Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Grigori Perelman refused prize because he knows "how to control the universe"

2 Post author: Hul-Gil 13 May 2011 11:39PM

Grigori Perelman was that reclusive Russian mathematician who proved the Poincaré conjecture, and refused the $1,000,000 prize. He has reportedly said that he refused the reward because he knows "how to control the universe" (full quote below; article linked at end).

When asked why he refused from the prize of one million dollars, Perelman responded: "I know how to control the Universe. Why would I run to get a million, tell me?"

My immediate thought is that he refers to the fact that understanding of the world means control of the world, to the extent of your understanding and limit of possibility. Thus the saying "knowledge is power" (which, oddly, the public doesn't really think seems to apply to science). I also see the point of refusing to communicate with the media, which manifestly does not care about science but rather about celebrity (I'm not guilty! this post is just about his ideas, dammit!). But his other comments - about the "boundless", for instance - sound more wild-eyed and vague, so maybe he's thinking of something else.

Also, what is this nonsense at the end? I think it's probably a misinterpretation by a reporter. Or wild exaggerations by Perelman. Or are we all doomed to be folded?

The scientist has learned some super-knowledge which helps realize creation. Special services need to know whether Perelman and his knowledge may pose a threat to humanity. With his knowledge he can fold the Universe into a spot and then unfold it again. Will mankind survive after this fantastic process? Do we need to control the Universe at all?


Comments (26)

Comment author: Vladimir_M 14 May 2011 01:14:54AM *  9 points [-]

The Pravda article is a secondary account of an alleged interview with Perelman published recently by Komsomolskaya Pravda, another historic Russian Communist Party newspaper that has turned into a tabloid since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The KP article is here (if you can't decode Russian, automatic translation should give you the idea):

It's hard to tell how credible any of this is. To make it even weirder, the article is accompanied by what looks like a stalker video of Perelman walking around town.

Comment author: Skatche 14 May 2011 12:00:51AM 10 points [-]

AndrewHickey's comment notwithstanding, it wouldn't surprise me if he did say that, and if he meant it very literally, like in the batshit crazy sense. Famous mathematicians have a long and celebrated history of going off the deep end. Cf. Georg Cantor, Kurt Gödel, Alexander Grothendieck.

Comment author: Kevin 14 May 2011 02:48:27AM 4 points [-]

Yup. Though there's always the even smaller chance that he isn't totally crazy, and actually has a working solution for stochastic optimal control which is indeed total control for certain values of "control the universe".

Comment author: Hul-Gil 14 May 2011 12:15:04AM 0 points [-]

Very true. It seems like madness is correlated with intelligence.

Comment author: loqi 14 May 2011 02:48:10PM 10 points [-]

I'd actually be a bit surprised if this were true. My guess is that intelligent madmen are more interesting, so we just pay more attention to them. Now I'm tempted to go looking for statistics.

Not doubting the correlation between madness and mathematics, though.

Comment author: CuSithBell 14 May 2011 02:54:21PM 2 points [-]

To expand, it may be that intelligent madmen are the ones who accomplish enough to get famous. Well, also artistic madmen - and we also have a cultural expectation that artists are crazy!

I'd definitely be interested in more information here.

Comment author: loqi 14 May 2011 03:41:42PM 0 points [-]

Googling schizophrenia+creativity leads me to suspect that it's more than a cultural expectation. Though I should disclaim the likely bias induced by my personal experience with several creative schizophrenics.

Comment author: Desrtopa 14 May 2011 04:22:03PM 2 points [-]

Well, given that schizophrenics suffer from hallucinations and delusions, they're probably going to appear compulsively creative simply as a consequence of sharing their reality with other people. That doesn't necessarily mean that their creative works are going to be any good. Witness the website of my schizophrenic former lab partner.

Comment author: Kevin 20 May 2011 09:31:37AM 0 points [-]

It's also something like people with recessive genes for mental illness get some of the benefits (increased creativity) without the debilitation. I have a family history of mental illness but am not mental ill, and I definitely recognize benefits from whatever it is about me that isn't neurotypical.

Comment author: loqi 20 May 2011 05:54:59PM 0 points [-]

Same here.

Comment author: CuSithBell 14 May 2011 03:49:24PM 0 points [-]

This connection is one I find much more compelling.

Comment author: komponisto 14 May 2011 12:37:14AM *  4 points [-]

Reducing that correlation is a major goal of Less Wrong, it seems to me.

Comment author: James_Miller 14 May 2011 12:21:29AM 7 points [-]

Perhaps a reason why evolutionary selection pressures in favor of intelligence didn't make us all geniuses.

Comment author: Vaniver 14 May 2011 04:09:04PM 4 points [-]

Ashkenazi Jews actually demonstrate something similar in a pretty fascinating manner- a lot of the hereditary diseases that are more common among them appear to be linked to higher intelligence. Summary here.

Comment author: Alexandros 14 May 2011 02:39:45PM 6 points [-]

compared to our ancestors, they did.

Comment author: CuSithBell 14 May 2011 03:03:15PM 4 points [-]

I'd expect it's much more likely that developing intelligence requires an evolutionary trade-off with other useful things (unfavorable at some local areas of genespace), and that it's more efficient to have some intelligent people, and that these factors drown out such a putative correlation in the evolutionary calculation.

Comment author: Friendly-HI 21 May 2013 10:54:07PM *  0 points [-]

I'd expect it's much more likely that developing intelligence requires an evolutionary trade-off with other useful things

Sure, we can take that for granted seeing how we're not floating superbrains (yet) :D

it's more efficient to have some intelligent people, and that these factors drown out such a putative correlation in the evolutionary calculation.

Efficient to have some intelligent people? Efficient for whom?

Either this is a missunderstanding on my part, or alternatively I would recomment (re?)reading "The Selfish Gene". Because if the answer to who it is efficient for isn't "really, really close kin" I can't think of anything else that could be a valid answer. And how did the reproductive success of brothers and sisters benefit from having a highly intelligent nerd as a sibling?

EDIT: Actually I can think of another answer now that seems more plausible than the kin idea involving an evolutionarily stable strategy. But thinking it through that sounds quite implausible as well.

If we are talking about the evolutionary advantages of intelligence we are almost exclusively talking about the advantages that intelligence could possibly have for the reproductive success of the individual, not the society or the group (s)he's a part of.

The kind of intelligence that was probably most heavily selected for is social intelligence, aka. understanding, navigating and manipulating social relationships. The kind of nerd intelligence you witness in Perelman and around here seems to be an evolutionary by-product of that at best, because let's face it - highly intelligent nerds are weird outliers and rarely seem to posess high attractiveness to the opposite gender in a way that would be able to make their genes outcompete other spunk floating around in the gene-pool. That's why nerds didn't take over the gene-pool in the past, which is why we're still so stupid and overly concerned with all the "wrong" things.

In other words, if we're talking about the evolution of human intelligence, I think we're talking about a very narrow set of (mainly social) intelligence that evolved by being directly selected for, while general intelligence skills like mathematical prowess and rationality are more of a by-product that weren't ever directly selected for. (If anything I'd guess they were rather selected against).

Comment author: TheOtherDave 21 May 2013 10:59:55PM 0 points [-]

The kind of intelligence that was probably most heavily selected for is social intelligence

In this vein, I often observe that our entire technological civilization was a side-effect of the human urge to gossip.

Comment author: gwern 12 April 2012 12:12:06AM 1 point [-]
Comment author: Hul-Gil 14 May 2011 12:19:30AM *  3 points [-]

Looks like the interview may be fake:


Also from Pravda.

The following paragraph is a quote, but I can't figure out how to make them in replies:

Moreover, it seemed "impossible and bizarre" for the blogger that Perelman was speaking about the "Poincare conjecture" in the interview. "He solved the conjecture, so it becomes a theorem," the blogger wrote on his webpage. "All those thoughts about nanotechnologies and the ideas of filling hollowness look like rabbi's thoughts about pork flavor properties." The critic stressed out that fundamental science prefers to say that all of that does not have applied relevance, which is the point of it all."

Looks also like there are some aspects of the "interview" not shared in Pravda, like this stuff about nanotechnology.

I'm not sure if that last sentence (of the quoted paragraph) is true or not.

Comment author: Miller 14 May 2011 12:25:41AM 1 point [-]

Check out help link in bottom right of reply box.

Comment author: nazgulnarsil 15 May 2011 04:33:11AM 2 points [-]

AFAIK proving p=np would allow you to solve protein folding. just sayin.

Comment author: [deleted] 13 May 2011 11:54:51PM 1 point [-]

It's Pravda. Never the most reliable source, but for a decade or so it's been roughly the Russian equivalent of the Weekly World News. If the story has any relation to reality it's purely coincidental.

Comment author: Hul-Gil 14 May 2011 12:03:04AM *  1 point [-]

Good God. Is it truly that bad? I knew it was unreliable, but I thought it could be trusted for non-controversial stuff. The Weekly World News (before it went under, although it's still got a website) didn't even pretend to be real; near the end there it had stories about Bat Boy saving the president by urination, or Bigfoot signing up for ballet lessons. One of the last issues I bought even had, disappointingly, a disclaimer that the stories were fictional.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 May 2011 01:12:53AM 4 points [-]

They ran an article on cryonics once and apparently "in the U.S., cryostorages are as common as supermarkets."

Comment author: D_Alex 16 May 2011 04:07:44AM 0 points [-]

I like to think that he meant the universe of Maya.