January 6, 2007

what a role model

Paul Erdös was one of the most prolific mathematicians in History, writing approximately 1,500 mathematical articles before his death in 1996. He was so prolific, in fact, that the six degrees of separation in the math world is called the Erdös number, which describes the collaborative distance between an author and Erdös.

One of my professors related that he once had the chance to speak to Erdös and had asked what the secret was to his astounding output. His response, as related by my professor, was “Speed-up drugs.”

Several friends of mine are planning on going into research and found this anecdote quite depressing and chose to interpret this as a joke. However, scanning wikipedia today I discovered Erdös proclivity for “speed-up drugs” is less than a secret:

“After 1971 he also took amphetamines, despite the concern of his friends, one of whom (Ron Graham) bet him $500 that he could not stop taking the drug for a month. Erd?s won the bet, but complained that mathematics had been set back by a month: ‘Before, when I looked at a piece of blank paper my mind was filled with ideas. Now all I see is a blank piece of paper.’ The bet won, he promptly resumed his amphetamine habit.”

So remember kids, if you’re not doing speed, you’re not living up to your potential.

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