paging dr. perelman
August 15, 2006 6:54 PM   Subscribe

Grisha Perelman, where are you? Perelman has quite possibly solved one of mathematics biggest mysteries, Poincaré’s conjecture, but has since disappeared.
posted by kliuless (32 comments total)
insert lame Fermat's last theorem based joke here
posted by pantsrobot at 7:11 PM on August 15, 2006

"Dr. Anderson said that he talked a lot about hiking in the woods near St. Petersburg looking for mushrooms."
posted by haikuku at 7:17 PM on August 15, 2006

Magical, I hope he lives in the woods forever.
posted by fire&wings at 7:29 PM on August 15, 2006

I'll be at the ICM in Madrid next week -- I'll let you know if he shows up to collect his Fields.
posted by gleuschk at 7:39 PM on August 15, 2006

Going missing in Russia is seldom magical.
posted by Krrrlson at 7:47 PM on August 15, 2006

This part is brilliantly unilluminating, yet entertaining to a non-mathematician, though I suspect it blurs over some details,
...[T]he Ricci flow acts like heat, flowing through the space in question, smoothing and straightening all its bumps and curves to reveal its essential shape, the way a hair dryer shrink-wraps plastic. Dr. Hamilton succeeded in showing that certain generally round objects, like a head, would evolve into spheres under this process, but the fates of more complicated objects were problematic. As the Ricci flow progressed, kinks and neck pinches, places of infinite density known as singularities, could appear, pinch off and even shrink away. Topologists could cut them away, but there was no guarantee that new ones would not keep popping up forever. “All sorts of things can potentially happen in the Ricci flow,” said Robert Greene, a mathematician at the University of California, Los Angeles. Nobody knew what to do with these things, so the result was a logjam. It was Dr. Perelman who broke the logjam. He was able to show that the singularities were all friendly. They turned into spheres or tubes. Moreover, they did it in a finite time once the Ricci flow started. That meant topologists could, in their fashion, cut them off, and allow the Ricci process to continue to its end, revealing the topologically spherical essence of the space in question, and thus proving the conjectures of both Poincaré and Thurston
Interesting story, nonetheless. I too hope he is having fun in the woods.
posted by MetaMonkey at 7:54 PM on August 15, 2006

god i love math wackos
posted by It ain't over yet at 7:57 PM on August 15, 2006

Obviously he achieved the singularity.
posted by luriete at 8:16 PM on August 15, 2006

The story of Italian physicist Ettore Majorana is even weirder. NewScientist Magazine (hands-down the best magazine going) did an article about him last month that was pretty crazy hypothesis that he was trying to imitate his quantum physics findings by both being alive and dead at the same time (sub only).
posted by stbalbach at 8:30 PM on August 15, 2006

...and summond Azathoth
posted by Tenuki at 8:31 PM on August 15, 2006

The bossman says it happened last week. I've seen him around, he looks quite pissed for some reason. Everyone here in hell just calls him Ron. Next time I see him I'm going to bust out this old chestnut: "What is the difference between a Ph.D. in mathematics and a large pizza?
A large pizza can feed a family of four."

Oh Ron, you're going to love it here!
posted by the ghost of Ken Lay at 8:38 PM on August 15, 2006

To a topologist, a rabbit is the same as a sphere. Neither has a hole.

I would have compared a rabbit to Trix, myself.

(OTOH, don't rabbits have a couple holes?)
posted by smackfu at 8:51 PM on August 15, 2006

Rabbits don't have holes, just like humans don't have holes: the inside of our mouths, stomach and intestines is outside of our body. We're like water weenies. With teeth. And penises.
posted by herrdoktor at 8:58 PM on August 15, 2006

To a topologist, a rabbit is the same as a sphere. Neither has a hole.
Clearly there is scope for interdisciplinary work with biologists, who would quickly explain to the topologists that all enterostomes are doughnuts, although not vice versa.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:58 PM on August 15, 2006

god i love math wackos
Paul Erdős
posted by tellurian at 9:24 PM on August 15, 2006

herrdoktor writes "Rabbits don't have holes, just like humans don't have holes: the inside of our mouths, stomach and intestines is outside of our body."

Topologically speaking, that's a hole. We're doughnuts, not spheres.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:51 PM on August 15, 2006

Quoting Douglas Adams:
Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the nonexistence of God.
The argument goes something like this: 'I refuse to prove that I exist,' says God, 'for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.'
'But,' says Man, 'the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED.'
'Oh dear,' says God, 'I hadn't thought of that,' and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
I'm pretty sure that something like this must have happened to our dear doctor. It's just conjecture though.
posted by Brak at 10:58 PM on August 15, 2006

He was also known, by his friends, as John Titor.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:02 AM on August 16, 2006

Magical, I hope he lives in the woods forever.

Another mathematician who lived in the woods (for a while at least) was Ted Kaczynski.
posted by Tube at 2:41 AM on August 16, 2006

In the Neighborhood of Mathematical Space - fascinating essay from The Idler on another Russian topologist.
posted by jcruelty at 3:05 AM on August 16, 2006

Amazing. Thanks for the post.

Obligatory snipe at NY Times writing:

Also left hanging, for now, is $1 million offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Mass., for the first published proof of the conjecture, one of seven outstanding questions for which they offered a ransom back at the beginning of the millennium.

A ransom? WTF?
posted by languagehat at 6:27 AM on August 16, 2006

Look, languagehat, I was there the day the letters arrived: In a riff on the classic kidnapping note style, each letter had been cut from a textbook. "WE HAVE THE ANSWERS, BUT WHERE IS THE MONEY?" it read. Unfortunately, being impractical mathemagicians, the kidnappers had forgotten to leave instructions (or perhaps they were encoded in the unbreakable cipher at the bottom of the note, "hsjkhgjk hjasgjhj oojvnms issldj sdug"). So the Institute decided a million should be enough and publicized what they were willing to pay. God, do some research before you blame it on the Times!
posted by dame at 7:50 AM on August 16, 2006

A ransom as in "a king's ransom" as in "a lot of cash".

You knew that too you grammatorial cheek.
posted by longbaugh at 8:05 AM on August 16, 2006

Many brilliant mathematics tend to be borderline schizophrenic. Perelman, with his eccentricities, may be somewhere around that dangerous area.
posted by bhouston at 8:44 AM on August 16, 2006

Many brilliant mathematics tend to be borderline schizophrenic.

You are making things up. Please don't.
posted by gleuschk at 10:08 AM on August 16, 2006

gleuschk writes "You are making things up."

Maybe it's his borderline schizophrenia acting up again....
posted by mr_roboto at 11:34 AM on August 16, 2006

gleuschk - I'm not making things up. For example this story. Godel, Nash, and the unibomber - all gifted mathematicians and schizophrenics. Einstein's only son was schizophrenic. Schizophrenics, while it is a heterogenous disease, is, at least in many cases, strongly genetic. It is likely related to dopamine system dysfunction, which has been implicated in schizophrenia, that is related to focus and working memory span (which is required for mathematically work) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (which is related to general intelligence and is a major destination for dopamine neurons -- which is also a very strong predictor of mathematical success.) I am not saying that gifted mathematics are probable schizophrenics but that they are more likely to be than the general population as a whole -- which, if you read the above story, holds true.

My degree is cognitive science / neuroscience. If you did some searches on the various topics mentioned above you'll find tons of papers. This isn't fringe. Most professions have biases toward certain genetics. Mathematics and schizophrenia just happen to share a bias towards certain genetic combinations.
posted by bhouston at 11:55 AM on August 16, 2006

The evidence that Gödel was schizophrenic is sketchy at best. Even given that, you're left with three examples to support your claim (if you're trying to draw a correlation between schizophrenia and mathematical ability, you only get to use Eduard Einstein if you can show that he fell into the latter category as well, which he didn't). That doesn't qualify as "many".

Public perception of mathematicians as socially inept, verging either on the autistic or the schizophrenic, is pervasive, but actual diagnoses don't back it up. Your armchair analysis of Perelman ("He sounds weird, and kinda reminds me of my freshman calculus instructor and that guy in that movie, so I bet he has a debilitating mental illness") is, as far as I can tell, ill-informed knee-jerk stereotype.

Dueling clinical studies is too easy a game to play for me to be impressed by your link.
posted by gleuschk at 12:32 PM on August 16, 2006

I think we have moved past your accusation of me making things up to a more general disagreement as to whether or not you agree with some published findings in the area. This is different than me making things up. I have no desire to convince you.

Getting involved in evolving arguments that conflate personal attacks with more general disagreements are not my thing. Good day.
posted by bhouston at 1:03 PM on August 16, 2006

Sorry, this is a topic that pushes my personal buttons. I still maintain, however, that your original assertion "Many brilliant mathematics tend to be borderline schizophrenic" is unfounded, and even unsupportable. You've given no evidence for it. I won't allow it to go unchallenged.
posted by gleuschk at 1:12 PM on August 16, 2006

posted by Smedleyman at 12:28 AM on August 17, 2006

The first rule of nerd fight club is you do not talk about clinical studies.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:57 AM on August 22, 2006

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