Yesterday would have been the 121st birthday of one of the brightest minds this planet has ever been a home to: Srinivasa Ramanujan.
Little known to a wider public, this guy, although born and raised in poverty, and with absolute no formal education, managed not only to reproduce by himself – in a self-tought fashion – much of the mathematical knowledge from antiquity to the 20th century, he also invented countless mathematical methods that are the foundation of many modern theories, not least Superstring Theory.
A few facts to backup the very scale of his unique mathematical genius:
- By the age of 13, and based entirely on self-study, he discovered his first, original mathematical theorems of own.
- By the end of his short life (he died on tuberculosis at the age of 32), he has compiled an incredibly large number of mathematical results – about 3900 (!) – the analysis, proof and elaboration of which others are spending a lifetime with.
- Although self-taught, only a small fraction of his results were false. And as if this wouldn’t be achievement enough:
- Although self-taught, the vast majority of his (already impressing number of) results have been unknown before. His work’s been absolutely original. (His theorems have been successively proved correct posthumously.)
Another prominent mathematician of his time, and Ramnujans benefactor, G. H. Hardy, quotes:
“The limitations of his knowledge were as startling as its profundity. Here was a man who could work out modular equations and theorems… to orders unheard of, whose mastery of continued fractions was… beyond that of any mathematician in the world, who had found for himself the functional equation of the zeta function and the dominant terms of many of the most famous problems in the analytic theory of numbers; and yet he had never heard of a doubly-periodic function or of Cauchy’s theorem, and had indeed but the vaguest idea of what a function of a complex variable was…”.
(Hardy went on to claim that his greatest contribution to mathematics was discovering Ramanujan.)1
Whenever I recall Mr. Ramanujan’s story, I’m literally overwhelmed, and my heart fills with esteem, humbleness, and a sense of pride… Pride for being Human – part of a species capable of bringing about such Greatness.
There’s not much that can compete with that.
Well then, I wish
Merry Christmas to Everybody. And good will toward all men and women.