Happy birthday to the legendary mathematician, Paul Erdős! Erdős was a unique and brilliant mind, known for his contributions to number theory, combinatorics, and graph theory. But he was also known for his quirky personality and unusual lifestyle, which has earned him a special place in the hearts of mathematicians and scientists around the world.
To truly understand the magnitude of Erdős’ eccentricity, we have to take a closer look at his life. Erdős was born in Budapest, Hungary, on March 26th, 1913. He showed an early aptitude for mathematics and began publishing papers at a young age. Erdős was known for his prolific output, publishing more than 1,500 papers during his lifetime.
Erdős was also known for his unique way of working. He would travel around the world, collaborating with other mathematicians and working on problems wherever he went. He didn’t have a permanent home or a family, preferring to live out of a suitcase and stay with other mathematicians. This lifestyle earned him the nickname “The Mathematical Nomad.”
Despite his unusual habits, Erdős was incredibly influential in the field of mathematics. He made significant contributions to many areas, including number theory, combinatorics, and graph theory. He also came up with a concept called the Erdős number, which is a measure of how closely connected a mathematician is to Erdős himself. If you’ve published a paper with someone who has published a paper with Erdős, you have an Erdős number of 2. If you’ve published a paper with someone who has an Erdős number of 2, you have an Erdős number of 3, and so on.
But let’s get back to the quirky side of Erdős. One of the most unusual aspects of his personality was his use of amphetamines. Erdős believed that these drugs helped him to stay focused and work for long periods without sleep. He would often offer amphetamines to his collaborators, calling them “peanuts” and “uppers.” Some mathematicians accepted his offer, while others declined.
Erdős was also known for his love of puzzles and games. He would often challenge his colleagues to games of chess or poker, and he was particularly fond of word games and brain teasers. In fact, he would often offer cash rewards to anyone who could solve a particularly challenging puzzle. This love of games extended to his work as well. Erdős was known for his playful approach to mathematics, often using humor and wit to solve problems.
Despite his eccentricities, Erdős was beloved by many in the mathematical community. His unique approach to mathematics and his willingness to collaborate with others made him a valuable asset to the field. He was also known for his generosity, often giving away his prize money or using it to support other mathematicians. Erdős was a true character, and his contributions to mathematics will be remembered for generations to come.
So, what can we learn from Paul Erdős on his birthday? Well, for one, we can learn that it’s okay to be a little bit weird. Erdős’ unusual habits and personality didn’t detract from his brilliance; in fact, they may have contributed to it. He was able to think outside the box and approach problems in a unique way because he wasn’t constrained by societal norms or expectations.
We can also learn the value of collaboration. Erdős was a master collaborator, working with hundreds of mathematicians throughout his career. He understood that working with others could lead to new ideas and insights, and he wasn’t afraid to reach out to colleagues for help.
Finally, we can learn the value of humor and playfulness. Erdős was known for his love of games and puzzles, and he often used humor to make his work more accessible and engaging. His playful approach to mathematics made him stand out from the crowd and inspired others to approach problems in a more lighthearted way.
Erdős was never afraid to inject humor into his work. He was once asked why he didn’t like geometry, and he replied, “Because I can’t stand to see squares and rectangles being treated as equals.” He also once described a particularly challenging problem as being “tougher than boiled owl.” These witty remarks not only made Erdős more relatable, but they also helped to break down the perception that mathematics was a dry and unapproachable field.
Erdős was also known for his love of puns. He once quipped, “An Erdős pun is its own re-word.” He also enjoyed wordplay, often using acronyms and mnemonics to remember mathematical formulas and theorems. His sense of humor and love of puzzles made him a joy to work with and a beloved figure in the mathematical community.
But it wasn’t just Erdős’ humor that made him such an important figure in mathematics. It was his willingness to approach problems in a different way. Erdős was a master of combinatorics, the study of counting and arranging objects, and he was able to apply this area of mathematics to a wide range of fields, from computer science to physics.
One of Erdős’ most famous contributions to combinatorics is the Erdős–Ko–Rado theorem, which states that in certain situations, the maximum number of subsets of a given size that can be chosen from a larger set without any two of them overlapping is (n-1) choose (k-1), where n is the size of the larger set and k is the size of the subsets. This theorem has important applications in coding theory and quantum information theory.
Erdős also made significant contributions to number theory, a branch of mathematics that deals with the properties of numbers. He was particularly interested in prime numbers, and he made significant progress in understanding the distribution of primes. He was also a pioneer in the study of Ramsey theory, which deals with the properties of large structures that must contain certain smaller structures.
So, as we celebrate the birthday of Paul Erdős, let’s remember not just his quirks and his sense of humor, but also his incredible contributions to mathematics. Erdős’ work has had a profound impact on our understanding of numbers, structures, and the world around us. He was a true genius, and his legacy will continue to inspire mathematicians and scientists for years to come.