Saturday, August 26, 2006

The politics behind the Poincaré conjecture

Do read this excellent New Yorker article on "a legendary problem and the battle over who solved it". The article is by Sylvia Nasar (author of A beautiful mind, a biography of mathematician and economics Nobel winner John Nash) and David Gruber.

Here are two highly quotable quotes from the article:

Grigory Perelman: “It [the Fields Medal] was completely irrelevant for me. Everybody understood that if the proof [of the Poincaré conjecture] is correct then no other recognition is needed.”

Yuri Burago (Perelman's Ph.D. advisor): "He [Perelman] was not fast. Speed means nothing. Math doesn’t depend on speed. It is about deep.

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Thanks to Swarup for the pointer -- through his comment on an earlier post.


  1. gaddeswarup said...

    Before people start on the Chinese attitudes, let me quote from another article: mg19125661.400
    "The underlying issue that emerges when you add together Perelman's work and attitude, the Chinese claims, and the problems of attributing proper credit, is that mathematicians are finding it increasingly difficult to decide whether or not something has been proved."
    There have been similar problems before and ongoing problems with the solutions of 'Tarski problems' announced in 1998 by some people.

  2. Anant said...

    From comments on Slashdot, I gather that
    there has been a lot of masala added in
    the New Yorker story. It seems to me that
    they are needlessly portraying Yau as the
    villain of the piece, which is completely
    uncalled for. As one of the commentators
    there said, there was no need to include
    the Yau-Tian dispute, which was in no way
    relevant to the present story.

    All this aside, I think Perelman is one of
    the great heroes of all time. We need
    more such. There are speculations
    as to what his motive was in turning
    down the Fields Medal. Whatever they
    may be, it is his business accepting
    or rejecting any award. Just because
    there is intense media glare, it does
    not mean he has to give in to the