First of all, thanks to all of you for being patient. The last week was really tough - exarcebated by lack of sleep and food - but enjoyable at the end for the insights i received from my work.
The title of this post is what the 'Mozart of Math' said in an interview yesterday (more on him later in the post). He just received the Fields medal last month.
The Fields medalIs the Nobel equivalent in Mathematics. "Equivalent" because the Nobel is not given in Mathematics (seriously).
Basically, Nobel hated mathematicians because one of them had an affair with his wife. Well, that is the common masala story, the version you'd hear in a Bombay local train if your co-passengers had the same interest in math as in the stock market. This version has just one small problem : Nobel wasn't married. Rumour faila ne ke pehle at least thoda research kar yaar. Read about the more probable reasons here.
Apart from being the 'Nobel of Mathematics', another reason why the Fields medal is highly regarded is because it's not awarded annually but once every four years + you have to be under 40 to get it. (They're so unreasonable, aren't they, these medal-wallahs?).
But get this. A Nobel gets you about $1,000,000. A Fields gets you $13,400. No. i am not missing out any zeros there. Thirteen Thousand Four Hundred Only. Of course, it's more about the prestige. But the sheer gap in prize money probably points to a problem that the title refers to : 'Marketing'.
Now, before i get carried away and get into the 'marketing of math' issue, a little about the great mathematician who's quoted in the title. This is him:
Terrence TaoShocked? Baccha dikhta hai na?
(excuse the amount of Hindi used in the post. I don't know why i am doing this.)
Age countdownAge 31 : Awarded Fields medal (this year)
Age 24 : Prof. at UCLA
Age 21 : PhD. from Princeton
Age 17 : Master's degree, Flinders Univ., Australia
Age 16 : Bachelors degree, " "
Age 12 : Gold medal at the International Math Olympiad (INMO) - youngest to date
Age 10 : Bronze medal at INMO
Called the Mozart of Math, except "he doesn't have Mozart's personality problems". And in the same link, his take on solving problems:
"It's not about being smart or even fast," he said in an interview at UCLA last year. "It's like climbing a cliff; if you're very strong and quick and have a lot of rope, it helps, but you need to devise a good route to get up there."And lest you think his work is an abstract math thing that has no relevance to day-to-day life:
Doing calculations quickly and knowing a lot of facts are like a rock climber with strength, quickness and good tools; you still need a plan — that's the hard part — and you have to see the bigger picture."
"...work may have implications for possible new methods of encryption and security of information"Link for the above quote here. Also see this for some idea on the kind of research he's doing.
Finally, check his university website out. In particular go to this link and do one 'page down' - i found it hilarious. First time i have ever read anything like that!
Reading about geniuses
When i first started reading about these geniuses about 15 years ago, i used to get really depressed. I felt so small when i looked at what all they had done. But thankfully i have somewhat overcome this over the years. I think it's even futile to pit yourself against someone else - higher or lower in talent. The operative word being 'pit'.
The best thing, IMHO, is to draw inspiration from these greats. These are thinkers who just keep pushing the limits even further showing us what the mind is capable of. In fact, to be honest, some of my problems have been solved after reading a Feynman story. It's like my mind says "Compared to the problems these geniuses deal with, my problems are so insignificant" And then just that thought of possiblity gives a breakthrough.
The other side of geniuses
Many (most?) geniuses have been known to have eccentric/troubled personalities. Famous examples being William James Sidin, John Nash.
So, let's say you were given two choices before you were born:
1) To be an extraordinary genius but be 'socially challenged'
2) To have an above-average intellect (enough to make a small mark) but be 'normal' in all other social aspects.
I'd anyday choose option 2). My colleagues/friends tell me that i'd do that because i am not in the position of a genius who's so absorbed in his work and derives so much of joy from it, that it doesn't matter to him. Well, i don't know. Reality is different. Take for example , Grigori Perelman.Won the Fields medal this year along with Terence Tao. Refused it!
I find him such a fascinating personality for other things like this:
"Friends say evidence of Dr Perelman's innate modesty came when - having finally solved the problem after more than 10 years' work - he simply posted his conclusion on the internet, rather than publishing his explanation in a recognised journal.
"If anybody is interested in my way of solving the problem, it's all there - let them go and read about it," Dr Perelman said. "I have published all my calculations. This is what I can offer the public."
Guess what? He's currrently unemployed living off his mother's pension! In fact, he's apparently so disillusioned that he's given up mathematics! (ala Sidin). Read about it here.
So, is he happy? No way. What happens then to all that 'math for math's sake' and 'derive joy from the process' stuff. The question is what's the point in being a genius if you're not happy. But, i guess one doesn't have a choice. You are just born one. That's your burden. As for me : anyday option 2.