Grigori Perelman, Retired Math Genius

The reclusive Russian mathematical genius Grigori Perelman, whose severe expression and unkempt mustache and beard make him resemble every Dostoevsky character, refused $1 million for solving a problem that confounded mathematicians for a century. He also spurned the invitation to appear at the International Mathematical Union, saying, “I’m not interested in money or fame. I don’t want to be on display like an animal in a zoo.”

Like a brilliant antisocial animal in a gaudy, decadent zoo of sin. According to a neighbor, Perelman lives in a dirty, cockroach-infested apartment in St. Petersburg (math programs take note: pay your graduate students even less). His fingernails were at one point several inches long. In addition to prizes, he refused job offers from Stanford and Princeton. The puzzle he solved, the Poincare Conjecture, may help determine the shape of the universe. In 2006 he was unemployed and living with his mother on the outskirts of the city. It is reported that he retired from mathematics, finding it too painful and political.

If you read further, prepare to shed a tear.

When the New Yorker interviewed Perelman shortly after he declined the highest prize in mathematics, he said, while taking the journalist on a long walk through St. Petersburg, “I’m looking for some friends, and they don’t have to be mathematicians.”

Grigori: Let’s be pen pals? Email me.

What do you think?

About The Author

Ilya Khodosh

Ilya Khodosh is a writer and performer. He would like to have soup with you.

8 Responses

  1. Ezra

    @Heebsterpr — Assuming he’s Jewish, I guess one might take this as another instance of a Jew possibly driven to isolation and near-madness by the everpresent backdrop of antisemitism. Who knows what slights he experienced within academia, or what bullies he encountered as a child? Or maybe it’s an example of craziness among Jews, which seems to be (a) higher than among the general population, and (b) of a certain type. I dunno. That’s all I could come up with.

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  2. Josiah

    I was looking to transfer to Saint Petersburg state university so that I could harass him into doing math with me, I’m a Geometric Function Theorist, we’ve very similar methods and personalities(I have Aspergers). I had contacted a Russian family to serve as a live in English/Mathematics tutor for their son, they broke off conversation. Another faculty teaching position opened up for a gifted and talented youths math teacher, I applied, and was given a severely critical response as to my intentions once relocated. The liaison had errantly slipped information I had provided in confidence to the rather well off yet ‘private’ family. I assume the Russians would like to isolate him, even I have been occasionally contacted by meddling loose acquaintances here in the United States when I reduce the frequency of interaction at certain locales. Like the Poincare Conjecture the solutions for the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture have many applications in highly competitive fields, derivations are easily worth more than $1 million. The Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture I’ve worked on has direct application in the stock market, and that is how I first applied my methods, the secondary discovery was that of the formal request for a proof under the name Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture. I’m still looking for lodging in Russia, and I can find applied solutions during market hours yet I haven’t found anyone who would like to loose their job, or adequately compensate someone for research methods.

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  3. Zimriel

    Heebstrpr: I hope you don’t mind me commenting; I’m only partly Jewish…

    Yes, Perelman is Jewish. The reason he was able to get a degree at all in Soviet universities was because he was just that brilliant. Other mathematicians protected him from the antisemitic bureaucracy. Read Masha Gessen, “Perfect Rigor”.

    to Ezra: I’m sure Perelman was aware of antisemitism, but only to the degree that I’m aware of it. It didn’t affect him directly. The reason he lives in isolation is because he’s a socially inept nerd, poor guy.

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  4. sk

    Actually,Perelman has repeatedly said that he doesn’t talk to journalists and almost all interviews/books/documentaries about him have been proved to be taken without his consent and involvement so you may want to recheck the new yorker interview.Also media scrutiny about his personal life and habits played more of a role in his quitting university.

    Also he was known as a genius before university and his colleagues protected him letting him concentrate on his work.I would take “Perfect Rigor” with a pinch of salt since the journalist writing it had no access to Perelman.He once spoke about calculating how fast Jesus would walk if he walked on water in school so I think the Math followed into all aspects of his life and since the book doesn’t cover the math it doesn’t cover much

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  5. dan brown

    i like this guy an what he stands for , i need ah friend like him

    Reply

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