The Gift

He said softly, “I don’t see the point of us meeting.”

The conversation had essentially ended at that point.  It was a complex point. An awkward social moment in time.

Very likely he wouldn’t accept a gift of million dollars.

The Riemann Zeta Function.

It was a clopen topic to him; you see, it hadn’t anything to do with Mathematics proper.

THAT violated his principles.

Grigori Perelman explaining his proof of the Poincaire Conjecture
“I’m not interested in money or fame, I don’t want to be on display like an animal in a zoo.”

Grigori Perelman, an Architect Rational has what he wants — a pencil and paper, and his brain:  and what he has learned himself, besides the gift from his mother, and the gift from his intellectual predecessors.

He wants to be left alone.  Apparently he is no longer in contact with any of his colleagues, they don’t know what he is doing. When he was asked by journalists, he said,  “You could say I’m engaged in self-education.  I cannot predict what I am going to be doing.”  He feels that he doesn’t need anybody anymore.

Architectonics is the science of spatial relationships — organization, structure, build, configuration — and Architects from a very early age are preoccupied with spatial relativity and systems design. But INTPs must not be thought of as only interested in configuring three-dimensional spaces such as buildings, bridges, and machines; they are also the architects of curricula, of corporations, and of all kinds of theoretical systems. In other words, INTPs are men and women whose aim is to design systemic structures and to engineer structural models. All of these Architects look upon the world as little more than raw material to be reshaped according to their design, as formless stone that must yield to their coordinate lines of demarcation. Indeed, in their later years (after finding out that most others are faking an understanding of the laws of nature), INTPs are likely to think of themselves as the master organizers who must pit themselves against nature and society in an unending effort to create organization out of the raw materials of nature. [Please Understand Me II]

It seemed he was gifted from the beginning.

Grigori Perelman was born in Leningrad, Soviet Union in 1966.  Grigori’s mother Lubov gave up graduate work in mathematics to raise him. Grigori’s mathematical talent became apparent at the age of ten, and his mother enrolled him in Sergei Rukshin’s after-school math training program. His mathematical education continued at a specialized school with advanced mathematics and physics programs. Grigori excelled in all subjects except physical education. In 1982, as a member of the Soviet Union team competing in the International Mathematical Olympiad, an international competition for high school students, he won a gold medal, achieving a perfect score. In the late 1980s, Perelman went on to earn a Candidate of Sciences degree (the Soviet equivalent to the Ph.D.) at the School of Mathematics and Mechanics of the Leningrad State University, one of the leading universities in the former Soviet Union.  Mathematics being the only domain not completely repressed by Soviet politics, was a very competitive, meritocratic to a degree, and isolated from the rest of the global community.

After graduation, Perelman began work at the renowned Leningrad Department of Steklov Institute of Mathematics of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Perelman held research positions at several universities in the United States. In 1991 Perelman won the Young Mathematician Prize of the St. Petersburg Mathematical Society for his work on Aleksandrov’s spaces of curvature bounded from below.  After having proved the soul conjecture in 1994, he was offered Assistant Professor positions at several top universities in the US, including Princeton and Stanford, but he rejected them all, probably thinking that he deserved more than just a starting position, and returned to the Steklov Institute in Saint Petersburg in the summer of 1995 for a research-only position. [Wikipedia, revised]

Poincare Theorem: Grigori Perelman, Richard Hamilton, Aleksandr Aleksandrov. Predecessors: Andrey Kolmogorov, Pafnuty Chebyshev, and Henri Poincare.      The Clay Institute: the advertiser of Mathematics.

In mathematics, the Poincaré conjecture is now a theorem about the characterization of the three-dimensional sphere (3-sphere), which is the hypersphere that bounds the unit ball in four-dimensional space. The theorem states:

Every simply connected, closed 3-manifold is homeomorphic to the 3-sphere.

After nearly a century of effort by mathematicians, Grigori Perelman presented a proof of the conjecture in three papers made available in 2002 and 2003 on the Internet. The proof followed on from the program of Richard Hamilton. Perelman introduced a modification that worked to complete the proof. Several teams of mathematicians have verified that Perelman’s proof is correct.

The Poincaré conjecture, before being proven, was one of the most important open questions in mathematics. It is one of the seven Millennium Prize Problems, for which the Clay Mathematics Institute offered a $1,000,000 prize for the first correct solution. Perelman’s work survived review and was confirmed in 2006, leading to his being offered a Fields Medal, which he declined. Perelman was awarded the Millennium Prize on March 18, 2010. On July 1, 2010, he turned down the prize saying that he believes his contribution in proving the Poincaré conjecture was no greater than that of Hamilton’s.  The Poincaré conjecture is the only solved Millennium problem.

But now that Perelman had proved a famous mathematical open problem, and that the Clay Institute had attached a one million dollar gift, people became interested in talking to Grisha Perelman, as his former friends called him.  Grisha wasn’t interested in talking to them, it was too late.  Politics is not mathematics, at least from Grisha’s perspective.

Architects exhibit the greatest precision in thought and language of all the types. They tend to see distinctions and inconsistencies in thought and language instantaneously, and can detect contradictions in statements no matter when or where the statements were made. Only sentences that are coherent carry weight with them, and thus authority derived from office, credential, or celebrity does not impress them. [Please Understand Me II]

Perelman does not talk to anybody now, even his math colleagues.  Mikhail Gromov, an older mathematician, a quasi-mentor to Perelman was the only person who thought he understood what Perelman was thinking and was willing to talk to Masha Gessen, who wrote a biography of Perelman in 2009, including a fair amount of the history of Soviet Union mathematics.

Masha Gessen asked Mikhail Gromov: “Do you think he’ll accept the million dollars? 

Gromov: “I don’t think so.” [He didn’t]

Gessen: “Why not?”

Gromov: “He has his principles.”

Gessen: “What principles?”

Gromov: “Because Clay is nothing, from his point of view — what should he take his money?”

Gessen: “Okay, Clay is a businessman, but it’s Perelman’s colleagues; it’s Perelman’s colleagues who are making the decision.” [Gessen wrote, ‘I objected, using a word that in Russian meant both “decision” and “solution.”‘]

Gromov: “Those colleagues are playing along with Clay!  They are deciding[solving]! He has no use for any of their solutions! He has already solved the theorem, what’s there left to solve? No one is solving anything! He solved the theorem.”


Rationals are wont to think of themselves as the prime movers who must pit their utilitarian ways and means against custom and tradition, in an endless struggle to bring efficiency and goal-directedness to enterprise, an attitude regarded by many as arrogant. But if this be arrogance, then at least it is not vanity, and without question it has driven Rationals to engineer the technology upon which civilization is based. [Please Understand Me II]

Me!? Arrogant?

Doing what we do best, that’s temperament‘s inherited gift.  Grisha’s gift to the world is his mathematical ideas, and the world’s gift to him was he was able to do what he does best, and not do what he doesn’t do well (getting in front non-mathematicians) and playing academic politics.  Lucky man and lucky world.  The Gift.

“I can’t say I’m outraged. Other people do worse. Of course, there are many mathematicians who are more or less honest. But almost all of them are conformists. They are more or less honest, but they tolerate those who are not honest.” — Grigori Perelman

0 thoughts on “The Gift”

  1. Thank you for this article, David. I am currently working a team that includes each of the four Rationals (first time since I started including KTS-II in my practice). I will send them the link to this article and open a discussion with them on Perleman’s genius and his principles.

    1. I would be very interested to hear if they actually partake in a discussion about this. I am an INTP. To me, there seems very little to discuss. It’s all kind of obvious.

      I find Karlaporter’s comments (below) really hilarious. I think she might have missed the point that this article is trying to make with its contribution to our understanding of how different the temperaments really are, but she has demonstrated it beautifully with her judgemental comment! How delightful! (This is no slight on Karla, just an observation from my perspective.)

  2. So incredibly accurate! At a new job my boss told me he would give me a $2,000 bonus at the end of the year if I set a goal for myself and achieved that goal. I IMMEDIATELY turned him down. “I will not jump through hoops for a prize.” I absolutely wanted nothing to do with it.

    He was flabbergasted. He had never encountered someone like me before.

    (At the end of the year he gave me the bonus anyway. I guess it was already in the budget.)

    I am always learning. I want to be on top of the mountain. But there’s a problem — it’s a trap. If you’re not at the top of the mountain then you’re not good enough, you could be smarter; but if you are at the top of the mountain, if you’re the smartest person in the world, then there’s only one direction you can go—down. It’s a difficult position to maintain. There’s pressure no matter where you are on the mountain. Either way you lose. It’s a game you can’t win.

    How does one win the unwinnable game? I finally figured it out. The only way to win the unwinnable game—is not to play the game.

    So no awards, because that’s playing the game.

    1. Forgot to mention — I’m INTP.

      (People say I’m the smartest person they’ve ever met. But acknowledging that would be playing the game. So I shrug it off as irrelevant. I’m more interested in getting to know the other person. Other people are interesting.)

  3. While I understand his principles I would approve more of his decision had taken the prize money and then donated it to a nonprofit organization that met his approval.

    1. It was suggested to him to do that. The empty set represents his response. Non-profits are essentially political entities — they are not Mathematics. No, I am not sure you really understand his principles.

      1. I too can be stubborn about principles – but I hope I never allow myself to be so consumed. Something to keep in mind and in check.

  4. I used to think I might be an idealist, but after reading karlaporter’s comments I’m pretty sure I’m not. I perfectly understand Perleman’s principles and David Deley’s comments could have been written by me. The only thing I would add is that the reason Perleman rejected the assistant professor position might not be that he thought he deserved better but that he didn’t want to teach.

  5. After I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are
    added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment
    is added I receive four emails with the exact same comment.
    Perhaps there is a way you can remove me from that service?

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