People like Grigori Perelman are rare. This man has solved the Poincare Conjecture, one of seven problems in pure mathematics known as the Millennium Prize Problems. These problems have evaded solutions for more than a hundred years to the greatest minds.
Terence Tao, a brilliant mathematician and Fields medal winner himself, said this of Perelman and the significance of his achievement:
“They [the Millennium Prize Problems] are like these huge cliff walls, with no obvious hand holds. I have no idea how to get to the top. [Perelman’s proof of the Poincaré Conjecture] is a fantastic achievement, the most deserving of all of us here in my opinion. Most of the time in mathematics you look at something that’s already been done, take a problem and focus on that. But here, the sheer number of breakthroughs…well it’s amazing.”
Perelman was awarded the Fields medal in 2006 – the Fields medal being the equivalent of a Nobel prize and awarded only to extraordinary mathematicians under 40 years old. He declined it stating that acceptance of the award would affect his work and that awards were not necessary. “It was completely irrelevant for me,” he said. “Everybody understood that if the proof is correct then no other recognition is needed.”
He is disillusioned by the decay of ethics and principles in the field of mathematics and has in fact withdrawn from mathematics, living a reclusive life with his mother in Russia. As he puts it, “It is not people who break ethical standards who are regarded as aliens. It is people like me who are isolated.”
The world needs more people like Perelman. Noble in their intentions, pure in their thoughts, holding their craft, their passion to the highest order of ethics — working purely out of devotion to it.