You are the world’s smartest man. You have solved one of maths’ most intractable problems. Do you a) accept a $1m reward, or b) reject the money and quit math forever? The answer, if you are the reclusive Russian genius Grigory Perelman, is b).
The Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, last week honored Perelman for his solution to a problem posed almost a century ago by French mathematician Henri Poincaré. The theorem – known as Poincaré’s conjecture – involves the deep structure of three-dimensional shapes. It is one of seven elusive challenges set by the institute, each carrying a $1m reward. It took the world’s leading mathematicians several years to verify that Perelman had definitively solved the problem in a paper published in 2002.
Perelman, however, doesn’t want the cash. This latest refusal follows his refusal in 2006 to collect the maths equivalent of an Oscar, the Fields Medal. Perelman refuses to talk to the journalists camped outside his home. One who managed to reach him on his mobile was told: “You are disturbing me. I am picking mushrooms.”
According to Kisliakov, Perelman quit the world of mathematics out of moral imperative four years ago.
After rejecting the prize his only comment, offered through a closed door: “I have all I want.” At last report, he had resigned his university position and was living in St. Petersburg.
Perelman’s withdrawal from public life only made people more curious about him. Despite refusing all interviews, he’s been the subject of much media speculation, a lengthy article in The New Yorker, and the subject of a fascinating book by Russian-born journalist Masha Gessen, Perfect Rigor. All sought to answer the burning question: What would drive a man to shun all fame and recognition—well-deserved, I might add—and withdraw from the world altogether?