What Numbers Could Not Be by Benacerraf, P

By Benacerraf, P

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Its properties helped cement the fame of one of the most intriguing mathematicians of the twentieth century, Srinivasa Ramanujan, who had an extraordinary ability to discover new patterns and formulas in areas of mathematics where others had tried and failed. It is not just Fibonacci numbers that one finds in Nature. The animal kingdom also knows about prime numbers. There are two species of cicada called Magicicada septendecim and Magicicada tredecim which often live in the same environment. They have a life cycle of exactly 17 and 13 years, respectively.

The solution had to be submitted before midnight on March 15, 2002, and was bizarrely open only to US and UK residents. Clay believes that mathematicians receive little reward or recognition for their labours. For example, there is no Nobel Prize for Mathematics that they can aspire to. Instead, the award of a Fields Medal is considered the ultimate prize in the mathematical world. In contrast to Nobel prizes, which tend to be awarded to scientists at the end of their careers for achievements long past, Fields Medals are restricted to mathematicians below the age of forty.

As the beat goes on, it becomes easy to believe that random white noise, without any inner logic, is responsible. At the centre of mathematics, the pursuit of order, mathematicians could only hear the sound of chaos. Mathematicians can’t bear to admit that there might not be an explanation for the way Nature has picked the primes. If there were no structure to mathematics, no beautiful simplicity, it would not be worth studying. Listening to white noise has never caught on as an enjoyable pastime.

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