Mathematical Intrigue

Thursday 24 August 2006 at 12:39 pm | In Articles | 1 Comment

There’s a long and fascinating article in The New Yorker* about power, international politics and intrigue at the top level of mathematics connected with Grigory Perelman’s proof of the Poincaré Conjecture and his rejection of the Fields medal.

Basically Perelman, a reclusive mathematician, in 2002-3 had published an outline of a proof of the Poincaré Conjecture. In June 2006 a paper by Huai-Dong Cao and Xi-Ping Zhu says: “In this paper, we give a complete proof of the Poincaré and the geometrization conjectures“. The argument is over whether the latter paper just ‘filled in the gaps’ or is a proof in its own right.

If you thought that mathematicians are free from all the prejudices and scrambling for power that inflicts many human beings, then the New Yorker will quickly disabuse you of the fact. One of the earliest such squabbles was between Newton and Leibniz over who first invented differential calculus and it has always been so. The difference between mathematics and other spheres is that the arguments are about prestige rather than money.

*Thanks to Ars Mathematica for the link to this article

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  1. That’s pretty interesting stuff.
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    Comment by greg — Friday 15 September 2006 3:36 am #

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