Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Summer of Being Erdős

Paul Erdős (pronounced Air-Dish) was one of the most prolific mathematicians who ever lived – he was also one of the most eccentric. His life has been immortalized in the documentary film “N is a number” and in the bestselling book “The man who only loved numbers.” (which is a very fun read, even if you don’t like Math).

One of the unusual things about Erdős is that he was a vagabond: Except when he was very young, he never actually had a home - he just spent his life hopping from one mathematics conference to the next. And when there was no conference to visit, he would just pop in on one of his many collaborators for several weeks, working on a mathematical paper or two for a while, before moving on to his next visit. All of his possessions fit into one suitcase. When I read about this lifestyle, it certainly seemed a bit crazy.

I wish I could claim to be as prolific and as important as Erdős was. I’m not. But I am starting to share one of his other eccentricities – being a vagabond. And it isn’t nearly as crazy as it sounds. You see, over the course of this summer, I have been hopping from one locale to the next, living out of a suitcase. Between the day the spring semester (Trinity) ended (June 18) and the day the fall semester (Michaelmas) begins (Oct 4), only a mere handful of days will be spent at my “home” in Oxford. The rest of the time I’ve been all over the map: California, Italy, Colorado, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, …. Right now, I am about two-thirds the way through the summer, and I’m still holding up pretty well (an annoying cold and a damaged rib not withstanding). Living out of a suitcase turns out to not be that difficult.

Wherever I go, there is interesting physics to be done, and interesting people to talk to. And in the modern era it is not even that difficult to keep in touch with friends and family wherever I happen to be. I’m not sure I could reduce all my worldly possessions to one suitcase, but it might not be such a bad idea to try

Oh, and for those who want to know, my Erdős number is 3 (via Mike Freedman and Laszlo Lovasz).

1 comment:

Steve said...

OK, my mother sent me this email comment on this posting. I'm going to post it because it cracked me up:

"Reduce all your worldly possessions to one suitcase- are you kidding? You could start by getting rid of some of the crap in your downstairs extra room"