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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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  • Re:Who cares? (Score:2, Informative)

    by ta bu shi da yu (687699) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @07:52PM (#30507662) Homepage

    Oh come on! That comment is hilarious!

  • not quite that (Score:5, Informative)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['ish' in gap]> 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.

  • 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 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

  • 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.

  • by atomic777 (860023) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:24PM (#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.

  • by Vellmont (569020) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:47PM (#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:Logic (Score:2, Informative)

    by momerath2003 (606823) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @10:03PM (#30508260) Journal

    I doubleunwant toread letterspeak.

  • Re:Mathematicians (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 20, 2009 @10:04PM (#30508272)

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

  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @11:49PM (#30508784)

    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:Maybe .... (Score:3, Informative)

    by tjstork (137384) <todd.bandrowsky@nOsPAm.gmail.com> on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:54AM (#30509168) Homepage Journal

    Other than Mathmatica? WHO/

    Pascal.

  • Re:Who cares? (Score:3, Informative)

    by ShakaUVM (157947) on Monday December 21, 2009 @01:57AM (#30509438) Homepage Journal

    >>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.

    Which, being Hollywood, was not actually an example of a Nash equilibrium at all.

  • Re:Maybe .... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 21, 2009 @02:14AM (#30509510)

    In fact, the very reason that the backslash was added to ASCII was so ALGOL could use the /\ and \/ operators.

  • Re:Humankind Cares (Score:3, Informative)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:00PM (#30512768)
    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.

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