An interesting Story

Recently I read a wonderful story about a mathematician belonging to early 20th century. I read the story in the book titled FERMAT’S LAST THEOREM written by Simon Singh. It has several take homes for all of us and so I thought I should narrate the same in this post.
Mathematics,love,passion,obsession,rejection,dejection,
depression,suicide ……then some twist in the tale resulting in bliss and happy ending. It does sound very very familiar, if only we take out mathematics from the sequence. Doesn’t this sound like a typical formula movie of Bollywood?
Let me now get on with the story. This is the story of a German mathematician Paul Wolfskehl of early 20th century. He belonged to an affluent family well known for their patronage of arts and science. He studied mathematics but was never destined to make any worthwhile contributions. He fell in love with a beautiful woman but the lady rejected him. And he felt dejected and depressed to such an extent that he decided to commit suicide. Known for being meticulous in whatever he did,he planned his suicide also in a very systematic and elaborate manner. He set a date and decided to shoot himself exactly at midnight. Before the D day,as a perfect businessman,he completed all outstanding transactions. On the D day,he sat down and wrote letters to all his close friends and relatives. Then he reaped the rewards for being super-efficient!! As it turned out,he completed all his tasks on the last day well ahead of time and had plenty of time on hand to kill before committing suicide. Being a mathematician,he decided to spend the rest of the day in a library to study some well known mathematical publications. In the process,he chanced to lay his hands on a classic paper of a famous mathematician KUMMER. That was the beginning of the end of his depression. Wolfskehl feverishly started to go through the calculations in the paper line by line. (This was supposed to be an important path breaking paper which set to prove that there is perhaps no proof possible for Fermat’s last theorm). As he was leafing through the pages carefully following each step for its logical consistency,he found out that one particulat step was not logical and didn’t have any proof to support itself. In any mathematical paper ,even if one step is proved to be inconsistent,the entire edifice would crumble. Therefore Krummer’s all important paper was in danger of collapse. Wolfskehl studied that particular segment which seemed to be illogical and carefully explored for a miniproof for that line. And lo and behold he found that all important miniproof , thereby redeeming Krummer’s paper and thesis.
He was mightily pleased and excited with this achievement. And a side effect of all that excitment was that he abandoned all his elaborate plans to commit suicide and needless to say – happily lived ever after!

There are two important take homes from the story: One is that we should never take critical decisions when we are depressed. This is simply because even a minor development can elevate our spirits and change our perspective to life altogether.
Secondly , as this mathematician demonstrated,with passion for work in a given field of pursuit,even an average person can scale the highest peaks.

Published in: on November 21, 2010 at 5:46 pm  Comments (1)