Time Magazine: Man of the Millennium

Chris Lawson claw at ozemail.com.au
Sat Sep 26 06:27:44 EST 1998


qed at pobox.com (Paul Hsieh) wrote:

[big snip]

>Andrew Wiles spent 7 years in virtual solitude working by himself to 
>prove Fermat's last theorem after hundreds, if not thousands of 
>mathematicians before him tried and failed.  When I think about all the 
>other achievments of man, I can't think of one that compares in total 
>depth and intensity.  I think that this proof is the ultimate 
>intellectual trophy of man kind.

Andrew Wiles is an amazing mathematician, but I think you are
falling victim to the recency effect, whereby more recent events
appear to be more important by their immediacy. This is the same
reason that most "Best Ever" polls of music, novels, films, or
whatever, are heavily slanted towards works that appeared
recently.

And although Wiles' proof is an amazing piece of work, there are
plenty of others who have worked on problems for years. And the
other problem is that Fermat's Last Theorem is a bit of a "trophy
proof" in that it has little interest beyond the historical.
Other great mathematicians, such as Gauss and Pascal not only
provided great proofs and amazing insights, their work has
*applications*.

In short, much as I admire Wiles, I wouldn't even shortlist him
for the Man of the Millennium.

regards,
Chris Lawson




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