Math genius rejects attention after solving problems

This story is interesting: Grigory Perelman story in Associated Press

2 things are very intriguing here…

This guy is solving some of the world’s most difficult math issues, and he does not want attention for it. In the day and age of FIRST, where we are trying to bring notice to heroes in the math and science field, Dr. Perelman is going against the grain.

Andy B.

At the risk of stereotyping this guy… he’s sounds like one of these geniuses who doesn’t know how to tie his shoes but can tell you the equations used to prove to you they can be tied.

I read this yesterday and have been thinking about it.
What I have come up with is the complexity of the human spirit and the enjoyment of the challenge. It does give pause for thought.

Analogy is admittedly a weak form of argument, but I’ll try it here anyway.

The difference between the practical science and technology that we celebrate and the abstract mathematics that Dr. Perelman does is like the difference between stonemasonry and sculpture.

Most of us here aspire to bring the world better techical solutions to real, present problems, and/or to celebrate the kind of career choices that lead to those solutions.

Dr. Perelman is more akin to an artist. He chose to work on the Poincare Conjecture just because it was there. His results may someday lead to a practical application, but that’s not his interest. And like many artists he is not interested in fame.

The twentieth century Welsh poet Dylan Thomas captures this attitude well, I think, in this poem:

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labor by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

I agree with Richard, the purpose of art is for one person to connect to another on a deep personal level. You study a work of art, and if you understand what the artist had in their head, then you have connected. That is what the artist was trying to accomplish, not to obtain awards.

But on a different level, if a person is able to accomplish things because they are a genius, because they have an inherent gift, they very often feel strange being awarded for the things that gift enables them to accomplish.

Engineers and scientist (by contrast) follow a path of hard work, dedication, education, hands on experience… that leads to successful projects (like the Ibot for example). People who follow careers like this should be held up as examples for young students to emulate.

Besides, how can you put a genius on a pedestal and tell people “be like him” ? You cant. That would be like pointing to a lottery winner and telling young people “this is what you should do, be incredibly lucky!”

Yes… but that is not the only thing we can do here. We can also say “let’s celebrate this accomplishment” without saying “be like him”.

Many people we put on a pedestal are not people we can be like. Einstein is a hero for many, but it is silly for us to think that we can be like him. People still study hard in upper-level sciences without thinking that they are going to be the next Einstein. Michael Jordan is a hero for many, but it is also smart to think that it is close to impossible to be like him. People still work hard at playing basketball without thinking that they are going to be the “next Michael”.


Many role models are quiet and don’t seek the limelight but their work shines.
Not everyone has a desire for fame and accolades and that is ok. In our classrooms we will be able to refer to this achievement and encourage our students to continue to raise the bar, aim high, and achieve - sometimes making the seeming impossible, possible.

In FIRST, many of our team role models are working among us and helping celebrate the experience.

Reading the article, the first thought that came to my mind is this:
does he know something about what he found out that we do not and if we do find out will this something cause such a major disruption in the science world (or the world in general) that may cause people to start blaming him (and rather angrily) for it?

It is incredibly important to remember that not all knowledge is good. It may be great. It may be great enough for an award such as this. But how it plays out in the real world is a major question that can only be answered by the risky trial and error process.

Otherwise, if its not that, he’s being a real humble guy, and that’s something rare in this world today. Something to celebrate I guess. God bless him.


PS: Stephen Colbert is looking to take the award for him according to last night’s show. He proved #1. That a donut could be made into a sphere and #2. That after 1 donut out of 3 donuts is eaten, there will be 2 donuts left over. lol.

I certainly hope Lavery isn’t reading this thread.

The Poincare conjecture essentially says that in three dimensions you cannot transform a doughnut shape into a sphere without ripping it, although any shape without a hole can be stretched or shrunk into a sphere.

That’s gotta be a hint.

and the example of humilty he has set as well - very cool!

I actually like this article for two reasons… I think Andy is right, that we can “celebrate” this accomplishment without putting the guy himself on a pedistal, marvel at the proofs, without actually giving accolades…

And because this is something we all need to learn and need to enforce in FIRST… Its NOT about the trophies, the medals, the plastic, or the awards. This guy did not want a medal for what he did. I dont think he would have published if he didnt want anyone to know about it… I think he wanted to share, but he didnt want the recognition for it, he just wanted to see it done. FIRST teams turn down qualifying awards at second regionals all the time… Teams should be aiming to achieve just for the achievement more often, not for the plastic that is awarded by some judge who gets a 10 minute glimpse into each teams world.

Having a peered into the world of theoretical mathematics, let me try and shed some light on this situation.

The life of a pure mathematician is one of solitude. Most work alone and are completely engrossed in their research. I wish I had my source on this, but the majority of mathematicians score as introvert on the Meyers-Briggs personality sorter. The solitude that their research requires is exactly what these people are seeking. Many use their work as an excuse to remain isolated from the rest of the world. Most likely, their introverted personality led to difficulties interacting with others when they were younger, as a result they isolate themselves. Attention is definitely not something they are looking for.

The Poincare Conjecture has been worked on for years, with very little success. This result is a huge breakthrough in the field of topology. Is this why Perelman worked on the conjecture? Probably not. To a pure mathematician, the challenge can greatly outweigh the potential breakthrough. As Richard so aptly described, mathematics at this level is closer to an art than a science. (Actually, high level mathematics is highly abstract and a right-brained skill)

My take on the situation is that Perelman naturally avoids the spotlight, and wishes to continue to do so. He’s probably far more comfortable working on his art out of the view of others. Sure he published his result, but most likely not for any recognition, rather to share his “masterpiece” with those who appreciate this sort of thing.

The irony is, Perelman is turning down the Fields Medal to shun the spotlight, yet as a result is generating far more attention than he would have if he had accepted the prize.

I’d say all knowledge is good. It’s only how you apply the knowledge which may be bad.

I’m sure there are alot of things out there that if you knew you would wish you didn’t.

Actually, I doubt there is. There’s a saying that knowledge is power. Without knowledge, you can’t make informed decisions. On what basis would you limit the search for knowledge? You never know where the quest for knowledge will take you or of what use the knowledge you find will ultimately be. The cliche many people use is nuclear weapons. However, even nuclear weapons may have benevolent uses, such as eventually shielding the earth from asteroid strikes.