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# It's not every day that you hear the proof of the century

There's a story told about a number of famous mathematicians that goes something like this:

The mathematician is lecturing to a small group of post-graduates on some work he has been doing on prime numbers. One of the post-grads asks for an example, the mathematician looks a little nonplussed and says, "Alright, take 39". (39 is not a prime number)

posted by atrazine at 8:25 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's a while since I've read it but I seem to remember that's covered pretty well in the book mentioned above, unfortunately I've not got a copy to hand.

posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:48 AM on August 29, 2010

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# It's not every day that you hear the proof of the century

August 28, 2010 12:04 PM Subscribe

1996 BBC documentary of the proof of Fermat's last theorem is now a Google video. John [Lynch] began researching the project, but Wiles was being very elusive. Although John did not know it, the flaw in Wiles's proof had been found, which is why Wiles was in hiding. Eventually the existence of the flaw emerged, and the TV project was abandoned
A year or so later, the flaw was fixed...
More at SimonSingh.com.

I first saw this story on Frontline. Fascinating stuff.

posted by reenum at 12:38 PM on August 28, 2010

posted by reenum at 12:38 PM on August 28, 2010

Thanks for posting this. I remember watching it when it was first broadcast and being struck by the dedication and passion for ideas and concepts. I was recently discussing with a friend all the qualities that make radiolab such gripping radio and this documentary hits all the right notes. It really has been such a treat to watch it again.

posted by seaweed at 1:59 PM on August 28, 2010

posted by seaweed at 1:59 PM on August 28, 2010

Thanks, this is fascinating! This quote really struck me...

- Goro Shimura on his contribution to the Taniyama-Shimura Conjecture

posted by sophist at 2:01 PM on August 28, 2010

*Taniyama was not a very careful person as a mathametician. He made a lot of mistakes, but he made mistakes in a good direction, so eventually he got right answers. I tried to imitate him, but I found out that it is very difficult to make good mistakes.*- Goro Shimura on his contribution to the Taniyama-Shimura Conjecture

posted by sophist at 2:01 PM on August 28, 2010

Simon Singh's book is also good and a nice companion piece to the show.

posted by beowulf573 at 5:14 PM on August 28, 2010

posted by beowulf573 at 5:14 PM on August 28, 2010

I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks, nor to understand mathematics beyond a grocery list, (and that woefully done) find this digression really, really cool! Some people's synapses just lock and load in a way we mere mortals can only gaze at with wonder. I need this guy's email address for the next time I'm stuck on a Sudoku puzzle.

posted by TDavis at 6:16 PM on August 28, 2010

posted by TDavis at 6:16 PM on August 28, 2010

So the math guy dealt with his real life problem by hiding...you'd think mathematicians would have learned something from all those ass kickings after school.

posted by hal_c_on at 6:17 PM on August 28, 2010

posted by hal_c_on at 6:17 PM on August 28, 2010

*I need this guy's email address for the next time I'm stuck on a Sudoku puzzle.*

There's a story told about a number of famous mathematicians that goes something like this:

The mathematician is lecturing to a small group of post-graduates on some work he has been doing on prime numbers. One of the post-grads asks for an example, the mathematician looks a little nonplussed and says, "Alright, take 39". (39 is not a prime number)

posted by atrazine at 8:25 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Watched this earlier today. I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I hadn't realized that the theorem had been proved. Can anybody take a crack at explaining, or pointing to a good explanation of what modular functions and modular forms are?

posted by jpdoane at 8:42 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by jpdoane at 8:42 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I saw this documentary when it first came out. I know nothing of mathematics, but this fantastic film has always stayed with me as an intense illustration of dedication and of human emotion. Looking forward to see it again.

posted by ouke at 12:15 AM on August 29, 2010

posted by ouke at 12:15 AM on August 29, 2010

*Can anybody take a crack at explaining, or pointing to a good explanation of what modular functions and modular forms are?*

It's a while since I've read it but I seem to remember that's covered pretty well in the book mentioned above, unfortunately I've not got a copy to hand.

posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:48 AM on August 29, 2010

Here is a somewhat technical explanation of modular forms which will at least show you what you'd be getting into.

posted by Obscure Reference at 7:09 AM on August 29, 2010

posted by Obscure Reference at 7:09 AM on August 29, 2010

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posted by maus at 12:35 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]