (4, Interesting)

selven (1556643) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508048)

Want not to read = you have a desire to leave the book unread
Not want to read = you don't have a desire to read the book

So if you're feeling neutral about the whole thing, the second one fits but not the first.

Re:Logic (2, Informative)

momerath2003 (606823) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508260)

I doubleunwant toread letterspeak.

Maybe .... (1)

i_want_you_to_throw_ (559379) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507548)

Grigory Perelman = Greta Garbo

Re:Maybe .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30507606)

that would just be weird but maybe:

Grigory Perelman == Greta Garbo

Re:Maybe .... (4, Insightful)

codegen (103601) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507638)

I know you were going for the cheap laugh and Funny mod points (no the joke did not go over my head). However there is more to the world than C, C++, Java and C#. Many computer languages still use = for equivalence. More importantly, in a story about mathematics, using = for the equivalence operator is probably more appropriate somehow.

Re:Maybe .... (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507826)

Not only that, but the assignment statement was valid programming practice. His was the first statement to assign Grigory Perelman to Greta garbo. Without the assignment, the comparison would return false, which would be a logic error if we were expecting Grigory Perelman to be equal to Greta garbo.

Re:Maybe .... (5, Insightful)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508006)

Yeah, and I think C (and all its derivatives) went the wrong route. The single "=" should have been comparison, and something else (like ":=") should have been assignment. I think that's logically cleaner, and gets along nicer with mathematics.

Re:Maybe .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508110)

I never liked ':='. I find it much more difficult to type.

Typing '==' is very easy to do. I read it as 'is equal'. With modern languages like C#, its also impossible to abuse when used in an 'if' condition.

Re:Maybe .... (5, Funny)

Thiez (1281866) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508644)

Ah, and how about we use \/ for OR and /\ for AND. Oh the world will be a better place! || and &&, we spit on you!

Re:Maybe .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508732)

But "=" is not comparison. It is not a question, it is a statement of equivalence, as if to say "These two things are one and the same, though they bear different expressions."

Re:Maybe .... (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508498)

However there is more to the world than C, C++, Java and C#.

Says you.

Re:Maybe .... (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507984)

Greta Perelman Garbo, your prize called.

Re:Maybe .... (1)

iluvcapra (782887) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508152)

Garbo never stopped making movies, even in her "seclusion," and she made sure Louis B. Mayer paid her very, very well.

Re:Maybe .... (1)

msuarezalvarez (667058) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508228)

Why do you think Perelman stopped doing math?

Re:Maybe .... (2, Interesting)

iluvcapra (782887) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508302)

Because he didn't have a good agent... And he is motivated by a self-destructive personal ethics, as opposed to Garbo, who didn't want to be alone as much as she simply wanted to be let alone, and pursued seclusion as a conscious strategy to maintain a certain lifestyle. As the TFA states, he got offers from all over the world to be paid handsomely to teach and do maths, but he rejected them all, because he thinks getting paid to do work is some sort of prostitution.

Re:Maybe .... (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508466)

Because the field of mathematics has too many toxic personalities (such as the Chinese maths guy who tried to defraud Perelman of credit) and because the maths should be an object of beauty in itself, the personalities who uncover it are merely the instruments by which the maths is revealed. If you go to a museum, do you look with amazement at the ancient works of wonder, or do you look at the collection of 1920s trowels? If you are willing to accept that a modern digging tool is nothing compared to what the tool has discovered, then accept Perelman's view that he is nothing compared to the discoveries he has made.

Having said all that, it's b* obvious to anyone with half a brain that Perelman is showing classic signs of Geek Syndrome (Asperger's Syndrome). Personally, I'd suggest he goes to a Buddhist monastary in another country, as meditation alters brain chemistry to reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety. It would also likely be much healthier than living in an environment as chemically polluted as Russia. It'll also keep his brain reasonably agile, should he ever decide to return to maths.

Probably the worst thing he could do is nothing. Sir Conan Doyle's view of a stagnant mind designed to work at high power is that it'll rip itself to shreds. History concurs, for the most part.

Check wikipedia (0, Redundant)

vlokje (1703102) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507590)

According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poincar%C3%A9_conjecture [wikipedia.org] it was solved around 2002

Re:Check wikipedia (1)

MaximKat (1692650) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507596)

so?

Re:Check wikipedia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30507618)

psst: click the 2nd link in The Fine Summary.

You will discover that "we know, and we're talking about him."

At least try to keep up if you're going to post, ok?

Great piece from one who actually talked to him. (5, Interesting)

jonnat (1168035) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507632)

Sylvia Nasar, also the author of "A Beautiful Mind", wrote a great piece [newyorker.com] about Perelman shortly after the publication of his proof. Deeply moving, in my opinion.

Re:Great piece from one who actually talked to him (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30507968)

Thank you for posting that. I surprised myself having made it through all 11 pages, but it was well written and highly interesting. I know it happens in all fields, but it was entertaining (if a bit sad) about the infighting that occurs in ground breaking mathematics.

Anonymous cause I modded you up,
-Tynin

You need the right book (3, Funny)

paiute (550198) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507714)

See, it pays to buy books with extra large margins.

poor design clay institute web site (0, Offtopic)

cinnamon colbert (732724) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507746)

am i the only one noticing that you have to click to each problem, and each page has just a short bit of text and a picture ? why on earth can't the clay put this all on one page - if they have 7 million smackers for prize money surely they can afford to correct really glaring errors in website design or is this a math way of saying we are mathemiticians who don't care about the crap that you normal lesser people care about ?

Re:poor design clay institute web site (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508526)

am i the only one noticing that you have to click to each problem, and each page has just a short bit of text and a picture ?

Yes. The rest of us are all looking at pictures of Brittney Murphy's big fake boobs, now gone forever.

Re:poor design clay institute web site (0, Offtopic)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508534)

By the way, did you hear about the Brittney Murphy robot?

It got silicon injections.

What...too soon?

Knows as much about ethics as he does mathematics (4, Interesting)

macraig (621737) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507774)

There seems little doubt, based on this interview with the biographer, that he is indeed firmly entrenched somewhere on the higher end of the autistic Spectrum.

I feel a stronger connection with people like Perelman than the vast majority of my alleged peers, though still not an emotional one. People like Perelman have a more instinctive grasp of ethics than any neurotypical types. Another rather well-known person who I would consider very similar (if just a bit more social) is Craig Newmark, of Craigslist.org fame. Wired Magazine had what I thought was a very telling article [wired.com] about Newmark and his Aspie "eccentricities".

Eccentricities or not, if the rest of the world were to (voluntarily) take lessons from the ethics of those two men, the Earth would be a dramatically different place, indeed.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30507806)

If he were so smart, he'd know there is only one consciousness and that you cannot exclude yourself from it.

There is only God.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30507874)

Well, I guess I can take that to the bank

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (0, Offtopic)

macraig (621737) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507924)

...there is only one consciousness and that you cannot exclude yourself from it. There is only God.

You mean the Borg Queen, right?

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (1)

jjohnson (62583) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507870)

How is Perelman ethically genius? Refusing to take money (or lucrative positions) for solving hard math problems seems, ethically, neither good or bad.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (1, Interesting)

macraig (621737) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507914)

You have a lot to learn, then, my young Padawan. It was the context in which he refused it that was significant.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (1)

jjohnson (62583) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507920)

Well, by all means then, master, please enlighten me. How is refusing either lucrative positions or the prize in his particular context somehow ethically praiseworthy rather than simply eccentric?

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (4, Informative)

malkir (1031750) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507944)

Well, by all means then, master, please enlighten me. How is refusing either lucrative positions or the prize in his particular context somehow ethically praiseworthy rather than simply eccentric?

FTFA:

What do you think the future holds for Perelman?

Some people who are very fond of him have speculated that when he is finally awarded the Millennium Prize, he will come out of hiding, claim his just reward, and perhaps reveal that he never really abandoned mathematics. It’s a wonderful but unlikely scenario. The commercialization of mathematics offends him. He was deeply hurt by the many generous offers he received from U.S. universities after he published his proof. He apparently felt he had made a contribution that was far greater than any amount of money—and rather than express their appreciation in appropriately mathematical ways, by studying his proof and working to understand it—they were trying to take a shortcut and basically pay him off. By the same token, the million dollars will probably offend him. I don’t think we will be hearing from Perelman again.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (4, Interesting)

jjohnson (62583) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507988)

Well, I did RTFA. His view that the commercialization of math is somehow wrong, that money is an offensive form of compensation for mathematical success, is idiosyncratic but not especially insightful ethically (if it's not outright mistaken); I wouldn't call it genius of moral philosophy. People will study and try to understand his proof, regardless of whether or not he takes a position teaching it; there's even a good argument to be made that he, the one person who clearly understands his proof, could do much good by accepting a position at a prestigious university because then he can help others to study and understand it.

I'm not saying he's a bad person. I'm saying his position on money and math is very narrow and eccentric. I don't see how this corresponds to ethical genius. You clearly do. Please explain it to me.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508462)

Don't you get it? He's sticking it to the Man! What more is there to know?

I'll take a shot at it - why not? (3, Insightful)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508590)

I'm not saying he's a bad person. I'm saying his position on money and math is very narrow and eccentric. I don't see how this corresponds to ethical genius. You clearly do. Please explain it to me.

Global warming.

Look at how many dollars are being sent towards that. How much certain political agendas are spending to have guys in white coats say what whey wish them to say. And now the issue is so muddied nobody can say for certain what the facts actually are. Money and science are occasionally poor bedfellows. And getting paid puts you in someone's pocket.

That seems like the antithesis of this guy. Money and truth are very nearly orthogonal - he knows this. So he doesn't wish to have the shadow of someone else's influence over his work. He wishes it to be pure math and nothing else.

It's inspiring, actually.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508008)

Well, by all means then, master, please enlighten me. How is refusing either lucrative positions or the prize in his particular context somehow ethically praiseworthy rather than simply eccentric?

From an article on the New Yorker [newyorker.com] , I think it sums it up better than TFA:

Perelman repeatedly said that he had retired from the mathematics community and no longer considered himself a professional mathematician. He mentioned a dispute that he had had years earlier with a collaborator over how to credit the author of a particular proof, and said that he was dismayed by the discipline’s lax ethics. “It is not people who break ethical standards who are regarded as aliens,” he said. “It is people like me who are isolated.” We asked him whether he had read Cao and Zhu’s paper. “It is not clear to me what new contribution did they make,” he said. “Apparently, Zhu did not quite understand the argument and reworked it.” As for Yau, Perelman said, “I can’t say I’m outraged. Other people do worse. Of course, there are many mathematicians who are more or less honest. But almost all of them are conformists. They are more or less honest, but they tolerate those who are not honest.”

Then another bit at the very end of The New Yorker:

Mikhail Gromov, the Russian geometer, said that he understood Perelman’s logic: “To do great work, you have to have a pure mind. You can think only about the mathematics. Everything else is human weakness. Accepting prizes is showing weakness.” Others might view Perelman’s refusal to accept a Fields as arrogant, Gromov said, but his principles are admirable. “The ideal scientist does science and cares about nothing else,” he said. “He wants to live this ideal. Now, I don’t think he really lives on this ideal plane. But he wants to.”

If you still do not understand why his refusal to accept the money, I'm not sure I can help you. Somethings are greater than any amount of money.

-Tynin

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (1)

jjohnson (62583) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508060)

Thank you. This does illustrate Perelman's state of mind much better than the article, and does seem admirable.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (4, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508168)

If you still do not understand why his refusal to accept the money, I'm not sure I can help you.

Who said anything about understanding? He stated his reasons, we understand them. Instead, I too am curious what makes his refusal ethically significant to you. While your selected quotes indicate a consistent and logical approach to ethics (barring that Perelman's characterization of mathematics as a dishonest culture isn't nuanced and may even be self-serving), we also have a quote from another reply at your level:

The commercialization of mathematics offends him. He was deeply hurt by the many generous offers he received from U.S. universities after he published his proof. He apparently felt he had made a contribution that was far greater than any amount of money--and rather than express their appreciation in appropriately mathematical ways, by studying his proof and working to understand it--they were trying to take a shortcut and basically pay him off. By the same token, the million dollars will probably offend him. I don't think we will be hearing from Perelman again.

Assuming that characterization is correct, then it's not fair on Perelman's part to dictate what other peoples' perception of a reward should be. For example, what sort of communication did he make with the outside world to curb those job offers? How are they supposed to read his mind and determine what he wants for recognition? This sounds a lot like spite (as a strategy of altruism, I apologize for the connotation), sacrificing benefits both to yourself and others in order to harm someone in particular. While there can be ethical versions of spite, this seems more driven by pride than by some ethical standard.

Finally, I don't have the ability to distinguish between an eccentric ethical system which is poorly communicated to me and a system of rationalization to avoid something the holder fears or dislikes. This could be a sophisticated ethical system or it could be sour grapes.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (5, Insightful)

Tynin (634655) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508510)

Who said anything about understanding?

Actually I was responding to jjohnson, who in his question asked for enlightenment.

He stated his reasons, we understand them.

If you understood them, why are you still asking questions about them?

Instead, I too am curious what makes his refusal ethically significant to you.

Because he refuses to work in a system he feels has been driven by cut throat politics. Because he, with all his eccentricities, was able to reach above all of that and find comfort in a life not dictated by men with agenda's who'd smile while sticking a dagger in your back for a place in history.

While your selected quotes indicate a consistent and logical approach to ethics (barring that Perelman's characterization of mathematics as a dishonest culture isn't nuanced and may even be self-serving), we also have a quote from another reply at your level:

The commercialization of mathematics offends him. He was deeply hurt by the many generous offers he received from U.S. universities after he published his proof. He apparently felt he had made a contribution that was far greater than any amount of money--and rather than express their appreciation in appropriately mathematical ways, by studying his proof and working to understand it--they were trying to take a shortcut and basically pay him off. By the same token, the million dollars will probably offend him. I don't think we will be hearing from Perelman again.

That quote is taken by the author of TFA who admittedly has never spoken with Perelman. What I've read from Perelman was taken by sources with whom he did speak with, and in them I found nothing about his disdain over the perception of being bought off. Perhaps that is just creative writing on the part of TFA, or maybe it is the truth, but I cannot tell. From my readings I took from it that it was his belief that math isn't something that should need a monetary reward, that the simple discovery of a new proof and the recognition that automatically goes with it are more than enough. It is a rare day we get to advance the knowledge of mankind, and he did so in a noble fashion, all the while his peers (Yau, Cao, and Zhu) worked hard to take the credit.

Assuming that characterization is correct, then it's not fair on Perelman's part to dictate what other peoples' perception of a reward should be.

I don't believe he tried to push his views on the world. When they tried to give him the Fields metal, they spent weeks trying to talk him into it, they even gave him three options; accept and come; accept and don’t come, and they'd send the medal later; third, I don’t accept the prize. From the very beginning, he told them he didn't accept. He didn't tell them that the prize and those that accept it were his lessers, just that he did not want it. He felt that if the proof was correct, that was all then he needed with no further recognition.

For example, what sort of communication did he make with the outside world to curb those job offers? How are they supposed to read his mind and determine what he wants for recognition?

This sounds a lot like a problem that will work itself out naturally. Why should a winner of a contest/prize have to announce to the world their intentions and how they'd like to be recognized? These people, companies, universities came to him, he has no responsibility to anyone to even return their calls as it were.

This sounds a lot like spite (as a strategy of altruism, I apologize for the connotation), sacrificing benefits both to yourself and others in order to harm someone in particular. While there can be ethical versions of spite, this seems more driven by pride than by some ethical standard. Finally, I don't have the ability to distinguish between an eccentric ethical system which is poorly communicated to me and a system of rationalization to avoid something the holder fears or dislikes. This could be a sophisticated ethical system or it could be sour grapes.

You could be correct, this could be sour grapes, he could just be highly uncomfortable / have fears / dislikes within the math community, but the fact that he spent ~20 years of his life in this very same community in pursuit of higher mathematics, not for the benefit of himself, makes me think he has seen enough of its under belly to know he doesn't need to play the game that exists in the upper echelons of any group to enjoy math and to continue to advance the field from the comfort of his home.

As a side point, he is perhaps the most uber of slashdot figures at this point. Living in the basement at his moms house, playing armchair mathematics and owning it.

-Tynin

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (3, Insightful)

Cassius Corodes (1084513) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508086)

He is raging coz others (in particular Yau) tried to (and to a certain extent succeed) take credit for his work. Instead of issuing a proper and deserved smack-down to these people he just hides. He is refusing the prizes as a protest against the lack of ethics in the mathematical community. In his mind he believes this demonstrates how he is totally committed to mathematics, and that only. Given that he was quite happy to accept prizes before and didn't feel that interfered with his work I suspect this is his way of raging as he is personality wise unsuited to direct confrontation.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (1)

egork (449605) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508200)

parent sounds like a pure speculation but anyways with a wrong reference frame. Should Perelman be the one to make the breakthrough it is an obligation of math society to aknowledge that. Not any obligation on the Perelmans' side.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (1)

Cassius Corodes (1084513) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508330)

Its speculation in that I don't really understand the mathematics so I don't know who is in the right. According to the new yorker article Perelman certainly thinks he has been slighted by Yau and others, and Yau has claimed his contribution was more significant.

While what you say is true in that its the mathematical community's duty to reward him if his claim is true - at the end of the day if you are not willing to fight for what is right then don't be surprised if it fails. By staying a recluse instead of speaking out he is helping those who are (allegedly) trying to rip him off. I mean what does he hope to achieve by giving up mathematics, not talking to anyone and living with his mother jobless?? If he was really trying to be above it as some have claimed - then he would have continued business as usual - not pull a stunt like this.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508430)

What you're saying is, politics and economics are more important than science; Perelman is living his life as a counterexample disproving the necessity of that axiom.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507974)

People like Perelman have a more instinctive grasp of ethics than any neurotypical types. .

This is an inaccurate generalization. I am not familiar with Perelman and have no idea of what motivates him. However, since you do not know every neurotypical type in the world, there is no way you can know that there are no neurotypical types with as strong a grasp of ethics as Perelman (and others like him).

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508352)

Ummm... there's only ONE neurotypical type, by definition. There can only be one mean or average. I very much do have a firm grasp of what that average looks like.

Any other stereotypical accusations of stereotyping you wanna throw at me? I'm not cowed by your cries of political incorrectness or "insensitivity". The only stereotyping that's "bad" is stereotyping that's inaccurate... and my application of it here wasn't inaccurate. The ethical mean for Homo sapiens is still, after all this much-ballyhooed evolution, "whatever I can get away with without being slapped around by an angry mob".

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508742)

Ummm... there's only ONE neurotypical type, by definition. There can only be one mean or average.

Yet in your original post you said:"People like Perelman have a more instinctive grasp of ethics than any neurotypical types." Please explain. And if your explanation is that you were referring to the plural of people who fall into the neurotypical type, then understand I was referring to the many singular instances of people who fall into the neurotypical type, not to the idea that there might be different neurotypical types.
You certainly seems to say that no one who doesn't place somewhere on the autistic spectrum could have as good of a grasp of ethics as some of those who do.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508070)

Ethics is pretty easy when you withdraw from humanity.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508268)

Yeah, because then you don't need ethics* at all. See, he's smarter than you gave him credit!

* (At least not Homocentric ethics... you'd still be on the hook for environmental and interspecies ethics, unless you're "withdrawn" because you're in a pine box six feet under.)

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (3, Informative)

atomic777 (860023) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508080)

I read through the new yorker article, and while it is clear that Perelman is eccentric, I don't think aspergers/autistic fits here. From the article

Now, when I become a very conspicuous person, I cannot stay a pet and say nothing. That is why I had to quit.” We asked Perelman whether, by refusing the Fields and withdrawing from his profession, he was eliminating any possibility of influencing the discipline. “I am not a politician!” he replied, angrily.

It is clear that he is hurt by the backstabbing politics and lack of ethics (as he perceives it) that have corrupted mathematics. He seems more like an artist entirely dedicated to his craft; the Greta Garbo comparison somewhere above fits well.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (2, Interesting)

macraig (621737) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508234)

Just in that limited context that you mention, that could seem plausible, but the larger context of his life screams otherwise: his limited social engagement, his obsession with both math and music, his social and moral rigidity, his inability to adapt... those are all trademark clues. It's the sum of his behaviors that gives it away, not any one of them taken singularly.

Another person I'd suggest is a close parallel: John Draper, aka Cap'n Crunch.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (2, Insightful)

nomadic (141991) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508370)

I feel a stronger connection with people like Perelman than the vast majority of my alleged peers, though still not an emotional one. People like Perelman have a more instinctive grasp of ethics than any neurotypical types.

Actually it's called obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. It's not any genuinely thought-out ethics, it's a rigid, reflexive narcissistic dogmatism that is unpleasant to deal with.

Re:Knows as much about ethics as he does mathemati (2, Insightful)

macraig (621737) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508426)

That's a curious thing to say. I thought his explanations of his motives seemed rather well thought-out, frankly, and I suspect he left out quite a bit of the thought that went into it. I'm also not at all convinced that your alternative diagnosis is the correct one.

So you're saying that people with OCPD cannot be ethical? That seems quite a stretch, regardless whether it even applies to Perelman or not.

Not talking to him an advantage? How odd. (5, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507800)

I guess I have to be more than a little skeptical of the opinion of someone who's only built up a view of someone based on hearsay. Trying to spin this like it's an advantage is at best self deception. Maybe it's an advantage because you get to make more stuff up, but it's certainly no advantage in actually trying to understand the person, or honestly convey who they are.

I don't really blame the guy for not wanting to talk to journalists. With few exceptions, journalists don't represent the interests of the truth, (and most certainly not YOUR interests). Generally they're trying to sell some eyeballs, and you're the bait. Gessen talks about how the when you interview someone you're always fighting their own perception of them self. That may be true (though I'm not sure it's exactly a negotiation as much as it is an integration). When you read a journalists biography, you're constantly fighting what the journalist might have thought was the most interesting story to tell, (as opposed to the most accurate one).

Re:Not talking to him an advantage? How odd. (2, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508046)

Lots of people refuse to give public interviews yet don't end up with stories like this. He's turned down a major prize and a million dollars, meaning he doesn't want recognition or money. It's one thing to not talk to journalists or a big conference, but if you're not talking to anyone you have and will develop major issues. All it'd take to dismiss this is for some good friends and colleagues to come forward and say he's a nice guy who doesn't want attention and would like to keep his personal life private, so thanks but no thanks.

Instead, he really does sound like the kind of obsessive shut-in who isn't coping very well with the world not working like mathematics. I remember seeing a TV show about people with heavy OCDs, it was quite amazing how stuck they could be because they couldn't decide or needed perfection or just spent all day going through rituals to the point of doing nothing else. This might be one of those persons that in a very few ways are not just functional but exceptional while otherwise just like them. I'm not saying there's proof to say that, just that I believe it to be possible.

Re:Not talking to him an advantage? How odd. (2, Informative)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508172)


I'm not saying there's proof to say that, just that I believe it to be possible.

Maybe, who's to say? All we have is a few words from a journalist who's never actually talked to the man.

Re:Not talking to him an advantage? How odd. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508388)

Poor guy probably saw all of the comments on here regarding the earlier article about his proof, to the effect of arXiv being for crackpots, etc.*

If Slashdot doesn't love me, I'm not going outside! Take that!

* (It's funny...I also figured that if it was a "real" proof it'd show up in a journal. this guy is really that much of a radical. In a field full of eccentrics who still find time to suck up to the man, Perelman stayed true to his egotistical roots. Go OCD! )

Mathematicians (2, Interesting)

Guido del Confuso (80037) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507816)

Perelman has a mind that is capable of taking in more information than any mathematical mind that has come before. His brain is like a universal math compactor. He grasps complex problems and reduces them to their solvable essence. The problem is that he expects human beings to be similarly subject to reduction.

This is a universal affliction among mathematicians I've known. They tend to look at the world mathematically, and aren't really able to understand things they can't reduce to an equation. This leads to a very black and white view of the world, where things must be a certain way, and anything that doesn't fall into that worldview is just wrong. Everything that people do must have a rational reason, and if they can't find one they will construct a reason that seems rational to them--regardless of how simplistic it is, or how dim a view of their fellow human beings it leads them to.

Mathematicians, by and large, tend to be very unhappy people in my experience. Not all of them, of course. Some mathematicians have a certain "spark" that allows them to abandon mathematics temporarily and give themselves over to the pleasure of an interpersonal relationship; but even so it is still against their nature to do so, and they will always slip back into the comfort of a mathematical outlook sooner or later.

I suspect that extraordinary skill in mathematics is not the cause of such a personality, but rather they are both common effects of some psychological variation that simply causes such people to perceive the world in a particular way.

Re:Mathematicians (5, Interesting)

Pixie_From_Hell (768789) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507942)

I'm a mathematician, and I'm afraid I really don't know what you're talking about.

Mathematics is often pictured as a very isolated practice -- a person sitting alone at a desk. But it's surprisingly social, and while there is a fair amount of desk time, there's a lot of interpersonal relationships (as you put it) in the actual doing of math. Asking questions, explaining your results, mentoring students, even teaching classes -- a lot of math involves other people.

Anyway, I know lots of mathematicians, and I think generally they're pretty happy people.

generally you're not geniuses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508036)

and you've had a happy lives. the people he describes are 1) smarter than you or 2) had it tough emotionally

Re:generally you're not geniuses (3, Insightful)

Pixie_From_Hell (768789) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508124)

and you've had a happy lives. the people he describes are 1) smarter than you or 2) had it tough emotionally

1) you don't know me, and 2) I'm sorry for them.

I've worked or studied at a variety of places: large state schools, smaller private schools, and in between. I've worked at one of the top five math departments in the country. I've met a lot of mathematicians, from ordinary to world-class. This is just to give you an idea where I'm coming from.

Why do you think people who are smart or good at math must be emotionally or socially troubled?

The original poster said:

This is a universal affliction among mathematicians I've known.

I'm just trying to provide a different perspective.

Re:Mathematicians (1)

martas (1439879) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507964)

Everything that people do must have a rational reason, and if they can't find one they will construct a reason that seems rational to them...

How is this specific to mathematicians?

... regardless of how simplistic it is, or how dim a view of their fellow human beings it leads them to.

How is this a problem?

Re:Mathematicians (5, Insightful)

Tim2 (151713) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508052)

Mathematicians, by and large, tend to be very unhappy people in my experience. Not all of them, of course. Some mathematicians have a certain "spark" that allows them to abandon mathematics temporarily and give themselves over to the pleasure of an interpersonal relationship; but even so it is still against their nature to do so, and they will always slip back into the comfort of a mathematical outlook sooner or later.

Even with qualification, this seems like a very rash generalization. I attended a doctoral program in Logic at the University of California Berkeley, where the names on the office doors were pretty much the same as the names of the most significant theorems. What struck me was the incredible diversity of how the best mathematicians' minds worked. Some saw mathematics as a meaningless game with symbols. Others had a vivid imagination for platonic realities that they captured in their work. Some were multi-talented, outgoing, and verbally and socially skilled . Others were introverted and poor communicators. I don't know what mathematicians you know, but your generalization that mathematicians tend to be unhappy makes no sense to me at all. I personally knew, and in a few cases worked for, a number who solved important problems. An example would be Julia Robinson (Hilbert's Tenth Problem) who certainly suffered from poor health and did have some difficult times earlier in her life, but at the time I knew her (1986-1972) could not be described as an unhappy person.

Re:Mathematicians (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508272)

Julia Robinson did not produce full proof of Hilbert's 10th. Diophantine property of the exponent was done elsewhere.

Re:Mathematicians (1)

egork (449605) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508316)

but at the time I knew her (1986-1972) could not be described as an unhappy person.

I have always suspected at least half of the mathematicians to be contra-motes (living back in time), just for a symmetrical reason. We physics know that time is not symmetrical, guilty be thermodynamics.

Re:Mathematicians (3, Funny)

message144 (1246846) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508354)

but at the time I knew her (1986-1972)...

Fascinating... you must have studied T-Symmetry.

Re:Mathematicians (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508102)

Everything that people do must have a rational reason, and if they can't find one they will construct a reason that seems rational to them--regardless of how simplistic it is, or how dim a view of their fellow human beings it leads them to.

Most people are motivated by shockingly simplistic needs and desires. Mathematicians don't dissect the world and peoples emotions any differently than successful businessmen do. Mathematicians are simply more likely to be disgusted by how shockingly simple most people are where as the businessman sees this realization as an opportunity.

Ignoring the fact that peoples emotions and actions can be broken down and understood as rational actions simply guarantees you will always be a pawn of someone who "gets it".

Re:Mathematicians (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508104)

This is a universal affliction among "feely" people I know. They tend to think that there are things in this world which can't be reduced to equations.

Yes, very intelligent people are often unhappy. The very drunk and the very stupid, in fact, make up some of the happiest people I know.

If the intellectual or the mathematician doesn't try really hard to get you to like him by making a bunch of small talk, I find it is difficult to blame them.

Is this the guy (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30507844)

whose work was robbed by the Chinese paper publishing cottage industry? The one where the Chinese students who are of the wrong sex and not pretty are writing the papers, and their professor takes credit?

not quite that (5, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#30507906)

Perelman's proof is fairly skeletal, though most/all now agree it contains all the required components and enough of a sketch of the missing details. However,some Chinese mathematicians (Cao and Zhu) filled in some of the details in a massive 300-page journal article. A famous Chinese mathematician, Shing-Tung Yao, was accused of promoting the Cao-Zhu article as the real proof, and taking away credit rightfully due to Perelman. There were other shenanigans alleged on both sides.

To some extent it comes down to a question of insight vs. work, with some on the Chinese mathematicians' side claiming that Perelman basically came up with the high-level breakthrough, but didn't follow through with the work to actually prove the theorem, which they claim is non-trivial--- and so the credit for the proof should go to Cao-Zhu, while Perelman gets credit for coming up with the major ideas that inspired the proof. Others view Perelman as essentially coming up with the proof.

Here's [blogspot.com] a brief bloggy summary with some links.

Re:not quite that (5, Informative)

Pixie_From_Hell (768789) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508076)

A famous Chinese mathematician, Shing-Tung Yao, was accused of promoting the Cao-Zhu article as the real proof, and taking away credit rightfully due to Perelman.

Yau [wikipedia.org] (the mathematician, not Yao the NBA player) is, of course, the chair of the Harvard Math Department. He is a phenomenal mathematician in his own right (Fields medalist, MacArthur genius grant recipient, etc).

I'm roughly familiar with the controversy, and I think it comes down to: what does it mean to prove something? Perelman provided what for most in the field was an outline of a proof, and Cao-Zhu (among others) dotted the is and crossed the ts. Of course Perelman would say it was a complete proof, and supporters of others would say these others provided valuable details. I think Perelman worked out all the details, but he only shared what he felt was necessary.

Re:not quite that (3, Insightful)

iluvcapra (782887) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508390)

Of course Perelman would say it was a complete proof, and supporters of others would say these others provided valuable details.

I followed this story at the time as well, and though it pretty clear at this point that Perelman understood how the proof worked, it's not at all clear he knew how to explain it, or that he had the capacity to teach it to anyone... You ask what it means to prove something, and I think something a big part of how we understand "proof" at least in the sense of the Academy (our "corrupt" "politics" as Perelman would say) is that one can demonstrate the proof to others, can explain it in plain language and can fulfill the responsiblities of an Educator. That's certainly what Richard Feynman believed, a man perhaps as brilliant but as different as night and day from Perelman.

In the western literary tradition, there's this certain tendency to romanticize a "Natural," a hermit, particulary a Russian one with wild hair that deals in abstruse mathematics (see Nabokov, Vladimir: The Luzhin Defense; Stoppard, Tom: Arcadia, etc). But we should try to recognize it for what it is: romanticism, the desire to tell a good story about an unusual aspect of human nature, and the fact that Perelman was "right" about his proof isn't particularly useful, considering other folks had to come along and write 300 page journal articles in order to confirm the issue. "Proof" is a social thing, and a mathematician is only practically right, insofar as he can explain himself and rigorously defend his argument.

This is a pretty pragmatic argument I'm making, I guess, because I'm not really putting much stock in the simple "knowing" of a fact over and above the "teaching" and "using" of the fact. If we just start handing out credit to people who "know" things and handwave when we ask them "how," what's to keep us from celebrating mystics or prescients? You can't just reward people for being right in retrospect.

Re:not quite that (4, Insightful)

sirsnork (530512) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508634)

I understand where you're coming from, but to me he did explain it well enough to teach it. A number of other mathematicians went over this and claimed it complete, sure, it took them a few years, but thats pretty much the standard now anyway. It sounds to me like he was happy enough to make this understandable by those smart enough to use it and leave it at that

Re:not quite that (1)

iluvcapra (782887) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508678)

A number of other mathematicians went over this and claimed it complete, sure, it took them a few years, but thats pretty much the standard now anyway.

Uhh.... sorta. It's not that his proof was very complicated, it was in fact pretty sketchy, and important parts of it, arguments that were novel and unestablished and critical to the proof, he left unargued and simply presented them as obviously true. The sweep of the thing was there, and people looking at it could intuit that he was at least making good assumptions, but as far as what was on paper, they were assumptions.

Most people who read it could see it was there, but if you were to construct an airplane in 2006, which relied upon Perelman's proof of the Poncaire Conjecture in order to fly, no one would board it.

Re:not quite that (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508128)

Perelman's proof was only viewed as skeletal because at the time only part 1 of 3 had been sent on to arXiv.org. Yao took advantage of the moment and lead a bit of a smear campaign on Perelman in order to make himself, his team, and China look better (perhaps a bit more complex than that). Once Perelman released part 2 and 3 of his Poincaré solution, Yao made further noise about not understanding some parts of it, and went on to say that his group with Cao and Zhu did all the leg work to fill in the gaps. However their were no mathematical gaps, Perelman had done the work himself. Even John Morgan [wikipedia.org] came forward and agreed that the reworkings done by Zhu and Cao did nothing to advance Poincare and that Perelmans work was complete and correct. So in short, all the noise the Chinese mathematicians were making was due to them trying to steal the thunder from Perelman and weasel their way into history.

lack of rigor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30507888)

The mathematicians penchant for rigor disappears quickly when $1M enters the picture.

The controversy was rather fierce a few years back when the proof(s) emerged, and questions arised as to the relative contributions of the individuals.

I'm no mathematician, but you would think the math guys themselves should be able to sort the prize out in some orderly, and more mature fashion.

The most recent picture of Perelman, riding subway (5, Interesting)

guacamole (24270) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508022)

http://englishrussia.com/?p=998 [englishrussia.com]

I'm his mom could use the money. (5, Insightful)

schwit1 (797399) | more than 4 years ago | (#30508232)

If nothing else he could give it to a charity that helps children who have a gift in Math.

Re:I'm his mom could use the money. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508624)

Word is he made enough money while in the United States to retire for good, before he returned home. I'm sure his mom is living pretty well these days. However, yeah a charity would have been nice, but now the organization saved $1MM they can use as prize money for another extreme math problem.

Re:I'm his mom could use the money. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30508646)

Why to children already gifted in Math? Wouldn't it be better spent helping children who are struggling with Math? Or, heck, even adults who struggle with Math?
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