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03/19/2007 Archived Entry: "Mathemeticians on speed"

MATHEMETICIANS ON SPEED. After reading yesterday's tongue-in-cheek blog entry, D. wrote to remind me that amphetamines are not merely for good housekeeping. He quoted Wikipedia on Paul Erdős, one of the greatest mathemeticians of the twentieth century:

As his colleague Alfréd Rényi said, "a mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems", and Erdős drank copious quantities. (This quote is often attributed to Erdős, but does seem to originate with Rényi.) After 1971 he also took amphetamines, despite the concern of his friends, one of whom (Ron Graham) bet him $500 that he could not stop taking the drug for a month. Erdős won the bet, but complained that mathematics had been set back by a month: "Before, when I looked at a piece of blank paper my mind was filled with ideas. Now all I see is a blank piece of paper." After he won the bet, he promptly resumed his amphetamine habit. ...

Erdős was one of the most prolific publishers of papers in mathematical history, second only to Leonhard Euler; Erdős published more papers, while Euler published more pages (Hoffman 1998). He wrote around 1,500 mathematical articles in his lifetime, mostly with co-authors. He had 509 different collaborators, and strongly believed in (and obviously practiced) mathematics as a social activity.

Even back in my wild 60s days (before a nice cup of hot tea became my drug of choice), I never did speed. I stayed away from any drug that involved needles, vomiting, bad company, or getting all hyper without receiving the reward of artistic hallucinations. Hm. 1,500 articles, though. With high-level content. Hm. Ah well. Not my drug. I'd still probably just end up with really, really clean kitchen counters.

Posted by Claire @ 07:51 AM CST

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