Bits and Pieces

Intriguing (and comprehensible) article on the ABC Conjecture, a famous mathematical problem that might — or might not — have been solved last year. After 10 years of quiet work, Shinichi Mochizuki dumped a dense 500-page quartet of papers on the world. Mathematicians are having trouble digesting them:

This is not just gibberish to the average layman. It was gibberish to the math community as well.

“Looking at it, you feel a bit like you might be reading a paper from the future, or from outer space,” wrote Ellenberg on his blog.

“It’s very, very weird,” says Columbia University professor Johan de Jong, who works in a related field of mathematics.

Mochizuki had created so many new mathematical tools and brought together so many disparate strands of mathematics that his paper was populated with vocabulary that nobody could understand. It was totally novel, and totally mystifying.

Molly Crabapple was a schoolage malcontent:

In The Medicalization of Deviance, Peter Conrad says that what was once conceived of as sin, then crime, became illness. School kids are labelled with all three. Brown kids in broke schools are seen as minicriminals. Police detain them for doodling on their own backpacks. In religious areas, queer kids are sinners.

For white kids in decent schools, adolescent rebellion is something for psychiatrists to treat. For them, school is taken as a hard-wired part of evolution. You’re broken if you can’t sit in class.

Crabapple eventually gets a quite wonderful diagnosis: “Oppositional Deviant Disorder”. Truly, America is master of the medical approach.

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