According to AlfrÃ©d RÃ©ny and/or Paul Erdos, â€œA mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems.â€ But while being able to pee theorems is way cooler than writing your name in the snow, according to movies, math will drive you insane:
These are the mathematicians that we here at Cracked have decided are the best. These are the mathematicians who should have their own trading cards. These are the ones who should be centerfolds in the math textbooks. If you would like to add or dispute someone's placement on this list, write a two-page justification for your position, seal it in a SASE, and shove it in your poophole. You're not the boss of us.
Carl F. Gauss
Gauss has been called the Prince of Mathematics, until about 1993, when he became known as the Mathematician Formerly Known as the Prince of Mathematics TM. He did a whole mess-load of math--a lot of which others would try to take credit for. He had this habit of not publishing something until it was written perfectly ("few but ripe" was his motto, although some suggest he may have been referring to something else entirely), and as a result some mathematical ideas (like non-Euclidean geometry or Cauchy's Integral Formula from Complex Variables) ended up being "rediscovered" by others.
Euler (pronounced like the "Oiler" in the Houston Oilers) was smart. If we were to assemble the ten smartest people in the history of the human race, three of them would be Euler. You remember that number e from your algebra class? Probably not, but that was named in honor of Euler. We could try to convince you of this by showing you Euler's Theorem, except that there's several different theorems named after him. Seriously, check this out: Math Stuff Named After Euler. Damn.
Archimedes did a lot of work with geometry and physics. Some of it in his bathtub. Word on the streets of ancient Greece was that he once got up from his bath, shouted, "Eureka," and ran through the streets naked. But, in fairness, 90% of ancient Greeks did that at least once a week.
In addition to having an awesome beard, Riemann developed the mathematical background for general relativity and introduced what is now called the Riemann Zeta function.
Not to menation, a better lover.
A famous conjecture about this function, the "Riemann Hypothesis," remains unsolved, and a one million dollar prize has been offered for its solution. (We here at Cracked have found a truly remarkable proof for this claim, but our servers are not large enough to contain it. Take that, Fermat!)
Pierre de Fermat
Despite being French, a lawyer, and a mathematician, Fermat wasn't as hated as one might expect. Although he was a recreational mathematician, he came up with many great ideas, and often made claims that, even when he didn't write a proof, turned out to be true. The most famous of these, indeed one of the most famous problems in all of the history of mathematics, became known as "Fermat's Last Theorem." He claimed that he had a proof that the equation xn + yn = zn had no nontrivial integer solutions when n is greater than 2, but didn't have room in the margin of the book for his proof. Why he didn't use one of those big-ass lawyer writing pads to write down his proof, no one knows.
Poincare was quite probably the last mathematician to have an appreciable depth of knowledge of all areas of mathematics. Nowadays the different branches of math are so advanced that trying to become an expert in more than one is like trying to limit Neil Peart to using just one drum. And, as if that wasn't enough to impress the crap out of us, he also developed some of the early foundations of relativity, and if Einstein hadn't been around, we'd probably be calling it Poincare's theory of relativity. Although we probably wouldn't be mocking smart people by saying, "What are you, some kind of Poincare?" because frankly that sounds stupid.
Cauchy's introduction of rigor in the calculus of real and complex functions has cemented his reputation as the mathematician who put the "anal" in analysis.
Erdos was a travelin' man, wandering around trading mathematical ideas with anyone who would listen. Consequently, he has coauthored over 1500 articles, making him the mathematical equivalent of Kevin Bacon. In fact, there is the notion of an Erdos number, just like the Bacon number: Erdos has Erdos number 0; anyone who coauthored with Erdos gets an Erdos number of 1; anyone who doesn't have an Erdos number of 1, but who has coauthored with someone with an Erdos number of 1 gets Erdos number 2; and so on.
Hey, hey! What's this I see? I thought this was a party. Let's do some math!
And for those select few who have both an Erdos number and a Bacon number, they can add them together to get an Erdos-Bacon number. Some famous people with Erdos-Bacon numbers: Carl Sagan (4+3=7), John Nash (4+2=6), Stephen Hawking (4+3=7), Danica McKellar (4+2=6), Natalie Portman (5+1=6), and Mayim Bialik (5+2=7).
Many people believe that the term "female mathematician" (much like "country music" or "happily married") is an oxymoron. This is somewhat understandable, given that women are sexy in much the same way that mathematics is not.
Mathematician Danica McKellar explains why math, much like Wonder Years costar Fred Savage, is difficult, boring, and not sexy.
However, history is replete with women who have contributed to mathematics. Here is a sampling.
Hypatia was a Greek scholar who exalted logic and reasoning over empirical studies. This is precisely the sort of thing that turns mathematicians on. Unfortunately for Hypatia, some Christians caught her being too smart and accused her of some political shenanigans, and then killed her.
Yep, that Florence Nightingale. In addition to being a nurse, she was a statistician who used her expertise to improve medical care. And while statisticians are the black sheep in the universal family of mathematicians, they still get invited to all the important conferences.
Kovalevskaya showed great mathematical prowess at an early age. But, being a woman in Russia in the 1800s, Sofia was not allowed to complete her mathematical studies there. So she went to Germany, where she could at least sit in the classes (as long as the professor agreed). Finally, after writing papers on advanced topics like Elliptic Integrals and Partial Differential Equations, mathematician Karl Weierstrass said, "Shit, men, we have to give her a PhD. This is some grade A math!" (Although he said it German.) Consequently she became the first woman in Europe to earn a PhD in mathematics.
Julia Robinson contributed greatly to the field of decidability (most notably in helping to answer Hilbert's Tenth Problem) and also showed that theory of rational numbers was undecidable in the same way that the theory of the natural numbers was undecidable (which was shown by Kurt Godel in his famous Incompleteness Theorem-see the Cracked mathematicians below). When asked by the personnel office at Berkeley to describe what her weekly work consisted of, she responded with: "Monday -- tried to prove theorem, Tuesday -- tried to prove theorem, Wednesday -- tried to prove theorem, Thursday -- tried to prove theorem; Friday -- theorem false." Coincidentally, this is precisely what you'll find in the daily planners of most Cracked writers.
Sophie Germain wanted to study mathematics, but having breasts and all, she wasn't allowed to attend courses at the Ecole Polytechnique. So she submitted a paper to the illustrious Joseph-Louis Lagrange using the pseudonym M. LeBlanc.
How YOU doin'?
Lagrange was impressed, and after finding out the author was a woman, was even more impressed. Because even geniuses can be biased. But he wasn't so biased that he ignored her. He introduced her to other mathematicians, allowing her to blossom like a flower that can do number theory. Ultimately, Germain was best known for her work in elasticity theory (which has nothing to do with bras, sorry) and Fermat's Last Theorem.
Ingrid Daubechies was the daughter of an engineer. And while mathematicians often make fun of engineers, occasionally they do useful things. Like spawning mathematicians. Daubechies earned a PhD in physics, but after marrying a mathematician, she started working at Bell Laboratories. It was there that she did work that would help make Cracked the beacon of culture that it is today: she designed continuous wavelets having compact support. One such family of wavelets was the Cohen-Daubechies-Feauveau wavelet, which is used to make JPEG images.
This jpeg showing Daubechies is made possible by Daubechies' work. Does your brain hurt yet?
Emmy Noether was to mathematics what Gauss was to, uh, mathematics. But she faced the same restrictions in the early twentieth century that any other brilliant female did. She could only audit math classes, and even then only if the professor gave permission. She taught at the Mathematical Institute at the University of Erlangen, but didn't get paid. (Because of the ovaries and all.) But she couldn't help being brilliant, and soon all of the greatest mathematical minds were trading ideas with her and she was allowed to start directing PhD students in mathematics at the University of Gottingen. But then, when Hitler started his buttholery, she was asked to leave the University. So she flipped Hitler the bird (topologically speaking) and moved to America to teach at Bryn Mawr.
Although mathematicians are exceedingly smart, occasionally you'll find one that's a little, shall we say, "off." Here are some that fit that category.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that Newton should appear in the list of Greatest Mathematicians above. But Cracked is an antonym of conventional wisdom. (Or homonym, or onomatopoeia, or whatever word we're thinking of.) Yes, Newton discovered calculus. But he was also a Grand Poobah of mysticism. He considered himself as being chosen by God to interpret scripture and prophesize about the future. Among his predictions: Jews would return to Israel, and the world will not end before 2060. In a couple of years either he or the Mayans are going to have some serious crow to chew.
Don't worry, it's not what you think: it's a gangsta rap album.
In addition to avoiding showers, the French had a great history of mathematical work. But at the beginning of the twentieth century, the French were not very visible in the mathematical scene. To fix this, several mathematicians got together and formed a group that would publish under the name Nicolas Bourbaki. Some famous mathematicians who were involved in the group include Jean Dieudonne, Claude Chevalley, Andre Weil, Laurent Schwartz, and Serge Lang. While the group did introduce some useful ideas to the world of mathematics, it turns out that several French heads really aren't that much better than one.
Galois was, from an early age, a brilliant mathematician. He failed the entrance exam for the Ecole Polytechnique twice; not because he couldn't do the problems, but because the examiners weren't quite bright enough to follow his steps. He wrote several papers, some of which formed the basis of what is today called "Galois theory." But, in addition to having a passion for mathematics, he also had a passion for women and politics, which ultimately led to him dying in a duel at the age of twenty. He did not say, "Verily, it is better to burn out, than to fade away," which is too bad, because those would have been some kick-ass last words.
Georg Ferdinand Ludwig Philipp Cantor
Cantor's most notable work was done in set theory. But early on he was attacked by Leopold Kronecker; Cantor believed in defining sets by describing the elements, whereas Kronecker insisted that the elements must be exhibited. For example, the set of good Uwe Boll movies would be an acceptable set according to Cantor, while Kronecker would have rejected it since no good Uwe Boll movie exists as an example. The two mathematicians bitch-slapped each other for years, which may have led to Cantor's bouts of depression. He ultimately spent the last year of his life in a sanatorium.
Godel was another excessively brilliant mathematician; with his incompleteness theorems, he showed that even logic has its limitations. As he turned 70, though, he started suffering from mental illness. Much like Edgar Allen Poe was deathly afraid of being buried alive, Godel's great fear was being poisoned. He would only eat his wife's cooking. When she was hospitalized, he had to give up eating, and once his weight got down to 65 pounds, his body decided it was done.
John Forbes Nash, Jr.
Nash was a mathematician whose work in Game Theory would ultimately play large roles in economics and military strategies. Unfortunately he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, which messed up his relationships with his wife and two sons (one from an affair that predated his marriage), but on the bright side gave Ron Howard some great material for an Oscar-winning movie.
Kaczynski earned a PhD, writing a thesis in Function Theory that solved a rather difficult boundary function problem. According to one of his professors, "He was an unusual person. He was not like the other graduate students." This became especially obvious when he gave up his position as Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Berkeley to pursue his dream of blowing up people and shit by becoming the Unabomber.
Have you seen this mathematician?
Wiles is most famous for completing the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem. Unlike most on this list, he doesn't suffer from any weirdness (that we know of), but upon completion of his proof, he was offered a chance to star in a GAP commercial for their jeans. Wiles rejected the offer, because nothing makes mathematicians more uncomfortable than having the public stare at their asses.
Perelman completed the proof of the Poincare conjecture, for which he won a Fields Medal and the Clay Mathematics Institute's $1,000,000 prize. Both of which he politely declined. Well, not politely exactly. He turned them both down because he disagreed with how the mathematical community at large treated each other: "The main reason is my disagreement with the organized mathematical community. I don't like their decisions, I consider them unjust." We here at Cracked aren't saying that Perelman was crazy. Sure, his diet consisted of bread, milk and cheese; yes, he let his hair and fingernails grow long; OK, he turned down one million dollars. Aw, fuck it, Hollywood was right: mathematicians are crazy.