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Interview of Grigory Perelman
August 29, 2006 8:36 PM   Subscribe

Grigory Perelman, awarded the Fields Medal for his work on the Poincare Conjecture, talks to the New Yorker.
posted by Gyan (17 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hey, I just finished reading this article a few hours ago, so I can be the first to post a comment:

Er... damn good article!

Seriously, I'd be curious to know if there are any MeFi readers who can get this stuff enough to have an opinion on whether Yau's claims are bogus.
posted by forblaga at 8:42 PM on August 29, 2006


Hee I got half way through that article the other night and fell fast asleep. That whole math thing, um, yeah. But yes, good article, and if you can't follow it, well, highly soporific.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:53 PM on August 29, 2006


Nice article - and although the narrative is seductive, I'm guessing it's not as clear-cut as Nasar seems to portray. (btw - Nasar wrote the biography of the mathematician John Nash, 'Beautiful Mind.' Now that's a good read. Guess you all knew that ...)
posted by carter at 9:08 PM on August 29, 2006


Evil Chinese man vs. noble Russian man. It's too simplistic an article. Still, an interesting story.
posted by Nelson at 9:09 PM on August 29, 2006


Fascinating back-story. Thanks for the link!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:18 PM on August 29, 2006


It was a very well written article that explained complex mathematical notions clearly. That's no easy trick. Thank you for the link. I really enjoyed the article.

And why is it that the field of mathematics (probably physics too) seem to have more than its share of oddballs? :)
posted by bim at 9:18 PM on August 29, 2006


This Yau guy sounds like an asshole.
posted by delmoi at 9:40 PM on August 29, 2006


This Yau guy sounds like an asshole.

Academics definitely aren't above acting like shits, backstabbers and being petty.
posted by bim at 9:42 PM on August 29, 2006


That artilce made for a good read into a mysterious discipline an it shed light on Perelman's strange refusal to accept the Fields prize. I think he should at least step up and counter Yau's machevallian BS, but then again maybe he's confident about his work. to know it doesn't matter. It'll be interesting to see if he accepts the million dollar prize from the Clay Mathematics Institute.
posted by Skygazer at 10:03 PM on August 29, 2006


I have collected some additional links: Grigory Perelman, the man.

A very even-handed article in the Notices of the AMS: Conjectures No More?: Consensus Forming on the Proofs of Poincaré and Geometrization Conjectures.

A /. thread discussing "retractions" by mathematicians quoted in the New Yorker.
(I find the last apology, from J.J. Kohn at Princeton, who is almost retired, to be the most telling.)

John Morgan (co-author with Gang Tian of a book explicating Perelman's third paper) explains Perelman's accomplishment at the 2006 ICM.

Shing-Tung Yau's slides from a talk describing the article of Huai-Dong Cao and Xi-Ping Zhu, in which they prove Thurston's more general geometrization conjecture, adapting the argument of Perleman's first two papers.
Finally, a "stage play" and some Chinese propaganda.


I think it should be said that Yau is a genius, and he contributed a lot to the field, but Perelman masterfully combined the existing ideas with his own new ones to complete Hamilton's program. Cao and Zhu have simply reworked and elaborated Perelman's proof, while Yau badly overreached in trying to steal credit for his students.
posted by metaplectic at 10:17 PM on August 29, 2006


I think he should at least step up and counter Yau's machevallian BS

That would make him a politician.
posted by Clave at 11:44 PM on August 29, 2006


I think I love this paragraph near the end about the authors trying to meet Perelamn:
Before we arrived in St. Petersburg, on June 23rd, we had sent several messages to his e-mail address at the Steklov Institute, hoping to arrange a meeting, but he had not replied. We took a taxi to his apartment building and, reluctant to intrude on his privacy, left a book—a collection of John Nash’s papers—in his mailbox, along with a card saying that we would be sitting on a bench in a nearby playground the following afternoon. The next day, after Perelman failed to appear, we left a box of pearl tea and a note describing some of the questions we hoped to discuss with him. We repeated this ritual a third time. Finally, believing that Perelman was out of town, we pressed the buzzer for his apartment, hoping at least to speak with his mother. A woman answered and let us inside. Perelman met us in the dimly lit hallway of the apartment. It turned out that he had not checked his Steklov e-mail address for months, and had not looked in his mailbox all week. He had no idea who we were.
posted by fleacircus at 12:17 AM on August 30, 2006


I wish Nasar/Gruber had made it more clear, though, that mathematics has a lot less backstabbing and intrigue than any other academic field I can think of. "Work slowly, no secrets, share credit" is a much more usual order of things.
posted by escabeche at 6:15 AM on August 30, 2006


That would make him a politician.
posted by Clave at 2:44 AM EST on August 30 [+] [!]


Yeah that's true. He's presented his work and said his piece and that's enough.

From Wikipedia: According to various sources, in the spring of 2003, Perelman suffered a bitter personal blow when the faculty of the Steklov Institute allegedly declined to re-elect him as a member,[15] apparently in part out of continuing doubt over his claims regarding the geometrization conjecture.

Oh man. Did the Steklov Institute mess up. They must be the butt of many a math professor's joke. (Hilarious lot that they tend to be.)
posted by Skygazer at 7:56 AM on August 30, 2006


Yeah that's true. He's presented his work and said his piece and that's enough.

From Wikipedia: According to various sources, in the spring of 2003, Perelman suffered a bitter personal blow when the faculty of the Steklov Institute allegedly declined to re-elect him as a member,[15] apparently in part out of continuing doubt over his claims regarding the geometrization conjecture.

Oh man. Did the Steklov Institute mess up. They must be the butt of many a math professor's joke. (Hilarious lot that they tend to be.)



Actually, in professional mathematics, it is not usually considered sufficient just to post preprints on the arXiv. It does take significant effort to write a clear enough exposition for others to understand your work. I personally find that I only obtain true understanding after having done so.

Since Perelman is a genius, perhaps we should make an exception for him. But in a sense, he is behaving as a spoiled prima donna, and Steklov did have some justification for letting him go. He refused to follow the standard professional practice of publishing his work in refereed journals.

Steklov clearly has egg on its face now, but what should they have done in 2003? Begin to pamper and fête Grisha the moment he let the final preprint drop from his hand?
posted by metaplectic at 9:00 AM on August 30, 2006


Perelman seems to want to take the purist approach - a thing is either true or it isn't - and also seems to be afforded the luxury of doing so. By refusing the medal he's making the statement that mathematicians should care more about finding useful results, and less about official recognition.

Imagine if you trained hard for competition, gave it your best shot, and won, but only because someone who cheated was disqualified, and then the cheater began to personally attack you. Would you want the medal then? I know I wouldn't. I'm not saying there's a direct parallel between my story and the events that happened, but I think it's likely that Perelman feels similar emotions.

In reality, you do have to pay some attention to appearances, which I am struggling with personally.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:46 AM on August 30, 2006


Richard Hamilton says (on page 6) that the controversy surrounding Poincaré was created by the press.

The John Morgan interview linked above, in a nicer format.
posted by metaplectic at 10:49 AM on August 30, 2006


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