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Math Science

Ramanujan's Deathbed Conjecture Finally Proven 186

Posted by samzenpus
from the in-your-dreams dept.
jomama717 writes "Another chapter in the fascinating life of Srinivasa Ramanujan appears to be complete: 'While on his death bed, the brilliant Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan cryptically wrote down functions he said came to him in dreams, with a hunch about how they behaved. Now 100 years later, researchers say they've proved he was right. "We've solved the problems from his last mysterious letters. For people who work in this area of math, the problem has been open for 90 years," Emory University mathematician Ken Ono said. Ramanujan, a self-taught mathematician born in a rural village in South India, spent so much time thinking about math that he flunked out of college in India twice, Ono said.'"
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Ramanujan's Deathbed Conjecture Finally Proven

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  • by rolfwind (528248) on Friday December 28, 2012 @12:05AM (#42408659)

    Just imagine the contributions he might have made if he had lived. Such a shame.

    It's just a hunch, but I have a feeling, unlike say technology, that mathematics is one of those fields where discoveries aren't always inevitable. Either someone thinks up of some things or they don't.

  • by ohnocitizen (1951674) on Friday December 28, 2012 @12:09AM (#42408679)
    I wonder what would happen if US colleges (or even earlier in our educational system) let students have free reign, and really specialize. If over in India this man had been nurtured in college, and allowed to stay in math courses (or even better conduct his own lines of study), might he have had a more enjoyable or productive life? If we recognize genius and cultivate it, what might grow in that garden?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 28, 2012 @12:27AM (#42408733)

      Probably a lot of pot.

      • Many mathematicians use drugs to get a different perspective on a problem if they're stuck. Marcus du Sautoy freely admits to the odd joint (and I know of at least two other from personal experience, and xkcd's Balmer Peak isn't entirely fictional.
        • Felix Klein used strong stimulants to fend off sleep. It has been conjectured (E. T. Bell?) that in so doing he damaged his mind, greatly reducing math productivity later in life.
    • There is evil that does not want unconstrained genius, lest too many learn truth.
    • by PPH (736903) on Friday December 28, 2012 @01:13AM (#42408931)

      I wonder what would happen if US colleges (or even earlier in our educational system) let students have free reign, and really specialize.

      We'd have a bumper crop of PhDs in Call of Duty: Black Ops.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      I wonder what would happen if US colleges (or even earlier in our educational system) let students have free reign, and really specialize.

      If you don't want a liberal arts education, don't go to a liberal arts college, although some will let you design your own curriculum as long as you meet some basic requirements and get the department head(s)'s approval.

      And there are plenty of highschools that focus on specific areas of study: they're called "magnet" schools.
      You can also find magnet programs within normal highschools, which allow students to focus their studies on one subject.

      • This doesn't advance the conversation, does it? If designing your own curriculum benefits some students, why not find out:
        1. Why it benefits them.
        2. How to find out who it might benefit.
        3. How to make it available to those who might benefit.

        As opposed to saying "make a choice on which college you attend" (which for many many students is restricted by past academic performance and financial caste) and letting the students who don't end up at schools that give students that kind of reign.

        One approach i
    • I wonder what would happen if US colleges (or even earlier in our educational system) let students have free reign, and really specialize

      It is called M.I.T. [mit.edu]
    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      I wonder what would happen if US colleges (or even earlier in our educational system) let students have free reign, and really specialize. If over in India this man had been nurtured in college, and allowed to stay in math courses (or even better conduct his own lines of study), might he have had a more enjoyable or productive life? If we recognize genius and cultivate it, what might grow in that garden?

      They do let students specialize - students are free to take any course they want (as long as the prerequi

      • by qwak23 (1862090)

        Actually, there are some universities that penalize you for going beyond a certain number of credits when working toward your BA/BS (if I remember correctly, Univesity of Texas at Austin is one of them, but my memory might be failing me). Which would prevent someone (outside of double majoring) from taking too many courses outside their area of specialization (major).

        That said, as someone who has recently (within the last two years) started working on their college degree(s) part time while maintaining a c

      • Not really buying it.

        If you got a kiddo with a 150+ IQ, your lectures on Gilgamesh will be wasted. End Of Story.

        • Disagree entirely. A little cross-training is generally good for the brain as a whole - look at the classic Feynman story where he decided to do a biology class to expand his horizons (he went to the library and asked for a "map of a cat").
    • I wonder what would happen if US colleges (or even earlier in our educational system) let students have free reign, and really specialize.

      You can, if you want. I spent a lot of time outside my class work studying things that interested me. Why didn't you?

    • I wonder what would happen if US colleges (or even earlier in our educational system) let students have free reign,

      If they're lucky, they might learn to spell "free rein" (yes, that particular euphemism is derived from stagecoaches/wagons, rather than kings/queens).

      Now that the obligatory grammar nazism is done, the main effect would be to produce people who couldn't communicate their ideas effectively enough to be taken seriously - it's all very well to come up with a revolutionary idea, but if the paper

      • Let's face it. The kinds of ideas that were rolling around in Ramanujan's head can not be communicated in a language other than math. Ramanujan's "problem" was that his interest in number theory was greater than anything being discussed in his other courses. Also, he had the problem that he needed to support himself by tutoring others as a source of income, which only added to his "problem".

    • let students have free reign

      Young people do need guidance. Complete freedom can lead nowhere too. The real challenge is to recognise what each person's mind is most talented at, and what they're naturally attracted to. The intersection between talent and enjoyment is a good place to find guidance. We don't do anywhere near enough to recognise kids' individual talents. We go about education *too* uniformly and I think that misses a lot of opportunity.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Ono's team did not prove the Ramanujan Conjecture. It was proven a long time ago, in 1974 by Deligne as part of his proof of the Weil conjectures

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The summary is fine, it's just not very specific. A conjecture of Ramanujan's was proved, and it was one appearing in his final letter to Hardy.
      The conjecture most often referred to as the "Ramanujan Conjecture" was something he had published 4 years earlier.

    • by thePsychologist (1062886) on Friday December 28, 2012 @01:50AM (#42409113) Journal

      The summary is actually referring to other conjectures from his notebooks and other notes, not 'the' Ramanujan conjecture as proved by Deligne, so the summary is not really incorrect, just misleading. It should be noted that these other conjectures are in fact not unusually important and certainly not even close to the Weil conjectures, but are nevertheless interesting.

    • Let me guess, the curtains stayed?

  • The summary suggests that Ramanujan wrote down some results that were conjectures until now. He wrote down many results, few if any on his deathbed, and most of them have already been verified for years, though some were still open until recently. Apparently the actual article is about the closing of the last few ones only.

  • by Kwyj1b0 (2757125) on Friday December 28, 2012 @02:38AM (#42409315)

    Whenever I read submissions like this, I wonder why they put a sentence like "genius in flunked out of ...". Unless the area they were a genius in was the same one he/she failed at, it seems kind of flame-bait - trying to start an "school is useless - look at these outliers" discussion.

    Ramanujan was brilliant at mathematics, and there is no denying that. But like any school/college, his was made for the average person. Sure, it would be great if education was tailored to each individual's aptitude. But we don't have a good way of finding out what that is directly yet. Instead, we throw a bunch of subjects at students, and they figure out where there relative strengths are. And they focus on one or two areas where their natural aptitude lies (or more realistically, where their job prospects and abilities/interests combine to give "best" results; best being chosen by the student. Some may chase money, others fame, others just want to solve interesting problems - applications/paycheck be damned).

    And discovering outliers early is hard when the teachers themselves are not much better at their subjects than the students. If some kindergarten student started using calculus for loading of building blocks, it won't be much use if her teacher doesn't realize that what she is doing is phenomenal (especially since the child will have her own notations/symbols). Obviously, that is an extreme example, but the point remains - outliers will have a tough time in the current system.

    Alternatively, we can let everyone do what they find interesting, but a majority of students will just spend time doing "fun" things like sports - which is not necessarily bad. But as long as we have the current system where you starve if you can't hold down a job doing "productive things", I think the educational system prepares most people for such a world.

    Outliers are great - and can help speed up society's progress significantly. But at the end of the day, they are just that - outliers. If you design a system to help the outliers, most people (myself included) would wind up getting a very bad outcome - because most people aren't phenomenally skilled at anything (and no, being the best me I can be doesn't cut it). And if you have a lot of starving deadbeats on the street (instead of the mediocre, but holding down a job majority) I expect society to completely break down - and that won't help the outliers either.

    • Whenever I read submissions like this, I wonder why they put a sentence like "genius in flunked out of ...".

      Let's look at the sentence in question: "spent so much time thinking about math that he flunked out of college in India twice" -- and you went off on a many-paragraph rant, when the only things that the sentence showed were that he was more interested in mathematics (some might rather say obsessed with) than the baseline, and perhaps that the school system was not set up to handle him. It does not contain an indictment of the school system, and only you thought it did, then went off on a massive rant about

    • But there's value to a well rounded education. In part because it lets you work with others and function in society better. While some great works are done almost solely by an individual (like the Principia) most are done via collaboration.

      Also it allows you to see things more cross-domain. Knowledge of things in more than just one area can let you see connections that you might otherwise miss, and to see applications for things that otherwise might just seem to exist in a vacuum.

      Hyper-focused education is

      • There is also value in a single driven focus is there not? I mean, Einstein wasn't known as a rounded scholar. Most of the most brilliant people in their fields pretty much just got past the other worthless classes on their path to greatness.

        People who constantly defend college are just as bad as those who constantly attack it. Some people seem to think that college is the only path to greatness, of course that's probably because it's the path >they chose. I personally went to college, graduat

  • by fnj (64210) on Friday December 28, 2012 @08:34AM (#42410233)

    Ramanujan is pretty near the top of my list of most admirable humans. His widely encompassing spirituality, the incredible way he developed his own native ability, and his focused obsession which hindered his college learning, are all themes that resonate strongly with me. The story of his life is at once a triumph of the individual human spirit and a tragedy of the life of one of the very finest of us being cut short.

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