From our latest blog post. 's inspiring reflection on humanity and how to live right.
Two of the greatest mathematicians in history hail from India. The first, Brahmagupta, provided rules for implementing the ‘zero’ in 628 c.e. as well as some basic number theory. The parameters Brahmagupta introduced may appear obvious (and are taught very early on in school) but 1400 years ago, this was revolutionary. Brahmagupta was both mathematician and astronomer and lived to be 68 years old.
The story of the second great Indian mathematician can only be described as incredible, almost bizarre. Srinivasa Ramanujan was born in 1887, in what is today known as, Tamil Nadu. His parents were neither wealthy nor well educated. Early on Ramanujan did well at school. At 10 years old he discovered his love for mathematics. Two years later he had mastered trigonometry (usually taught as a junior (11th grade) in US schools.) Within a year he had begun to develop his own mathematical ideas. The more devoted he became to mathematics, the more his other classes suffered.
As he did not have access to a rigid, programmed mathematical education, he taught himself. What is simply astounding is that he rediscovered existing mathematical concepts that he had never been introduced to such as Bernoulli Numbers. He invented his own method for solving quadratic equations and calculated Euler’s Constant to 15 places. Recording all of his work in notebooks, he did not follow classical methods for describing a mathematical proof. Though various people appeared to recognize his talent, his ideas were beyond their ability to affirm mathematical validity and hesitated to promote his work. He published several papers and was recognized among the Indian mathematical circles. His first break arrived in 1911.
In 1911 he approached Ramachandra Rao, one of the founding members of the Indian Mathematical Society. After the meeting Rao wrote:
“A short uncouth figure, stout, unshaven, not over clean, with one conspicuous feature-shining eyes- walked in with a frayed notebook under his arm. He was miserably poor. ... He opened his book and began to explain some of his discoveries. I saw quite at once that there was something out of the way; but my knowledge did not permit me to judge whether he talked sense or nonsense. ... I asked him what he wanted. He said he wanted a pittance to live on so that he might pursue his researches.”
Roa arranged for a stipend so that Ramanujan was able to continue his work. Ramanujan then wrote to three mathematicians at Cambridge. Two of the professors rejected his work. The third, G.H.Hardy, suggested that his work must be valid as no one could simply invent these ideas. Hardy arranged for Ramanujan to move to Cambridge just prior to the beginning of World War I. Partnering with Hardy, and on his own, he produced more than 4000 theorems in number theory, algebra and combinatorics. Hardy had suggested that without the work of Ramanujan it would have required more than a century for mathematicians to duplicate his concepts. (Hardy developed a scale of natural mathematical ability. On that scale he rated himself a 25, John E. Littlewood was rated a 30, David Hilbert garnered an 80. He rated Ramanujan a 100.) Unfortunately Ramanujan did not adjust to the climate, food and isolation in England and became seriously ill. He returned to India in 1919 and died in 1920. On his deathbed he wrote a letter to Hardy describing mock modular forms which is used in analysis concerning black holes.
Many of the theorems in his notebooks remained unpublished at the time of his death. Since then, almost three dozen papers have been completed and published based on these notebooks. Some were not completed until 2002.
Ramanujan claimed that he received inspiration from the goddess Mahalakshmi who would reveal while he was dreaming, complex mathematical concepts on scrolls. He stated once: “An equation means nothing to me unless it expresses a thought of God” and believed that “All religions are equally true”.
“Srinivasa Ramanujan was the strangest man in all of mathematics, probably in the entire history of science. He has been compared to a bursting supernova, illuminating the darkest, most profound corners of mathematics, before being tragically struck down by tuberculosis at the age of 32. Working in total isolation from the main currents of his field, he was able to re-derive 100 years’ worth of Western mathematics on his own.” - Michio Kaku Physicist -String Theory)
Note: There was an Indian mathematician named Amita Ramanujan (played by Navi Rawat) in the TV series Numb3rs. The producers (Ridley and Tony Scott) stated that this was done a s a tribute to the mathematician.
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