Hannes Grimm-Strele

I am a research scientist at Fraunhofer ITWM in Kaiserslautern, and work from time to time as a tutor in IMAGINARY exhibitions and workshops.

Latest Blog Entries

At the end
Jun. 9, 2013

I finished reading the book now, and will try to give a short resumee. In all of my former blog entries, I did not speak much about the actual story of the book, so I’ll start with an overview of what happens. Cedric Villani is a scientist at the ENS in Lyon working in mathematical physics. He and his colleague C. Mouhot start working on the problem of nonlinear Landau damping. In the book which is similar to a diary, the time when they develop their theory is described. Villani and his family move to Princeton for a reseach stay. He gets appointed to the director of the Poincare Institute in Paris. In the end, Villani gets awarded the Fields medal for his work.

I liked the book since it is a realistic description of the working routine of a mathematician. It shows the ups and downs, the moments when you think you have a breakthrough, or when you are desperate and don’t see any hope for rescue. He doesn’t try to simplify the mathematics to make it “understandable” because he knows that it is impossible. Instead, the mathematics is kind of a background which is always present, never obvious, and therefore adds a deeper secret level behind the story, unaccessible to most readers. Comparing to popular literature, it’s like the old story of Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings books: you can feel it, but with only the books you can never understand it. But it makes the world much more lively and fascinating. And since I mentioned “Matrix” in one of my earlier blog entries, my fears didn’t come true: the “back story” in Villani’s bok is not only superficial, but full of life and deeper contents.

One may remark that it is a little bit narcissistic to write a book about his own successes as Villani did - but on the other hand, given his great achievements in science, he has reason to become narcissistic. After all, I can recommend the book to anyone who wants to get an idea of how mathematicians work, and to mathematicians who wonder how they can present their work to the public.

Quotations
May. 28, 2013

Another article about the book, with many direct quotations from the German translation (found by Andreas): 

http://www. spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-92537067.html

In the book, you will not only learn something about mathematics, but also some useful things for daily life. Another direct quotation, translated by me:

“You should always fly economy class, statistically seen the girls are much more delightful.”

I’ve arrived now at the time when Villani was awarded the Fields medal. I did not fully understand why he gets the medal, and not his coworker Clement Mouhot, but maybe this will be clarified in the last chapters.

Formulas
May. 23, 2013

In an interview with Villani in Le Monde, I found the following concerning the bunch of formulas in the book:

“La mathématique, c’est comme tout : cela peut se raconter à n’importe quel degré de complexité. D’ailleurs, l’une des raisons de mentionner dans mon livre, Théorème vivant, les formules mathématiques, c’est pour qu’on ait une image, une idée du degré de complexité que cela peut atteindre, dans lequel même nous on n’entre pas quand on discute entre collègues. Quel que soit le discours, quand on explique, on est toujours en train de trahir, plus ou moins. Mais, tant que vous avez, comme votre interlocuteur, la conscience du niveau de trahison, celle-ci est justifiée, pardonnée.”

Again, I don’t want to translate - especially since I am not sure about the meaning of the last part. In short, the idea of putting the formulas in the book is to give an image of the complexity which cannot easily be understood - but you will get aware of its complexity.

If your French is better than mine, read the interview yourself: http://tinyurl.com/burcv7y

There seems to be a lot of stuff from and about Villani on lemonde.fr …

Articles
May. 19, 2013

My father sent me the original article in the FAS, and I rechecked what I wrote about it before. The original citation concerning Perelman is

”[…] ich bin weit von Perelmans Niveau entfernt, und nehme an, ohne mich zu zieren.”

(“I am far away from Perelman’s level, and I accepted without hesitating.”). Then, I stumbled upon a new article about the book in the FAZ

http://tinyurl.com/bb3zv4h

The new one is much less interesting, whereas in the first article a lot of interesting thoughts are mentioned. In the book, I have reached now the point where Villani and Mouhot finally proved the central point of the problem - at least as far as I understood. There were several pages, obviously taken directly from their publication. No chance to understand this!

In the first article the author claims that you do not learn much personal things about Villani. In my opinion, this is not completely true - not only because there is a excessive list of his favourite music. Looking at the dates of his email communication with Mouhot, there is hardly any time where they don’t write to each other, day and night, Sundays and any other day of the week. Does this not show how devoted he is to his work?

Frightening Norms
May. 14, 2013

Today I’ve seen the most frightening norm of my life, and it was not in a mathematical textbook… Villani is just telling about his time at the Institute of Advanced Studies.

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Hannes Grimm-Strele
Germany