Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Intelligent Incarceration

I'm not sure if it's the author's name or the actual content of the article that leads me to quote it. Perhaps both. Although you've got to admit that 'Marcus du Sautoy' adds a certain charm to any blog.

In a comment piece for the Guardian, the professor of mathematics at Oxford University (boo!), takes an admittedly succint look at how the solitude of prison has in fact been instrumental in the development of mathematics.

In 1940, the pacifist and mathematician André Weil, brother of the famous philosopher Simone Weil, found himself in prison awaiting trial for desertion. An Indian friend of Weil's had once joked that "if I could spend six months or a year in prison, I would most certainly be able to prove the Riemann hypothesis" - the greatest unsolved problem of mathematics. Now Weil had the chance to put the theory to the test.

During those months in Rouen prison, Weil made a breakthrough on a problem closely linked to Riemann's conjecture. He wrote to his wife: "My mathematics work is proceeding beyond my wildest hopes, and I am even a bit worried - if it is only in prison that I work so well, will I have to arrange to spend two or three months locked up every year?" On hearing of his breakthrough, fellow mathematician Henri Cartan wrote back to Weil: "We're not all lucky enough to sit and work undisturbed like you..."

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