This One is for You, Lubos

From David Ruelle's Chance and Chaos
Mathematical talent often develops at an early age. This is a common observation, to which the great Russian Mathematician Andrei N. Kolmogorov added a curious suggestion. He claimed that the normal psychological development of a person is halted at precisely the time when mathematical talent sets in.

He credited himself with a mental age of 12.

OK Lubos, how old were you when your mathematical precocity showed up?


  1. Anonymous12:22 AM

    There is no peer reviewed study that gives support for Kolmogorovs suggesting, so why do you ask that question?

    Here is another unsubstantiated question: Have you stopped beating your wife, Yes or No?
    Mike Ros

  2. CIP,

    a (somewhat related) idea, which goes back to Sigmund Freud, assumes that the psychology of the "genius" and narcist neurosis are connected to the experience of masturbation:
    i) Little boy plays with his penis.
    ii) Little boy makes a great discovery.
    iii) Little boy assumes he found something nobody else knows about (because nobody talks about it).
    iv) Little boy concludes that he is a genius.
    v) Little genius tries to repeat this experience, even after he learns the truth about his first great discovery.

    Of course, I would never compare theoretical physics to (intellectual) masturbation 8-)

  3. anonymous - I think AMK's suggestion should be treated as a joke, but like all good jokes, one with a hint of truth in it.

    Wolfgang - no comment, except to say that discovering a great passion, and devoting your life to it from an early age, might easily be imagined to curtail ones development in other directions.

    Lubos - sorry you haven't answered, but I thought I recalled you saying you won a Czech math prize at age eleven or thereabouts. Is that correct?

  4. If you find it that useful and you think it will help you, no prob.

    I learned how to read & write & calculate simple things at the age of 3. In the first grade, age 6+, I started to convert friends in our gang to factorials and powers.

    In the fifth grade, age 11-, I started to win the mathematical olympiads at the highest available, regional (Western Bohemia) level, and at the end of the high school, there were higher levels of the competition (Czechoslovakia) where I ranked 1st-2nd. Only bronze medal followed from the International Math. Olympiad (with 30 other people or so); let me not discuss whether their assigned the points correctly there. ;-)

    Since the age of 5, I was thinking about the world in terms of some kind of theoretical physics model based on classical field theory. An article from Discovery, translated to Czech, in 1987 convinced me that string theory was serious as a candidate theory for a TOE. It was only confirmed once I got an access to Nuclear Physics and other things in the college.

    But at the high school I learned quantum mechanics and went through all the beginners' (and Einstein's) questions whether there can be a complete deterministic description of it. Eventually I failed to find it and decided that it could not exist and only very weak physicists continue to attempt to find something like that.

    Best wishes

  5. Anonymous2:56 PM

    Oh my god! Lubos is was child prodigy!!!

  6. Anonymous11:07 PM

    Eventually I failed to find it and decided that it could not exist

    Obviously, if Lubos fails to find something, then it does not exist (which he, of course, decides by fiat).

  7. Lubos - Thanks much for your very interesting comments. I thought I vaguely remembered a little bit of what you said. I know that a number of the greatest mathematicians, and at least some physicists, fell under the spell of mathematics at a very early age. If you ever choose to write a long post on the subject, I, at least, would be very interested. One or more mathematicians has written about their experiences, but mostly only after they are so old that they may have forgotten a lot.

    Do you have an opinion on Kolmogorov's joke?

  8. Dear CIP,

    I certainly don't think at this very moment that you should pick me as an example of a prodigy.

    Wait if I happen to find a TOE, or choose someone else.

    All the best

  9. Lumo - I'm a little leary of words like "prodigy," because lots of prodigies fail to become adult geniuses, for all sorts of reasons. That's why I say my interest is more in people who's talent develops early.


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