Grigory Perelman, Russia’s famous math genius savant and social recluse, has been in the news quite often since solving the world’s most difficult math problem, the Poincare Conjecture, as astounding feat which was called the “Scientific Breakthrough of the Year” in 2006. For securing one of the highest honors in his field, he was awarded a Field’s medal and a $1 million prize – both of which he rejected.
Now, an children’s group (as well as the Communists) near his small apartment in St. Petersburg is begging him to take the prize money and donate it to charity. While clearly Perelman seems quite a bit eccentric, I can’t help but sympathize with some of his explanations of his decision – which draw a stark contrast between the gaudy materialism so often seen in Russia to accompany any type of celebrity, wealth, or power. It might not seem sensible to most of us, but it is hard not to respect someone who can put principles ahead of vanity in such a demonstrative fashion. From the BBC:
“I’m not interested in money or fame,” he is quoted to have said at the time.
“I don’t want to be on display like an animal in a zoo. I’m not a hero of mathematics. I’m not even that successful; that is why I don’t want to have everybody looking at me.”