I’m afraid I have to blog and run today. I have to scamper off to Dulles Airport an hour from now to retrieve a friend. (Don’t worry, I’ve already set the VCR to tape the premiere of Prison Break!) So why not have a look at Slate’s take on the Poincare conjecture. It includes this memorable description, attributed to mathematician Christina Sormani, of what the conjecture actually says:
The Poincare Conjecture says, Hey, you’ve got this alien blob that can ooze its way out of the hold of any lasso you tie around it? Then that blob is just an out-of-shape ball. [Grigory] Perelman and [Columbia University’s Richard] Hamilton proved this fact by heating the blob up, making it sing, stretching it like hot mozzarella, and chopping it into a million pieces. In short, the alien ain’t no bagel you can swing around with a string through his hole. (Emphasis in original).
Now why didn’t I think of describing it like that?
I also like the article’s closing:
Perelman’s work isn’t important because of its applications. It won’t help anyone build a bridge, aim a rocket, crack a code, or privatize Social Security. Mathematicians, no dummies, like to point out that, in some unspecified future, Perelman’s theorem might pitch in to help with these problems in ways that aren’t obvious now. But its real significance is like that of the fact that a times b is equal to b times a; it’s a basic structural statement about how the world is organized. If you prefer order to chaos, that’s something worth caring about.