News Feed - People In Maths - Paul Erdos

 

 

PEOPLE IN MATHS SERIES - PAUL ERDOS

 

Paul Erdos was a Hungarian mathematician who spent most of his life essentially homeless, living out of a suitcase and travelling between university mathematics departments around the world, collaborating with the academics there. He published more papers than any other mathematician in history, almost all of which were co-authored with other mathematicians. Later in his life, he also became dependent on amphetamines, although he continued working on mathematics until his death at age 83. The drug addiction was a source of shame and he tried unsuccessfully to keep the fact out of his biographies. Because of his extensive co-authored publications, the concept of the Erdos Number was introduced to measure the collaboration distance between other mathematicians and Erdos. Erdos himself has number 0; his direct co-authors get number 1; people who have co-authored papers with Erdos’s co-authors get number 2; and so on.

 

A couple of interesting pieces on Erdos are in the form of books - The man who loved numbers, Proofs from the book, and N is a number"

 

His colleague Alfréd Renyi said, "a mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems" and Erdős drank copious quantities. (This quotation is often attributed incorrectly to Erdős, but Erdős himself ascribed it to Rényi).

 

Other idiosyncratic elements of Erdős's vocabulary include:

Children were referred to as "epsilons" (because in mathematics, particularly calculus, an arbitrarily small positive quantity is commonly denoted by the Greek letter (ε))
Women were "bosses"
Men were "slaves"
People who stopped doing mathematics had "died"
People who physically died had "left"
Alcoholic drinks were "poison"
Music (except classical music) was "noise"
People who had married were "captured"
People who had divorced were "liberated"
To give a mathematical lecture was "to preach"
To give an oral exam to a student was "to torture" him/her.