Poincare, Perelman, and Prizes

Aug 26 2006 Published by under Chatter

About 10 days ago, I wrote about [Grigory Perelman and his proof of the Poincare conjecture][poincare]. This is a quick followup. There's a more detailed story over on [Seed][seed].
The Fields medal was supposed to be presented this past week, and they planned on presenting it to Perelman.
He turned it down. He refused to come to the conference where the award was presented; refused to accept the award in absentia. He wants nothing to do with it. Even a personal visit from the head of the Fields committee to his mothers apartment in St. Petersburg wasn't enough to convince him to come out of isolation and accept the prize.
He's also refusing the $1 million Clay award; a bounty put forward to be collected by whoever eventually either proved or disproved the Poincare conjecture.
[seed]: http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2006/08/not_feeling_the_fields.php
[poincare]: http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2006/08/the_poincar_conjecture.php

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  • I cannot understand his decisions at all. You can sell your first-born virgin daughter into slavery and not make the kind of fortune on offer here.

  • Walker says:

    From the article

    (Alfred Nobel actually scrapped the idea of a math prize because of an adversarial relationship with a certain mathematician.)

    I know mathematicians all tell each other this urban-legend in graduate school, but it has been debunked on Snopes. I am surprised this made it into a professional article.

  • Lab Cat says:

    This week's New York had a very good article on this issue: Perelman New Yorker
    They explained the math well enough that I can sort of follow it. They also talked to Perelman.
    There seems to be lots of politics and backstabbing going and Perelman decided to opt out. Can't really blame him if he doesn't personally need the money or fame, which is the impression in the article.

  • rudy says:

    New Yorker article in most recent edition -- fascinating reading.
    A legendary problem and the battle over who solved it.
    Issue of 2006-08-28
    Posted 2006-08-21

  • Giveitupalready says:

    People, people. Why is this such a big deal? Could it be because most scientists really are in it for the ego as much as the science? Perelman is a nice man who loves math more than almost anything. He cared about solving the problem, he doesn't give a crap about some medal. He's not trying to be offensive but he doesn't want to be turned into some walking talking puppet on parade for math, the way some Nobel Prize winners end up. He already has the validation he needs in having solved the problem, and wants to do his own thing and retain an identity. He's got his life of preference in St. Petersburg and he can do his math. What does he need your award for? You go, Perelman! Do your thang. If only science was more like you.

  • Alon Levy says:

    I read somewhere that it wasn't that he was in for the science of it - if he was, he could have accepted the prize and donated it to his favorite charity - but that he was so terrified of the public exposure he preferred to remain completely reclusive. To be perfectly frank, I understand that.

  • Stu Savory says:

    Funnily enough, Grisha will probably be more famous for having said NO than if he had said YES. It in NO way detracts from his reputation 😉

  • AndyS says:

    In turning away from both the medal and the money, Grigory Perelman made a huge and very positive statement about how to live in a wholesome, life-enhancing way. Perhaps we should call it the Perelman Postulate and see how many people can demonstrate its validity.

  • Bronze Dog says:

    I can appreciate people doing science for its own sake, but in his position, I'd be really tempted to do a little addition. To my bank account. And not in some weird 2D topological number plane thingy. 😉

  • jackd says:

    Apparently some people quoted in the New Yorker article are crying foul, mainly regarding the parts about Yau and the Chinese maths heirarchy.
    I'm actually a bit suspicious of the letters, since the only link to the "originals" is a chinese-language site, mitbbs.com.

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