I’ve been thinking Math this last week. We had the Math Lover’s Forum at our house – a gathering of Math enthusiasts in an intimate setting discussing a problem of deep interest.
One of the attendees, Sean Hennessee, brought along a book for me, Prime Obsession, by John Derbyshire. As it says on the subtitle of the book, it’s about: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics.
It’s amazing how much fun Math books like this can be – you really don’t even need to be a very deep scholar to love them, although it helps to be curious about the subject. I remember reading One, Two Three.. Infinity by George Gamow many years ago – a book that got me started loving all the math lore and magic.
Another fun book that I read many, many years ago is, A Mathematician’s Apology by G. H. Hardy, the celebrated Trinity College (Cambridge) don who discovered S. Ramanujan. He describes his own life as a mathematician elegantly and walks us through the corridors of Trinity College where the likes of Bertrand Russell, John Maynard Keynes, John Edensor Littlewood, James Clark Maxwell were doing world-changing science and where Ramanujan spent several years, a complete social misfit but a huge natural genius that everyone at Cambridge tried to adopt and understand.
There are many fun stories about Hardy and other prominent Mathematicians (Gauss, Euler etc.) in Derbyshire’s book along with an exploration of their genius and passion for math. The “Unsolved Problem” that the book talks about is The Riemann Hypothesis, one of 7 so called Millennial problems in Mathematics that has a $1,000,000 prize for its proof. It is the most talked about enigma that the math community incessantly talks of and is indeed a problem with a lot of astonishing twists and turns, all brought out very nicely in this book.
Here’s a fun story about G. H. Hardy from this book, which illustrates his interests and mindset. In a postcard to a friend around 1920 he talked about his six most cherished New Year’s Wishes:
1. Prove the Riemann Hypothesis.
2. Make 211 not out in the fourth innings of the last Test Match at the Oval in London.
3. Find an argument for the non-existence of God which shall conc=vince the general public
4. Be the first man at the top of Mt. Everest.
5. Be proclaimed the first president of the USSR, of Great Britain and Germany!
6. Murder Mussolini
Isn’t that a fantastic list! Wouldn’t you just love to chat with a genius who had that kind of New Year’s wish list?
What would be your six most cherished wishes?
In my next blog my New Year’s wishes (It’s New Year’s day tomorrow by the Hindu calendar. Happy Diwali and New Year’s everyone!). Also in a future blog another fun story from Hardy!