Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tech: The tech personality 2: three mathematicians

I was struck by the profiles of three people who have a mathematical aptitude of one sort or another.

For some people, mathematics takes work. For some, it comes easy. For others, it's an art form.

Australian Terence Tao is the youngest ever winner of the Fields medal, the "Nobel of maths". His mathematical interests are wide-ranging, and he appears particularly well-adjusted.

Russian Grigory Perelman was also awarded a Fields. He declined it because they didn't understand his work - a mite unfair, because you don't need to understand some maths in full to appreciate its truth, beauty and relevance. The Fields was awarded to him anyway. He has apparently solved a very important puzzle - which will probably fetch him the million-dollar millenium prize. He apparently withdrew from mathematics in protest against a perceived lack of ethics in certain people in the upper echelons of maths. Currently unemployed.

Englishman Daniel Tammet has Asperger's Syndrome and, unusually, some insight into his condition. He also has an eidetic memory. He can recite pi to 22,000 places - "as beautiful as the Mona Lisa". He can multiply numbers in his head very easily - as does Tao - but interestingly, he can't do square roots (as some can), and can't do abstractions such as polynomials.

Three very different personalities. All very interesting. I can appreciate them from my love of mathematics, although they're leagues above me.

Here are their Wikipedia entries: Tao , Tammet, and Perelman.
And here's some interesting press about them: Tao, Tammet, and Perelman.

All six articles are worth a read.


Bazza said...

Hi Stephen. I heard Daniel being interviewed on the BBC a week or so ago and he was extremely articulate about himself. I had come in half-way through the programme and thought it was just some author talking about his new book. It illustrates the inherent but unavoidable danger in labelling people, particularly with a stigmatic label such as Asbergers is.

S Simmonds said...


That's fair. Asbergers seems to cover a variety of experiences, from high- to low-functioning. There's a bloke here in Australia in a band called the Vines. Their debut album was particularly well received, but he had a hard time keeping things together. Then he was diagnosed with Asbergers. High functioning, but before it was identified, he was considered a bit of a w*****. Once identified, people can more easily accept that he has problems.