'Nyet' to $1 million? Math genius may reject award

Mar 29, 2010 By MALCOLM RITTER and IRINA TITOVA , Associated Press Writers
This undated file photo released by the International Mathematician Congress shows Grigory Perelman. On March 18, 2010, the Clay Mathematics Institute of Cambridge, Mass, announced it had awarded Perelman a $1 million Millennium Prize for solving a problem that has stumped mathematicians for a century. (AP Photo/International Mathematicians Congress)

(AP) -- Who doesn't want to be a millionaire? Maybe a 43-year-old unemployed bachelor who lives with his elderly mother in Russia - and who won $1 million for solving a problem that has stumped mathematicians for a century.

Grigory Perelman can't decide if he wants the money.

"He said he would need to think about it," said James Carlson, who telephoned Perelman with the news he had won the Millennium Prize awarded by the Clay Institute of Cambridge, Mass.

Carlson said he wasn't too surprised by the apparent lack of interest from Perelman, a reclusive genius who has a history of refusing big prizes.

In 2006, Perelman made headlines when he stayed away from the ceremony in Madrid where he was supposed to get a Fields Medal, often called the of mathematics. He remained at home in St. Petersburg instead.

As for the new prize, Perelman (PER-il-mahn) told a local television station he hasn't made a decision on whether to accept the money, and that Carlson's institute will be the first to know when he does.

Sergei Rukshin, Perelman's high school math teacher, told The Associated Press on Monday that Perelman is still unsure whether to accept it.

"I know that this time he is seriously thinking about whether he will accept the prize. He still has some time," Rukshin said. The awards ceremony is in June.

Rukshin said Perelman has been without work for four years and has declined all job offers. He previously worked at the Steklov Mathematics Institute.

"As far as I know, after there was so much media attention ... he did not want to be a public person and to look like an animal in the zoo," Rukshin said.

He said he had encouraged Perelman to accept the prize to provide for himself and his elderly mother.

Technically, the is a done deal.

"He has been awarded the prize. That's the decision of the committee," Carlson said. "He may or may not accept the money."

Carlson declined to discuss what would happen to the $1 million if Perelman rejects it. Several groups in Russia, including the St. Petersburg Communist Party, have made public appeals to Perelman to give them the cash to fight poverty if he doesn't want it for himself.

Perelman was honored for proving the Poincare (pwan-kah-RAY) conjecture, which deals with shapes that exist in four or more dimensions, rather than the familiar three dimensions. The conjecture proposes a test for determining whether a shape in such space, no matter how distorted, is a three-dimensional sphere.

That was one of seven problems the Clay institute identified in 2000 as being worthy of a $1 million Millennium Prize. It's the first problem on the list to be solved.

The Clay institute was founded in 1998 by Landon T. Clay, a Boston businessman, and his wife, Lavinia D. Clay.

Tamara Yefimova, a deputy director of Perelman's high school who has known the mathematician since he was a student there, said that once he started working on the Poincare conjecture he became totally absorbed in it.

She said Perelman stopped visiting his old school to help students and stopped attending meetings of the city's math society.

As a high school student, Perelman obviously was the most gifted student, Yefimova said. The only reason he didn't get a gold medal upon graduation, she said, was that the unathletic scholar didn't get the top grade in physical education. Perelman went on to earn college and postgraduate degrees in mathematics and mechanical engineering from Leningrad State University and Steklov Mathematics Institute.

"It could have been only him who would solve the Poincare conjecture," Yefimova said.

Indeed, Carlson said, Perelman's solution was "a truly amazing piece of mathematics."

Perelman lives in an aging three-room high-rise apartment with his mother and doesn't like to pick up awards he's won, money or not. What is going on here?

Dean Simonton, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, said the field of abstract mathematics can attract people who live in extreme isolation, are aggressively nonconformist and "too often let their personalities interfere with their professional success."

Thomas Greenspon, a Minneapolis psychologist who has long worked with gifted children and adults, speculated that Perelman may be reacting to growing up brilliant.

"It's easy to grow up feeling bad about yourself and maybe even feeling like a freak and sort of reacting accordingly," so social skills can suffer, he said.

Mathematicians will gather in Paris in June to celebrate Perelman's achievement and put on some kind of ceremony whether he's there or not.

Does Carlson care whether Perelman shows up?

"It would be nice," Carlson said. "But on the other hand, I respect his desire for calm and tranquility."

Explore further: Where is that spacecraft? Statistically measuring uncertainty for space surveillance

More information:
Clay Mathematics Institute, http://www.claymath.org

Links to Perelman's papers:

http://arxiv.org/abs/math.DG/0211159
http://arxiv.org/abs/math.DG/0303109
http://arxiv.org/abs/math.DG/0307245

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Parsec
5 / 5 (9) Mar 29, 2010
I suggest (if he decides to decline the money) using the prize money to set up a small foundation in Russia where he lives to pay his rent, all his food and necessities, medcical care, etc. for himself and his mother. I would hate to see such brilliance cut short because of premature health problems and bad living conditions, inability to access adequate healthy food and bad health care. This has happened countless times before, I hope the world can avoid it happening once again.
michaelick
5 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2010
Pour Perelman. Somehow I can almost understand him. The problem is that he will get even more media attention if he accepts the price than if he doesn't.

And why is this a news on physorg? There aren't any new discoveries, Perelman solved the Poincarré Conjecture years ago. The price itself has no scientific meaning and nevertheless it gets the most media attention, I think that's what troubled perelman.

And when I read about this psychologists in the end of this article it reminds me of what Feynman said said about them.
seneca
3 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2010
Maybe he just affraids of St. Peterburg's mafia, because he's known for that money..

http://english.pr...relman-0
MorituriMax
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2010
""It could have been only him who would solve the Poincare conjecture," Yefimova said."

Puh-lease. Granted, a great piece of work, but let's stay in reality land. This guy wasn't destined among all the people of the world, ever, to be the only one who would ever solve it.
MorituriMax
not rated yet Mar 29, 2010
"And why is this a news on physorg?"

Uh, maybe because it's math and it's posted to the mathematics section? If all we ever posted were new discoveries, this web site would be pretty sparse.
gerrykai
5 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2010
Think he's crazy? No, only disgusted with the ethics in science! See
http://www.newyor...Page=all
Baseline
5 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2010
The problem went unresolved for about 100 years and many notable mathmaticians, Fields medal winners etc.. worked on the solution to no avail.

This is not the first time that Dr. Perelman has solved a long standing problem either. I would dare say it likely won't be the last either.

It's just going to be sonething you will have to learn to live with Max.
hush1
not rated yet Mar 30, 2010
I know Mr. Perelmans' answer. :)

The rest of you will say it is conjecture. :(
zevkirsh
2 / 5 (3) Mar 30, 2010
if he accepts the money, i hope he loosens up enough to buy a sports car and run around town partying with hookers. i doubt that will happen sadly.
Skepticus
4 / 5 (1) Mar 30, 2010
Perhaps madness and genius are just the same thing with different harmonics, the border between genius and eccentricity is often blurred. Nikola Tesla was said to have a habit of having three of everything when having dinner, and despite of his mathematics and engineering brilliance in designing and solving problems, he hadn't even one iota of common sense to manage or exploit the huge financial gains from his inventions to expand and further his works securely. I hate to see Grigory Perelman is going the same way, but there were already precedents. Another thing: Most of the most brilliant men in history (Socrates, Archimedes, Newton, Gauss...etc,) never married or have very few off-springs, and their offspring never achieve the heights of their parents... Have they somehow with their brilliance, worked out that they are statistical flukes and won't bother about procreation much if at all, to concentrate on their work? One wonders.
Gammakozy
2 / 5 (4) Mar 30, 2010
The Communist Party asking for the cash so they can fight poverty takes the cake. They must think the guy is either stupid or crazy. When has communism ever reduced poverty?
googleplex
5 / 5 (1) Mar 30, 2010
Let's face it the guy is so smart he probably would be wasting his neural time explaining his reasons to people. Leave him alone and respect his right to privacy. Accept his contribution to human knowledge then give him what he requests.
For people at his level of genuis wasting neural time is a near criminal act. Wasn't it Einstein who had dupes in his wardrobe so he didn't have to waste thought on deciding what to wear.
And to Skepticus there is no blurring of madness and eccentiricty. Check out DSM-IV.
The brilliance of these minds is such that they are wasting time explaining to people why they do eccentric things.
Baseline
not rated yet Apr 03, 2010
On the marriage front I wonder if the major issues are difficulty, if not near impossibility, in finding their intellectual equals and their tendency to become consumed by their work. Either or both would prove catastrophic to relationship success.
baudrunner
not rated yet Apr 03, 2010
The Clay Mathematics Institute shold donate the money, with Perelman's blessing, to an autism research foundation, as the fellow is probably suffering from some form of the syndrome, possibly Asperger's. I would respect his wishes, because the context wherein he currently resides is obviously conducive to his continuing his intelectual pursuits, which might otherwise be hindered. He's a sensitive individual.
antialias
5 / 5 (2) Apr 05, 2010
I can understand him. When you do research you don't do it for the money - you do it for the love of doing research. Taking money is a thing that 'cheapens' that (though we do have to eat - so there is almost no chance to avoid money at some level)

When you make a discovery then what you have done is 'obvious'. It does not require a pat on the back or a financial reward or a medal or a prize in a gilt frame.

Getting patted on the back doesn't make the discovery better or more meaningful to the person involved. Scientists aren't looking for recognition by the public. We like the science. We couldn't care less what others think.

zslewis91
1 / 5 (1) May 08, 2010
Shing-Tung Yau, the truest of assholes...