22 Nov 2014

Steve Landsburg Reminds Us How Little Math We Know

Steve Landsburg 3 Comments

This is a really neat post, if you want to see Steve explain the accomplishments of the recently deceased mathematician Alexander Grothendieck. It would be pointless for me to try to convey the substance of the post; you should just read it if you are interested.

However, let me once again observe that Steve is the most religious atheist I have ever known. Here’s how he opens his post:

I never met Alexander Grothendieck. I was never in the same room with him. I never even saw him from a distance. But whenever I think about math — which is to say, pretty much every day — I feel him hovering over my shoulder. I’ve strived to read the mind of Grothendieck as others strive to read the mind of God.

Those who did know him tend to describe him as a man of indescribable charisma, with a Christ-like ability to inspire followers. I’ve heard it said that when Grothendieck walked into a room, you might have had no idea who he was or what he did, but you definitely knew you wanted to devote your life to him.

3 Responses to “Steve Landsburg Reminds Us How Little Math We Know”

  1. Major.Freedom says:

    That was a fun and inspiring article to read. Thanks for posting.

    I wish I were a genius in mathematics. It is such a clean, peaceful, endless landscape of mental fun.

    If I were immortal, I’d be a mathematician.

  2. Yancey Ward says:

    I imagine Steve is like the followers of any cult figure, if he were really being serious in that comment, which I think was a bit tongue in cheek, though I don’t doubt his admiration for Grothendieck’s intellect.

  3. Matt Tanous says:

    “There are even points where every function is equal to some expression like (3×2+1)/(7×3+4). You might object that that’s not a constant — but it is, because the x in that expression is not a variable; it’s just a symbol, and that symbol always remains just x.”

    That’s not strictly true. Not in the classical understanding of variables. Landsburg is engaged in some reaching here – presumably to make things fit his highly simplified and frankly erroneous “redefinition of a point” language. Of course, how many readers of Landsburg would understand this:

    “A scheme is a locally ringed space X admitting a covering by open sets U(i), such that the restriction of the structure sheaf O(X) to each U(i) is an affine scheme.”

    About all most people would get from that is that it is not “a point, redefined”.

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