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Srinivasa Ramanujan (wikipedia.org)
77 points by vinutheraj on Oct 29, 2009 | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments

If you count him as unknown then you might as well count just about every other Mathematician other than Newton as an unknown as well.

I've discovered that John Nash ("that beautiful mind guy") is probably about as well known as Newton. So is "that Numbers guy" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numb3rs).

No. People don't call Newton: "That gravity guy", people know Newton's name. Every time I go to talk to a non-Mathematician about John Nash and say his name they go: "Who?", me: "The Mathematician from A Beautiful Mind." them: "Oh." Newton is Newton and in terms of popularity, John Nash; "The Beautiful Mind guy" isn't even in his league.

Not really. Most people know Newton as a physicist, but any pupil knows about Pythagoras. Also, any high school pupil that studies science (not human arts) knows about (Joseph Louis) Lagrange.

And some of the Greeks.

agreed..I recall first studying his work in highschool math. and that was in Canada.

Ramanujan was also mentioned in "Good Will Hunting". However I do agree that Indians have done a bad in terms of Marketing our selves.

Our brand image over some time has been: Some time Back: Snake Charmers and Kings Now: Bangalore(Outsourcing) & Spicy Food

However I do agree that Indians have done a bad in terms of Marketing our selves.

What is this "we", and since when are people brands?

Bit parochial and jingoist eh? Nations are an illusion, and better image "betterment" can be done by caring for one's immediate neighbor.

Don't succumb to regionalist propaganda that serve none other than the ruling classes; all earth is yours, and all (wo)men your kin.

Oh lighten up. Americans have a lovely variety of stereotypical images - fat McDonalds consumers, Texan bullies, imperialists, the Japanese apparently think we "all smell like butter" or some such. Its kidding, and when done by friends is supposed to be answered good-naturedly.

I am not objecting to the existence of national stereotypes, I object to the existence of nations.

Tell that to the Chinese.

OK. Will do. Or at least I can tell that to the one Chinese that I recently shared a flat with.

I would upvote this a million times if possible

"Snake Charmers" is not a brand image "We" wanted nor created. It is the product of ignorant western minds.

Compared to other eastern cultures (chinese and japanese at least) India has suffered from mis-understanding and underwhelming understanding for a long time.

You only have to read English literature on India from 18 and 19th century to realize the extent of misinformation generated by the British to legitimise their occupation of India. "Victorial Morals" were not helpful either.

Of ignorance - the article mentions "dying of illness, malnutrition and possibly liver infection in 1920 at the age of 32." ...

I smell some ignorance on our part - we don't have much goodwill to take care of geniuses. The current state of higher education (with major emphasis on mugging, apart from minute number of good colleges) is killing many more geniuses.

I find a 1st year Computer Science student very keen in maths and physics, to the extent that he goes on to prove things that go above our heads. I asked him, "So why didn't you go for a Bsc in Physics/maths?" , his answer - "I need to get a job first, and anyhow I can't go against wills of my father".

Now look at that, neither does government not parents do enough to sustain such geniuses in our nation. Another quote from the article - "He received a scholarship to study at Government College in Kumbakonam, but lost it when he failed his non-mathematical coursework." Even this is pretty much observable here, the lack of quality higher education institution does force us to leave our passion and do the way the system dictates us to.

There are many geniuses, but if things continue like this, they would never be filtered out and brought to limelight, to places where their genius can be of worth. ... nothing more to say.

"It is the product of ignorant western minds." --> That's such a poor generalization. (We+our gov) have been ignorant at many other important things (higher education, infrastructure, ...) than an 'Image' projected on world.

If you read my reply again, you will see that I commented on the pre-independance image of India, that of snake charmers. That image is a product of narrow, west-is-superior-in-everything mindset of the 18 and 19th century europe.

I largely agree with your comment on present day situation. We can do lot better in promoting Basic Sciences.

But we must find that thin difference b/w when to stop teaching general sciences and let students focus on what they love. As for my computer science course, I'm pretty much frustrated with the enforced chemistry and physics in 1st 5 semesters of 8 semester course. That doesn't make sense. Plus it eats out a lot of time I could've spent over learning new things if I had 4 subjects instead of 6.

The courses in India also happen to be outdated. At my college we do VC++ 6 under HCI --> wtf?!

And computer science grads go through a combined 1 semester course of 'signals and systems' and 'digital signal processing', which again doesn't make any sense to me. No wonder students get below 20/50.

My point is, the time lost due to over-engagement promoted in these colleges could have been spent in 'finding out what one loves to do'.

Since students don't find that time, there is an evident herd mentality when it comes to furthering their careers after a bachelors degree in Computer Science. People end up disrespecting it by trying to do MBA, etc.

Nothing wrong, their personal choice, but I think humanity in this region of world could've given out more inventions and geniuses if students (most of us) didn't have this pattern as the only way of starting our lives.

If only we could too just roam around on road, pick a paper and scribble some maths onto it like Ramanujan used to... if only we all could be unique with the knowledge of what we love...

> "I need to get a job first, and anyhow I can't go against wills of my father".

He's dad should have read more statistics. As far as I know Computer Science does not land you more jobs, or higher paying jobs, than physics or maths. (And it's relatively easy to get a CS job with a degree in math or physics.)

I smell some ignorance on our part - we don't have much goodwill to take care of geniuses.

Why should the extension of goodwill be exclusive to "geniuses"? why not everyone?

The system tries to say that 'I'm catering to the needs of _everybody_ by imparting them common knowledge'. But the other way to look at it would be that, the system is trying to produce huge number of people with common skills which isn't anything to be happy about. If the extension of goodwill should not be exclusive to "geniuses", then at least the system should wait till everyone has recognized 'what they want' and let them proceed in the direction of their passion. The industry focussed education system however poses a roadblock in this process. Just as Sir Ken Robinson said - "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" - http://is.gd/4Hby5 I think they do kill creativity and forming geniuses in India.

The British saw what they were prepared to see. What they missed falls on them. Just below the superficial, India is one of the great nations of history.

(The same applies to what new arrivals in the Americas were not prepared to see in the 'Indians' of the Americas. Before knowledge we can only see with the eyes our culture gives us.)

I doubt you can speak for your forefathers any more than I can, but it does seem that you would like to rewrite history by today's standards. Perhaps your stereotype of the west is just as perverted.

I loved reading Robert Kanigel's biography - "The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan." Recommended for people who want to know more about the genius mathematician.

My intro to him was http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1051838/

God bless the bbc.

The Music of Primes by Marcus Du Sautoy also has an excellent chapter on Ramanujam.

Seconded, a great read.

Why is this article at the top of the page ? As so many people have pointed out - he is neither an unknown nor has there been any recent incident/discovery which would require a re-iteration of his "geniusness".

White guilt.

For what? For recognizing his genius and rescuing him from the squalor of his native condition and landing him in the heart of the empire?

One of my coworkers used to talk about Ramanujan. He remarked Ramanujan called every prime number a close personal friend. He sort of had this deep relationship with numbers.

Then I saw a documentary on people who could do complex math without the aide of a calculator (e.g. given any large number and tell if it was prime in their head). I thought there might be a parallel between people like this and Ramanujan. The documentary focused on a couple of people who were not savants, but by all accounts normal people. They followed a young British kid. He described how he saw and felt about numbers, and each number had a distinct personality. I found it remarkably similar to the description about how Ramanujan felt about numbers.

I probably should pipe up on this thread :)

The most amazing thing about Ramanujan is that there are literally multiple Springer Volumes devoted solely to the task of proving the results in his notebooks.

See for example:


[...]Hardy contacted the Indian Office to plan for Ramanujan's trip to Cambridge. Secretary Arthur Davies of the Advisory Committee for Indian Students met with Ramanujan to discuss the overseas trip. In accordance with his Brahmin upbringing, Ramanujan refused to leave his country to "go to a foreign land."

So much for being a Math genius.

Disclaimer: I am an Indian.

Being a Genius in Mathematics does not necessarily mean being a genius in everything else (including bringing an exciting future forward in time). Galois, another mathematical genius from France (1800s), died at twenty because he fought a duel and got killed. It may be tempting to call him 'stupid'. He may be somewhat irrational in his love affair but that does not make his mathematical genius any lesser.

Newton was supposed to have been an absolute coward.

As a member of parliament the only thing he mentioned, during any session, was a request to open the window.

Feynman was a womanizer who was known to sleep with wives of colleagues. His biography "Genius" is a pretty good read by the way.

Genius doesnt mean "adventurous" or "virtuous" or "worldly". Its just one facet of a human.

And Newton was also heavy into alchemy and astrology. (Leibniz seemed much saner. But he was probably closer to Feynman in his worldly orientation.)

Netwon also spent a great deal of time attempting to decipher codes in the bible...

What does your disclaimer mean?

Ramanujan was a tremendously talented mathematician. Just because you come from the same country as him or find his religious beliefs archaic and/or irrational doesn't mean you can just dismiss his achievements.

Maths and Culture are not related in any way.

neither are algebra and calculus ;)

How can you say that the inventor of taxicab numbers is unknown? Most people I know know who he is.

This guy was huge, and he is very well known.

Ramanujan is well known.

He is the most well-known "unknown" mathematician...:)

I think I first read about him in a Martin Gardner book as a kid. So yeah, not that unknown.

Kind of same here -- I think I first read about him on the Argentinian magazine "Humor y Juegos" (Humor and Games) some time in the late 70s/ early 80s. I guess most people with any interest in recreational mathematics/ puzzles will know of Ramanujan.

But does he have his MCSE?

Well known. Now, do you know Slava Pestov?

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