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Grigory Perelman and the Poincare Conjecture 241

Posted by kdawson
from the another-tortured-genius dept.
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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Grigory Perelman and the Poincare Conjecture

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  • Who cares? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 20, 2009 @07:19PM (#30507488)

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

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Oh come on! That comment is hilarious!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by PopeRatzo (965947) *

      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 i

    • Humankind Cares (Score:4, Interesting)

      by reporter (666905) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @10:39PM (#30508456) Homepage
      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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gad_zuki! (70830)

        While smarts and social oddness go hand in hand, stuff like exile and not talking to people on this level is actually pretty uncommon. You mention Einstein. Well, for a good part of his life he was incredibly social. Always giving speeches about his views and opinions, hence all the bumper sticker and quotes. Heck, he even spoke at a vegetarian event even though he was a meat eater.

        Personally, I think a lot of this is autism/aspergers spectrum stuff or a sign of mental illness. Lets not forget the high

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by elrous0 (869638) *
        Albert Einstein wasn't anywhere nearly as "eccentric" as he has been made out to be in popular culture. He was politically active, married (twice), employed in conventional jobs, and maintained an active correspondence with many other physicists around the world. He even founded a social club [wikipedia.org] and had (by most accounts) a great sense of humor. He was hardly some autistic social outcast.
    • by Kartoffel (30238) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @11:26PM (#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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by elrous0 (869638) *
        If the proof involves having seen Perelman in his pajamas, I'd prefer you not share it.
  • ... he probably won't collect the million dollars he won by solving the Poincare Conjecture.

    May I collect it?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Pieroxy (222434)

      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!

      • by obarthelemy (160321) on Monday December 21, 2009 @06:02AM (#30510344)

        Dear mister Peroxy,

        I'm famous Russian mathematician Grigory Perelman, known for solving the ages-old Poincare Conjecture.

        Alas, for reasons I'm sure you understand, I'm not able to come and collect the multi-million dollar prize associated with this tremendous achievement.

        I've been told that, thanks to your love of science and general kindness, you may be willing to go and get that reward for me, and then send it on. Of course, to compensate you for the bother, we kindly offer you to keep 20% of the $6 million.

        Would you kindly contact me at gperelman@411.ng so we can send you the relevant info and documentation ?

        Your friend forever,

        G Perelman.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by AndroidCat (229562)
      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...
  • Meh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by melikamp (631205) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @07:26PM (#30507528) Homepage Journal
    By not buying or reading this book, I am doing what Perelman surely would have wanted.
  • Grigory Perelman = Greta Garbo
    • by iluvcapra (782887)
      Garbo never stopped making movies, even in her "seclusion," and she made sure Louis B. Mayer paid her very, very well.
      • Why do you think Perelman stopped doing math?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by iluvcapra (782887)
          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 .... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 20, 2009 @10:40PM (#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.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by DNS-and-BIND (461968)

            At one time, crotchety old men could be grumps and misanthropes without being slapped with a label, assumed to be suffering from some syndrome that could be treated if only the appropriate amount of money is paid to Pfizer.

            And what makes you believe that a bunch of Buddhists would even accept an outsider like this? Do monasteries exist just so worldly people can go in retreat for a few years?

            You do know that the "high power" mind of Sir Conan Doyle believed wholeheartedly in fairies? "History concurs"

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

              by silentcoder (1241496) on Monday December 21, 2009 @05:03AM (#30510090) Homepage

              >You do know that the "high power" mind of Sir Conan Doyle believed wholeheartedly in fairies? "History concurs", my ass!

              That's a bit of a bad juxtaposition. Conan Doyle only started believing in mysticism in his old age, after the death of his wife - and it is widely believed that his "conversion" was a reaction to severe depression and PTSD.
              That is a very different time in his life compared to the man who practically invented the idea of using science to solve crimes. Just reread chapter one of "A study in scarlet" sometime and remember that this was written several decades before the first forensic department opened it's doors, not to mention that his character's habit of deducing details about people from their appearance and mannerisms has a striking parallel to modern criminal profiling.

              So yes, Conan Doyle was a highly intelligent and scientifically minded person, who also happened to be a skillfull and entertaining author - sounds like a pretty high-powered mind to me. That he abandoned this out of a desperate longing for dead person, and with it a desperate desire to believe that there was some way to contact her does not change this. Such things happen to the best.
              Newton became a mystic in his older years too - and dedicated much of his last years to the study of alchemy, at a time when the rest of the world were already quite busy abandoning it. The man who set us on the route to understanding the universe as obeying laws which can be explained in maths more than anybody else, genuinely believed that the combination of elements can be affected by spirits.

              Houdini, after a similar personal loss, went to see a "psychic". Being an expert illusionist, he recognized her fraud quite easily and in anger spent the greater part of his remaining life on an unprofitable and unpopular quest to find and expose fraudulent spiritualists. In this case, his disillusionment ripped him towards a new path of logic, but he only got on it because he was about to abandon it first.

              In short, the philosopause happens - it does not negate the work done in a man's life that, being only human, old age can weaken old resolves.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by nanospook (521118)
          Maybe he didn't stop "doing" math, maybe he just stopped publishing math? A mind like his probably sees math in everything he senses..
  • by jonnat (1168035) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @07:44PM (#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: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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
    • That was interesting. Thank you. I especially liked the following part:

      " . . .along the highway between Beijing and the airport there were "billboards with pictures of Stephen Hawking plastered everywhere."

      Now that's cool. I've never had the pleasure of seeing a lecture by Hawking in person. Is it common for someone like him to get this type of publicity ANYWHERE in the U.S. ? Apart from a few tiny posters stapled on campus bulletin boards and taped to light poles, I don't recall seeing any type of rea

  • by paiute (550198) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @08:03PM (#30507714)

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

  • by macraig (621737) <mark...a...craig@@@gmail...com> on Sunday December 20, 2009 @08:14PM (#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.

    • by jjohnson (62583)

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

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by macraig (621737)

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

        • by jjohnson (62583)

          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?

          • by malkir (1031750) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @08:55PM (#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.

            • by jjohnson (62583) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:04PM (#30507988) Homepage

              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.

              • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @11:04PM (#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: (Score:2, Funny)

                  by Anonymous Coward
                  Do you really think most scientists are like that? In actuality, publications and prestige, not money, motivates most of them.
                  • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                    by Weaselmancer (533834)

                    No, I don't think most scientists are like that. I provided a counterexample to make my point, that's all. This guy is the opposite - far opposite - to my counterexample.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by debatem1 (1087307)
                IME, the more beautiful you believe something to be, the more offended you are at the idea that it can be boxed up and sold.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by colfer (619105)

              More to the point, he is willing to speak out on bad ethics in math, and VERY few mathematicians do so. Whether it is due to conformity, as he says, or a more complex reason, I cannot say. But he is correct that the open nature of math goes along with a lot of questionable crediting of work. Sometimes it is just people trying to make a difficult academic situation function. The subject has become so vast that students have a hard time reaching competence by the end of their PhD's. (Physics has a more regula

          • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:10PM (#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

            • by jjohnson (62583)

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

            • by khallow (566160) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:46PM (#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.

              • by Tynin (634655) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @10:49PM (#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 wh

                • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:50AM (#30509138)

                  Please mod parent up. I am an assistant professor in a university and this is what I have observed. The dishonesty in science has reached unprecedented level, especially because today's scientific work is so associated with politics and money.

                  There are professors in high places who claim authorship to papers that are way beyond their capability (thanks to their post-docs). There are faculty members who place the ability to obtain grants above all other research qualities. There are dubious papers being published in good venues simply because authors of the papers "know people".

                  These things happen because today scientists are more into personal gain than scientific truth. The point is, scientific truth often conflicts with personal gain. (Compare this to economy, where a market where everybody is driven by personal gain resulted in an extremely dishonest system.)

                  Perelman's position makes perfect sense in such a backdrop.

                  As for the reward he wants? All post-docs to rise and revolt against their dishonest professors, and take back science from those who are not interested in it.

                  • by khallow (566160) on Monday December 21, 2009 @10:53AM (#30512054)

                    These things happen because today scientists are more into personal gain than scientific truth. The point is, scientific truth often conflicts with personal gain. (Compare this to economy, where a market where everybody is driven by personal gain resulted in an extremely dishonest system.)

                    It's amazing how ignorant of ethics and economics, an educated person can get. Sure, the academic environment is a remarkably dishonest environment these days, even compared to the business world (which is where the ignorance comes in). I don't question Perelman's desire to leave the environment. What I questioned in my original post is the mythology surrounding his choice. It doesn't take a lot of brain power to see that there is a fairly rigid class structure in most of academia: tenured professors, non-tenured professors and lecturers, various classes of students, and the rest of the staff. There's also considerable stagnation and silly politics making the environment rather limiting. The environment can be rather stressful, especially if you don't like public speaking or teaching. You can't make a lot of money either. There are plenty of good reasons not to enter that mess that have nothing to do with ethics.

                    Remember this whole thread started because someone boasted that Perelman had a "more instinctive grasp of ethics" than normal people. Ignoring the minor contradiction that ethics is a reasoned approach to morality not an instinctive one, this still seems a bizarre claim to make. My take is that any ethical logic that Perelman pursues is much easier due to his relative isolation. He has fewer conflicts and distractions to dissuade him from whatever he wants to do. What that means is that while he can still serve as some sort of ethical or moral inspiration for us, it remains that most of us we have difficulties and conflicts in our lives that he doesn't have. I resent the confusion of those issues with some sort of mental inadequacy on our part.

      • by Cassius Corodes (1084513) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:27PM (#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.
    • 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).

      • by macraig (621737)

        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-ballyhooe

        • 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 autisti

          • by macraig (621737)

            More accurate might be to say that people who find it impossible to keep their emotions aside from the reasoning process are the ones who have a limited and perverted grasp of ethics, but I'll settle for "everyone not on the autistic spectrum" in a pinch. Not everyone on the Spectrum actually has that ability to sandbox emotions from reasoning, but it seems to be a trait more common among people who have some autistic traits. There's a well established disruptive effect of emotions on ethical choices. Fo

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by atomic777 (860023)
      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by macraig (621737)

        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nomadic (141991)
      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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by macraig (621737)

        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.

  • by Vellmont (569020) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @08:22PM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kjella (173770)

      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 privat

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Vellmont (569020)


        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.

  • Mathematicians (Score:2, Interesting)

    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 lea

    • Re:Mathematicians (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Pixie_From_Hell (768789) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @08:54PM (#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.

    • by martas (1439879)

      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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Tim2 (151713) <twegner@sw b e l l.net> on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:19PM (#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.

  • Is this the guy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    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 (Score:5, Informative)

      by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@h a c k i sh.org> on Sunday December 20, 2009 @08:48PM (#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 (Score:5, Informative)

        by Pixie_From_Hell (768789) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:24PM (#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 (Score:4, Insightful)

          by iluvcapra (782887) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @10:30PM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

            by sirsnork (530512) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @11:13PM (#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
            • by iluvcapra (782887)

              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 as

              • Thanks for your posts, iluvcapra, they're really excellent and get to the heart of the matter. I think Perelman felt he'd explained enough (in his papers and talks), but you make an eloquent case that he hadn't done so to a reasonable standard.
                • by iluvcapra (782887)

                  I think Perelman felt he'd explained enough (in his papers and talks)

                  I'll agree with that in a moment, no question! But I don't think proof isn't a matter of personal satisfaction.

      • Re:not quite that (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:36PM (#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.
  • by guacamole (24270) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:12PM (#30508022)
  • by schwit1 (797399) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:57PM (#30508232)
    If nothing else he could give it to a charity that helps children who have a gift in Math.

"And do you think (fop that I am) that I could be the Scarlet Pumpernickel?" -- Looney Tunes, The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950, Chuck Jones)

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