Grigory Perelman from St. Petersburg has challenged the Creator and explained to him the ABCs of the Universe. The world has not been turned upside down, but offered Perelman the Fields Medal, often described as the "Nobel Prize of mathematics," and a million dollars. But, surprising the world once again, the genius has turned down all worldly blessings, and retreated to his tiny apartment on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, which he shares with his mother. The initiated will understand his logic - why take your medal and money when I'm entranced with my journey into the ultramundane?
My schoolmates and I wanted to get this million when we racked our brains over the Poincare conjecture forty years ago in our math group. This is, of course, an exaggeration - in real fact, we were talking nonsense. However, one of us has become a famous aircraft designer, another has won a prestigious Chebyshev prize in math, and two others are doing quite well in America. Unlike Perelman, we wouldn't have turned down a million, but we haven't proved the conjecture which preoccupied all his thoughts. Feel the difference! God is benevolent to those who think about him rather than Mammon.
Grigory Perelman is not just a worthy son of his father, whose manuals on physics have become a springboard for the talented. He is a reputable son of Russian mathematics, which has invariably enjoyed respect in the world community. In Russia, mathematicians have always been treated like national geniuses. Math education in this country was one of the best in the world. The cleverest school students gathered for olympiads at district, municipal, regional, republican, and national level. They brought home certificates of merit, prizes, and a reputation, which played an important role in their communities. Perelman went through this selective schooling. As a winner in a math contest, in 1982 he was sent to an international Olympiad and won a gold medal. He was only 16 then, and did not reject it.
As a rule, parents of gifted children were given the option to send them to physical and mathematical schools at leading national universities. All education was free. Some elements of this selective approach are still there. Five years ago, the Rector of Moscow State University called a friend of mine to say that his wunderkind could matriculate at the math faculty without exams. Given this approach to national talents, mathematics will continue thriving in Russia. After all, Perelman also returned from American universities to his Alma Mater - Steklov Institute of Mathematics in St. Petersburg.
I'm far from idealizing the mathematical community. Its members are sometimes locked in fierce battles, which would make Anastasia Volochkova's scandal-filled career at the Bolshoi Theater pale by comparison. When Perelman published his first article on the Poincare conjecture in 2002, he must have doubted his proof himself. As distinct from also-rans, a genius is always in doubt. For four long, agonizing years he waited for the recognition of his effort. As we see, his colleagues and opponents took their time. Three leading mathematicians - Gang Tian, Bruce Kleiner, and John Lott - signed the verdict. It shows that they did not compromise their scientific reputation in any way. They wrote that despite some insignificant inaccuracies, and even minor mistakes, the proof is authentic.
At that point, it was the turn of both the initiated and the ignorant to exclaim "wow!" Marcus Du Sautoy of Oxford University believes that the Poincare conjecture is the central problem of mathematics and physics, an attempt to understand the shape of the Universe. Grigory Perelman has made it. The world press is writing that having proved the Poincare conjecture, Perelman has matched the geniuses of the past and present. Everything else is boring.
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