does not want our attention but he may merit it. He offers a model of behavior which very well may be foreign to our time, but, still, we ought to know that it’s an available option: grumpiness, misanthropy, and a radical lack of interest in publicity—and, it seems, money, too.
To be able to close the door. To slam
Perelman is a mathematician from St. Petersburg, Russia—where he lives with his mother and sister—who, a few years ago, solved a century-old math problem, Poincaré's conjecture. This is one of seven fabled math problems, the solution for which the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Mass., has offered $1 million—for each solution.
Perelman has not only so far shunned the dough, but when reached by a reporter said, with fabulous succinctness and practicality: “You are disturbing me. I am picking mushrooms.”
My modest proposal is that we should all start to say this, to phone solicitors, spouses, and certainly to the media. This can be the universal mantra for a new right of peace and quiet.
In 2006 Perelman apparently declined, or just didn’t show up to collect, the Field Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics—its Oscar. (Indeed, there once was a time, almost impossible to believe, when actors of a certain stature and mien didn’t show up for their Oscars.)
Of course, Perelman is not only a genius mathematician, which suggests all sort of problematic social issues, but a Russian. This is, we might assume, misanthropy of a very specialized order and, even, historical magnitude (he bears a resemblance to that last Russian misanthrope who gained international statue, Alexander Solzhenitsyn).
Perelman actually quit mathematics some years ago, apparently feeling—as we all frequently feel about our colleagues—that his fellow mathematicians were all majorly sub-par.
Nobody does this anymore, turns their back on fame and success—at least those who have an opportunity to have fame and success don’t.
Successful people are, nowadays, pretty much defined by their need for approval.
Would we be smarter and able to concentrate more deeply if we were strong enough to be left alone, to be able to say those words that deserve to be immortal? You are disturbing me. I am picking mushrooms.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.