Imagine solving one of the most profound outstanding problems in mathematics. Imagine living in poverty, in a cockroach-infested apartment in St. Petersburg, Russia. Imagine being awarded one of the world’s most prestigious prizes in science, the Millennium Prize of the Clay Mathematics Institute, which, incidentally, also comes with a cool $1,000,000.
And imagine turning it down. Which is precisely what reclusive Russian mathematician Grigory Perelman apparently did.
I don’t know what to think. Was it a matter of principle for him? Perhaps. But then, he could have indicated in advance that he wouldn’t accept the award, just as he refused to accept the Fields Medal a few years earlier. Why did he keep the world in suspense? Was it posturing? Or is he, hmmm, how can I put this politely, one fry short of a happy meal, to use a favorite phrase of mine from the television series Stargate SG-1?