The very same Grisha Perelman – about Masha Gessen’s book “Perfect Rigor”

Grisha Perelman continues to make huge headlines – several days ago he has reportedly turned down the official proposal to participate in the so-called “Russian Silicon Valley” project. The reason he has given for his refusal is that he has “long nothing more to do with the science”. Even after the reminder, that one of the scientific leaders of the “Russian Silicon Valley” project will be the Winner of Nobel Prize in Physics 2000, Prof. Zhores Alferov, Grisha has not changed his mind.

The reaction in Russian-speaking Internet to Grisha’s decision is predominantly very positive – the vast majority of Russians have expressed their deepest respect to Dr. Perelman “who has really proven that he is not just a brand, he is the True Human indeed” (I am translating one of the typical comments). To this end, a German marketing and management expert Jon Christoph Berndt has clearly indicated what exactly attracts all “cockroaches” and “rats” when they see and hear about Grigori Perelman: “He would never like to be a top brand. But now he is the one. Simply brilliant.” (my translation from German).

And this is clear ! Now his earlier refusals to accept the two most prestigious mathematical prizes are not more looking like a “funny little mischief” or “nice and bizarre bagatelle” of a genius – even for the most disbelieving people, I guess. Undoubtedly, in Grisha’s case we have to do with a special, systematic “Weltanschauung”, with the very definite philosophy of life.

Such persons are amazing, “AWESOMELY insane”, but seem to be so extremely rare – apart from Grisha, the best known examples of them are Zhuangzi, Diogenes, Jean-Paul Sartre, Le Duc Tho … Are they known only by chance ? Hopefully, the most comforting and rewarding idea would be that they, though really existing, do not surface AT WILL – so that nobody (before and after Diogenes) tries to systematically inquire into their whereabouts … Everything in the whole world seems to be anyway properly working without them – but is this a correct conclusion ?

Many answers to all those and likewise posers could be found after reading (and carefully thinking over) Masha Gessen’s terrific book “Perfect rigor”, which is a thorough, highly professional investigation into how it was possible that there were so many math prodigies in the former USSR. Masha also manages to explain just in a nutshell, what exactly is Grisha’s math achievement. Besides, this book is a touching, nostalgic, “spot-on” description of Grisha’s, Masha’s (and, of course, my own !) childhood and adolescent years. Moreover, the three of us went willy-nilly through emigration, whereas I had never come back (or even paid a visit) and am not willing to do so …

To my mind, the true headline of Masha’s book ought to be “Woe From Wit”, with the direct reminiscence going back to the famous Russian diplomat, playwright and composer, Aleksandr Sergeyevich Griboyedov. However, what Masha’s book presents is by far not “comedy” …

Indeed, from his childhood on, Grisha was systematically prepared to be nothing but a “racing rat/cockroach” to participate in international math Olympiads – “ad majorem USSR gloriam”, if you allow me such a paraphrase.

As Masha correctly underlines, Grisha was extremely lucky that the USSR had opportunely ceased to exist …

But the greatest, utterly unspeakable tragedy of Grisha’s whole life is that he was introduced into the modern scientific community. Surely, his teachers and mentors had the best of the best intentions, when striving for this ! But this should be exactly the case when “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” …

I guess, the several pages where Masha tries to (non-professionally, she recognizes that) deliberate on the kind of Grisha’s psychical disorder are totally misleading. It is well known that to define what is “psychical health” is extremely difficult. Some of Grisha’s reactions really look like pathologic. So what ? Are they really organic ? Weren’t they rather induced by the picayune, arrogant and cruel athmosphere around him ?

Well, in effect, apart from his exclusive maths work, Grisha has clearly demostrated the striking paradox: The so-called ‘modern scientific community’ doesn’t require the “Professional Named Grisha Perelman”. Only the “Top Brand Named Grisha Perelman” is required !!! Please, feel the difference !

Interestingly, Masha tells in her book about Natalia Grinberg, one of the numerous math prodigies from the former USSR, and introduces her as “maths professor at Karlsruhe University in Germany”, and her son Darij, also a maths prodigy. But in reality, Natalia had never reached the tenure at the Karlsruhe University (which was recently re-dubbed into the ‘Elite University KIT’ = ‘Karlsruhe Institute of Technology’), although she was teaching maths there for many years. Natalia had instead to enter a re-education course for school teachers in maths … Her son Darij was never honored in his school for his several winnings on the international maths Olympiads … Surprisingly – but fact: It turns out that there is no place for the True Maths Elite at the ‘Elite University’ in Germany …

… In my own experience, to be fully incorporated into the “modern academia” you need to be one of the following three types:

1. Having this or that kind of close relationship (family ties, direct business interests etc.) to the “powerful ones” in the “modern academia”.

2. Being a “convenient person” (just a piece of dreck, which might be let in its original “small heap” form – or just “smeared over the plate” at will).

3. Being a “Top Brand” (for example, a Nobel Prise Winner or likewise). But to reach this Top Brand level, you normally need to fulfil one of the above two points – or be a phenomenon like Albert Einstein or Grisha Perelman.

… To sum up, this is just exactly why Grisha has “rejected science” …

“A Plague o’both of your houses”, dear honorable activists of the “official academia”, with all of your nobel and millenium prizes, field medals etc !

Long live Grisha Perelman !

Added on 10.05.2010:

The continuation of this story is here:

Added on 14.05.2010: In his review on Masha’s book published in the “Nature”, George Szpiro is speaking in high terms of the quality of her journalist analysis, but adds the following remark:

“One person who knows the Russian mathematician’s true motives is John Ball, the then-president of the International Mathematical Union who travelled to St Petersburg in an attempt to persuade Perelman to accept the award. Ball reveals only that Perelman was allegedly disappointed by the dishonourable behaviour of some unnamed mathematicians. Gessen, by proffering gratuitous speculations, both misleads the reader and does Perelman grave injustice.

Until 2006, the Poincaré conjecture was one of the most famous open problems in maths; now it is one more theorem. For Perelman, proving the conjecture was sufficient reward in itself — no prize or recognition was needed. Perfect Rigor reminds us that it is journalists and the public who want more.”

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