Friday, June 12, 2009

belle et bete

The most brilliant Bourbakian was Alexandre Grothendiek. He was born in 1928 to an anarchist journalist and a one-armed street photographer, and his doctorate [...] contained enough discoveries for six seminal papers. "Naive and childlike", he wore tyre sandals and was an expert boxer. In the 1960s he broke from the group, advocating a foundational idea for all mathematics that is even more basic than sets - categories, in which objects have no essential existence at all. At this metaphysical exposure, mathematics started to fight back and drove Grothendiek mad. [...] He became convinced that the devil had meddled with the speed of light. In 1991, he burned 25,000 pages of his original writings and disappeared into the Pyrenees.

A. Masters, "The many in the one", ibid.