March 24, 2010

Grigory Perelman, math genius, living in a tiny apartment in St. Petersburg, doesn't want that $1 million prize.

Please take the prize, Dr. Perelman.
The mathematician is reported to have said "I have all I want".... speaking through the closed door of his flat.
He also turned down the Fields Medal:
"I'm not interested in money or fame," he is quoted to have said at the time.
"I don't want to be on display like an animal in a zoo. I'm not a hero of mathematics. I'm not even that successful; that is why I don't want to have everybody looking at me."
He seems to be so wrong, but he is so much smarter than we are. Should we not absorb his opinion with awe and respect?

90 comments:

Monster said...

tell that to Obama who shamelessly accepted the Nobel peace prize for doing nothing.

Almost Ali said...

Offer him Dancing With The Stars.

Christy said...

He doesn't want the aggravation of dealing with all the people who will want to help him spend his new money. Probably been avoiding people half his life.

Greg Hlatky said...

Adults neither seek nor accept prizes for their work.

danielle said...

absorb his opinion or respect his decision ? he's human, just like us, right ?

just because someone is a mathematical genius doesnt mean they're smarter than everyone else in every sense of the word smart .. there are all sorts of intelligences ... musical, literary, emotional ... to name a few ... and i wonder a bit about how he does in that last department ...

Triangle Man said...

Adults neither seek nor accept prizes for their work.

What principle motivates that statement?

There was this great article linked from Instapundit yesterday about how effective prizes are for inspiring innovation. A real libertarian ideal.

Joan said...

One of Russia's most senior politicians, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, has appealed for Dr Perelman to be left in peace to make up his own mind.

He suggested that it was "not very decent to look into other people's pockets and count other people's money", Russia's Interfax news agency reports.



You think we can get this guy to talk to the Democrats in Congress?

EDH said...

A US institute wants to give him $1m (£700,000) for solving one of the world's most complex mathematical problems, the Poincare Conjecture.

If Obama's Healthcare Conjecture is a corollary to the Poincare Conjecture, do you suppose that means we've been "Poined"?

Quayle said...

We need more of his type.

Less of what we hear on TV all day.

Mark said...

I suspect he just doesn't want anyone snooping around and finding his TARDIS.

junyo said...

He seems to be so wrong, but he is so much smarter than we are. Should we not absorb his opinion with awe and respect?

Being a math genius might make him smart, but it doesn't make him wise, or not a freaking loon therefore, no. Objectively define success? Doing something so well that you're recognized as a genius at it and/or that people will give you oodles of money for it. Acceptance of a dumbass personal choice sure, but no awe, no respect.

Quayle said...

Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful woman in 100 years, living in a tiny apartment in Washington DC, doesn't want the fame and attention.

The Speaker of the House is reported to have said "I have all I want".... speaking through the closed door of her flat.

She also turned down the National Organization of Women medal:

"I'm not interested in money or fame," she is quoted to have said at the time.

"I don't want to be on display like an animal in a zoo. I'm not a hero of congress. I'm not even that successful; that is why I don't want to have everybody looking at me."

(Hummm - doesn't quite work, does it.)

traditionalguy said...

Yeah, but what has he done for us lately? His fame is worth only what the world expects from him next. So I suppose that he realises how fickle fame is to a man's living out his life. Do the American Idol Contestants realise as much?

rhhardin said...

Math is an escape from women.

Big Mike said...

For those who aren't aware, there is no Nobel Prize in mathematics (there are various stories as to why this is the case, most of them debunked in snopes) so the Fields is generally called "the Mathematician's Nobel."

One of the things that distinguishes the Fields from a mere Nobel is (1) that it is only given out every four years (though it can be given to multiple recipients), and (2) the recipient must not be over forty years old at the time of the award, so we're talking early promise and not lifetime achievement.

But we're also not talking very much money here, about 10,000 euros.

Big Mike said...

@danielle, spoken like someone who flunked all her math classes.

Fred4Pres said...

Wow, even Super Gelatinous Matt "Good Will Hunting" Damon could not do what Professor Perlman did. I have to agree with Joan, Sergei Mironov needs to come teach some things to the Democrats in Congress.

Robert Cook said...

"tell that to Obama who shamelessly accepted the Nobel peace prize for doing nothing."

He didn't exactly do nothing...he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize while continuing and escalating the campaign of mass murder in Afghanistan that had been initiated by his predecessor.

As for Mr. Perelman being "wrong," sez who? It's his life and if he doesn't want to be burdened with the prize and celebrity, that's his choice. The rest of the world really has nothing to say about it. Since when has fame and wealth been a requirement for living a good or happy life? Fame, in particular, would be an onerous condition in which to live one's life.

Cedarford said...

The true geniuses, not the "I'm a genius by my Mensa test!" sort - can be pretty different birds.

Don't forget the movie "A Beautiful Mind" was about a past Fields Medal winner.

Lynne said...

I hope he at least indicated a worthy charity or individual who should get the money instead.

Ron said...

I'll take it!

Kirstin said...

I am concerned about the cockroaches and Dr. Perelman's elderly mother!

Why do the English say "maths" (as in "maths genius") while we say "math"?

veni vidi vici said...

It's not like the Republicans in Congress wouldn't benefit from hearing him, either, given their performance of the past decade or so during which they squandered the promise (and premise) of their majorities.

Idiots, all.

Bob said...

@danielle proves once again that she's a bigot.

Seven Machos said...

Had he taken the prize, he would be just another guy who won a prize. This is a ticket to icon status.

Eric Muller said...

One of the daytime news shows on NPR pursued this story today in greater depth with a reporter in St. Petersburg.

There's more to it than what appears from the reporting we're seeing. They mathematician in question has been in a deep clinical depression for several years as a consequence of being voted out of some position or other by his colleagues at his university. The reporter in St. Petersburg suggested that what we're seeing is much more a manifestation of a depressive illness than healthy selflessness.

Skyler said...

If Albert Einstein claimed that 2 plus 2 equals 18, being smart wouldn't make him any less wrong.

Skyler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
danielle said...

ha ha -- Big Mike ! if you only knew ....

gosh, how did I become so popular here at Althouse ? oh, right, .... the big Victory on HCR !!!! i think they call what you're doing displacement. Usually adults are able to deal with feelings of disappointment on their own. So what's your excuse Big Mike ?

same to you Bob.

Seven Machos said...

The reporter in St. Petersburg suggested that what we're seeing is much more a manifestation of a depressive illness than healthy selflessness.

Of course the reporter suggested that, silly. What could be more vital and what could possibly hold more value than receiving fame, particularly in the form of some award?

Next thing you know, we'll find out this loser of a math genius supported the Iraq War and is against socialist health care.

Class factotum said...

there are all sorts of intelligences

Nope. There's smart and not smart. All the rest is BS to make the parents of not-smart children feel better.

PS But being smart doesn't guarantee success.

TheGiantPeach said...

What?? Leave my apartment? Haven't you heard? There are killer icicles out there. No way!

kentuckyliz said...

Manners. Smile, say thank you, and move on. Donate the money to charity if you don't want it.

The pridefulness of his being better than the award is icky.

Social tard.

kentuckyliz said...

Maths is short for mathematics.

Seven Machos said...

Factotum -- I know a dude who can fix cars real well and wire a mall. However, he sucks at reading, writing, and arithmetic.

I am dumbfounded by cars and can barely change a light bulb but I am good at reading, writing, and arithmetic.

So who is smart? Me or him? Or just you?

Seven Machos said...

That goddamn Unabomber set our argument back years, Andrea.

Andrea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LilyBart said...

"The more you know, the less you need"

~Aboriginal Saying

ricpic said...

In The Family Of Man photographic exhibit, which nobody remembers (but I do) there was a wall with two photographs on it: one was the picture of a six year old boy standing in front of a blackboard on which he had just written the answer to 2 + 2; the other was a picture of Albert Einstein lost in thought in the middle of a jumble of books and papers. And next to the two pictures this was written:

The wise man looks into space, and does not regard the small as too little, nor the great as too big; for he knows that there is no limit to dimensions.

--Lao-tze

Andrea said...

Okay, let's try this again...

Yeah, but I believe the Unabomber actually communicated with people. He just had an unusual way of showing his need for connection. Like blowing up peoples' connective tissues.

Seriously, unless this guy spends all his non-math life writing a screed on how the world sucks because it won't listen to him, he might actually be what 99.9% of us loners are: completely law-abiding and yes we really do prefer to keep ourselves to ourselves.

bagoh20 said...

Maybe he's right, who are we to argue?

BTW, is he married and is he gay, I could switch teams for the combination of that money and that selflessness. We could start a foundation or something.

bagoh20 said...

"Math is an escape from women."

Works like a charm too.

Richard Dolan said...

Long ago, Ann posted a blog about Perelman's quirkiness in refusing proferred honors. (I went back to look it up, and it was on Aug 23, 2006.)

Nothing much has changed, and frankly that thread was better -- at least it stuck, more or less, to the topic, rather than veering off into the usual political rants.

It's interesting how Ann's blogposts go back to the same odd-ball stories time and again. Did she even remember the one about Perelman she wrote in 2006? It was linked to the tags she used on this one.

WV: compete - which is what this post is doing with the earlier one from 2006.

Richard Dolan said...

Should have been: It wasn't linked to the tags she used on this one.

Lem said...

danielle said..

just because someone is a mathematical genius doesnt mean they're smarter than everyone else in every sense of the word smart .. there are all sorts of intelligences ... musical, literary, emotional ... to name a few ... and i wonder a bit about how he does in that last department..

Russell Kirk said..

Immensely expensive systems of state schooling have not succeeded in repairing the damage to private character and public life that was done when personal judgement began to supplant traditional opinion.

Bryan said...

Reminds me obliquely of another Grigory: Grigory Sokolov, probably the greatest pianist and possibly the greatest musician in the world. Also Russian. Also shuns publicity, which is much harder if you are a concert pianist. He plays about 70 concerts a year. He refuses to make any recordings--the few CDs that are available are all recorded live during concerts. Mind you, he is far more worldly than Dr. Perelman, but I detect the same sense that in order to preserve the most important values (mathematical or aesthetic) it is necessary to eschew things like publicity, awards (because they lead, shudder, to awards shows) and all those other things that tend to disrupt one's chain of thought.

Doug Wright-OG said...

Dear Prof.: A little snarky aren't you? Your statement, "He seems to be so wrong, but he is so much smarter than we are. Should we not absorb his opinion with awe and respect?" implies that we must each accept whatever Der Welt pushes upon us. Seriously, is that what you and all of us should do?

Well now, so much for individualism, eh!

Cheers, and great looking bio pic!

mccullough said...

This is what happens when you grow up in a communist regime for the first half of your life.

And maybe the U.S. Institute awarded Perelman this prize because they knew he would turn it down and they'd get to keep the money.

Lem said...

The question I have is why does turning down a prize/awards so rare?

Marlon Brando sent a Navajo Native and Woody just didn't show up.

Seinfeld doesn't think too much of it.

Other than those I cant remember any others.

Darcy said...

He has a right to say no. I think it's admirable. Quirky, but admirable.

Leave him alone.

Too many jims said...

Cedarford said...
The true geniuses, not the "I'm a genius by my Mensa test!" sort - can be pretty different birds.

Don't forget the movie "A Beautiful Mind" was about a past Fields Medal winner.


Nash did not win the Fields medal.

The Jews stole it away from him for his "supposed" anti-semitic views.

Eric said...

I could see turning down the prize, but I sure as heck wouldn't turn down the money.

David said...

I have respect and awe for his winning the prize. The turndown is just a bonus.

Big Mike said...

@mccullough, the US of A has nothing to do with the Fields Medal. It's awarded by the International Mathematical Union.

William said...

For the past several hundred years, all the improvements in our lives have been based on the inventions of engineers who sought money, fame, or the ability to kill their enemies. It is refreshing to find a pure thinker who is not sullied by the common clay and reaches for a brighter, more distant star.......I think further investigation will probably confirm that he is some kind of depressive, but it is, nonetheless, pleasant to believe that such a philosopher can indeed exist. Our thinking is as disordered as his. We like to believe, against all possible evidence, that pure idealism can exist in mankind.... He should accept sufficient money to give his mother a decent burial. It is not right to let the roaches dispose of the body.

Nora said...

Good to know somebody does great things for the pure pleasure of doing them without stimulus of rewards and recognition.

It also worth to remember what Richard Feynman said about scientific commettees giving away prizes, when he refused the invitation to join the American Academy of Sciences.

Although there are many kinds of smarts, the mathematicians are best logicians there are and see cause and effect relations better than most people.

And whoever on the thread above hinted at the Perelman's lack of emotional intelligence, remember, even dogs respond to stimulus.

Big Mike said...

@Too many jims, the only thing you got right was that Nash never won the Fields. He is known to have been a candidate in 1958, but back then no more than two people would be awarded a medal. When Nasar writes that he probably was not one of the finalists, she's likely to be right, considering that at that time he was only 8 years out of grad school. The importance of Nash's embedding theorem, published in 1956, to algebraic geometry and the fundamental importance of his 28-page dissertation on game theory (typed, double-spaced!) were yet to be recognized back in 1957 when the voting took place.

By 1962, which was his next shot at a medal, Nash was well-known to be insane.

Nash is known to have made anti-Semitic remarks in public, but only during the time he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

edutcher said...

He seems smart enough and mature enough to understand that the kind of money he would get can turn a life inside out.

Witness many lottery winners.

TRO said...

I want him to figure how much money the Tampon Tax will collect for Obamacare.

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

How could someone so smart not be interested in so many shiny little objects?

I could see why that one would stump the crowd.

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

The constant confusion of ability with virtue that prevails here never ceases to pass my notice.

Class factotum said...

Seven Machos, I should have copied the entire quotation so my statement would have the necessary context. Here it is:

there are all sorts of intelligences ... musical, literary, emotional

"Musical, literary and emotional" intelligence do not substitute for raw intelligence. Someone can be a brilliant musician without being smart. I doubt you would find many good writers who are not also somewhat intelligent, so those two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

And this "emotional" intelligence? What is that exactly? Ah. That would be the panacea to parents whose children are not doing well in school.

That said, I am not sure that being able to fix cars really well is a skill that a stupid person has. And I would not have married my very much smarter than I am husband if he didn't know how to do basic household and automotive repairs. Genius is nice, but can it change your battery or fix the garbage disposal?

Too many jims said...

@BigMike,

I actually knew the rough outlines of what you laid out. I do not believe that Nash's not being awarded the medal had anything to do with a Jewish conspiracy nor to any anti-semitic remarks he may have made (regardless of his mental health at the time of the statements).

The references to the Jewish conspiracy and Nash's "supposed" anti-semitic remarks were directed sarcastically at the original commenter who incorrectly said Nash had won a Fields medal.

I realize that sarcasm does not always translate to blog comments and I realize that my efforts at sarcasm often are misses. I apologize for any confusion and I apologize to the committee that selected recipients (specifically in 1958).

Eric said...

How could someone so smart not be interested in so many shiny little objects?

You don't have to be interested in "shiny little objects" to realize money represents a certain amount of security. It's not like we're saying he should do whatever it is that he does with the goal of making lots of money. The money is already there - all he has to do is accept it.

Julius Ray Hoffman said...

...he is so much smarter than we are...

I am trying to figure out if you, Professor, are mocking him or if you are trying to be serious.

If you are mocking him, then for what??! For solving an extremely difficult math problem, and then asking to be left the fuck alone?! The solution was an actual achievement, you know, and his honest and clearly expressed desire for privacy does not deserve scorn.

Or are you serious? You, Miss First-in-Her-Class-at-NYU??? How would you feel if we pointed out that you are "so much smarter" than us commenting here in your blog posts. Wouldn't you think of it as insulting?

The fact that articles and blog posts are continually written about this dude shows how much the mass conformist mob will harass you if you just want to live and be left alone. The world needs Perelman, he doesn't need the world.

And then NPR, as one of the commenters noted, postulates that he is "clinically depressed". Yeah, the concept of self-imposed solitude is so fucking foreign to modern sensibility that we need to make it into some sort of medically-termed human malfunction.

Unless, of course, you are a sailor or a monk or another religious person. Then society accepts your reasons for self-imposed solitude. The mob offers a "God and boating exemption" from its suffocating continual push to consume your individualism.

Moira Breen said...

Hlatky: Adults neither seek nor accept prizes for their work.

Triangle: What principle motivates that statement?

There was this great article linked from Instapundit yesterday about how effective prizes are for inspiring innovation. A real libertarian ideal.

Honor not honors.

The humility of the proud man who seeks only to fulfill God's idea of himself.

The man in love with truth and beauty to whom all else is dross. And screechingly annoying.

That sort of thing.

Granted, money and prestige work better as a motivator for most of the rest of us.

Nora said...

Eric said...@ 6:57 PM

True, unless you live in mafia infested StPetersburg. Then there might be different consequences.

BTW, unexpected consequences. Most prbably majority of us would not hear about the guy if not for his refusal to collect the prize.

vw: yophy - means beauty in Hebrew.

Big Mike said...

@too many jims, no, it's for me to apologize to you for not picking up on your sarcasm.

Ever since I read the book (vastly better than the movie) I've been in awe of the young (pre-paranoid) John Nash. I had waded through Theory of Games and Economic Behavior back in the day, and the notion that Nash could understand all that material, find the fundamental problem at its core, and resolve it in 28 double-spaced pages, is mind-boggling.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Can't I just contemplate the Cartesian grid of my waffle?

Peano said...

I wonder why people clamor to turn someone like Perelman into a "prize winning" celebrity? Maybe they just want something to distract them from their own barren lives.

raf said...

Danielle:Usually adults are able to deal with feelings of disappointment on their own.

Which is why I never
heard "selected, not elected" after the the 2000 election, right? Nor "Bush lied, people died." Seems to me your version of adult is in short supply all over the political spectrum.

I would add: adults don't dance in the endzone, but that is clearly a lost cause.

wv: strings. HCE comes with attachments that will not be apparent for awhile. OR, (for the other side) the sound of very small violins.

raf said...

Perelman doen't realize he is living in a socialist milieu. It is not for him to judge the appropriateness of this prize. He must be forced to accept it pour encourager les autres. After all, what does he really know about what he needs? Only politicians and their hirelings can make these judgements.

Big Mike said...

@Paul, because it's actually non-Euclidean.

danielle said...

celebrate good times, c'mon .... lets celebrate ! there's a party going on right here ... a celebration, to last throughout the year ....

seriously.

sure raf, whatever you say.

Oligonicella said...

"He seems to be so wrong, but he is so much smarter than we are. Should we not absorb his opinion with awe and respect?"

You understand that this is a guy who definitely comprehends the meaning and ramifications of trillion, right?

Irony.

Jeffrey said...

I suggest the Fields medal go to Matt Damon, so we can watch him stride onto stage, clutching a copy of his dog-eared Zinn vade mecum.

*

Ann Althouse said...

I'm not mocking him. I'm completely serious.

Anga2010 said...

This is what comes of living a lifetime under communist oppression. He probably figures that if he has anything valuable it will be stolen from him by criminals.

Alex said...

I'm sure Ann is not mocking him. I take her at her word. Mathematicians are so not hot. Excuse me while I pinch a loaf.

Freeman Hunt said...

Maybe he's done the math.

Odds of a million dollar windfall making someone's life happier overall: not very good.

Odds of a million dollar windfall making someone's life miserable: decent.

Evidence: lottery winners.

Maybe he thinks it's not worth the risk.

Also, he is, at the least, right about fame, isn't he? Why do people desire that? Sure, he probably wants his ideas to be famous and useful, but what good comes from oneself being famous? The consequences seem mostly undesirable.

Web Development said...

I know only one thing. When ever u want to gain something just go for it. Don't think u have resources or not. If u have tried the best u could but does'nt find the solution then God will help u and u will find the solution from divine which may have no logic but u will find the answer.

Kirk Parker said...

Nora, my google-fu is weak today, and I can't find any reference to Feynman and the American Academy of Sciences. Got a quote, or a link?

The Crack Emcee said...

I respect him, surrounded as he is by stupidity.

Gee, I WISH HE WAS BLACK so the point could be clearer,...

Iapetus said...

Perhaps Perelman has reached a higher wisdom and believes that accepting prizes and prize money would make him indolent, having the same effect as tenure in making so many academics lazy and unproductive.

jamboree said...

@Andrea

You tell it. A good 50 percent of my family is like this on my Dad's side. The whole family feels the affects and most of you are so far off, it's unreal.

Example: My uncle got the best grades his undergrad dean had seen in 100 years. Perfect grade point at MIT, etc.

Very gentle of soul, he did alright for a while, then some jackass ridiculed him at a company social function and he retreated. Never came out again.

Ever.

Is it really worth the loss of the kind of benefits that special level of brainpower can bring to society so y'all can be snarky about how they are manipulating it to make themselves go down in the history books and/or whether they are "socially smart"? Must you make life unlivable when we clearly have someone here who is several cuts above "Housewives of Orange County"?

God.

Apu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Apu said...

Perhaps Perelman already knows what Ithacas mean?:

"When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean."

Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)

bestha said...

why he rejected? Read 'New yorker' 24 August,2006. Don't comment as you like!

His rejection is slap on entire degraded moral ethical standards in the entire society and particularly in research field.

Entire society salutes him for his modesty and his intellect and his service to further progress of knowledge.

Mayukh said...

He loves what he does.
A chalk, board, bunch of papers and ink..is what he all needs.
He don't need a million for that.
He would rather be pleased if some one offers insights or different perceptions based on his work rather than propagandizing the feat he has achieved.

leeshink said...

spot on with this write-up, i like the way you discuss the things. i'm impressed, i must say. i'll probably be back again to read more. thanks for sharing this with us.

Lee Shin
www.trendone.net