The man who refused one million dollars
Who would refuse 1 million dollars when they are earned as a result of a competition? And for what reason would anyone do that? There is a russian mathematician that did just that! Grigori Perelman proved the The Poincaré conjecture, one of the seven Millennium Prize Problems, for which the Clay Mathematics Institute offered a $1,000,000 prize for the first correct solution. And then he refused the prize.
Read here a full story of this situation. Just to mention a few ideas from this long article:
Perelman’s explanation for this refusal was as surprising as his actual refusal. He disagrees with the decision of the mathematics community: “I do not like their decision, I consider it unfair,” he said. “I consider that the American mathematician [Richard] Hamilton’s contribution to the solution of the problem is no less than mine.” The mathematical community considers that Perelman solved the problem, but he says that Hamilton deserves the prize.
Some parties or people try to befriend the reclusive mathematician, writing him letters full of compliments and flattery. The communists wrote him a letter containing a detailed plan of action if he accepts the money!! And the prime minister is just proud that he did not took the money! Perelman’s widespread popularity is easy to explain. Most Russians have no idea what he was awarded for. What they like is Perelman’s stubborn refusal to take the money. The money is being pressed on him, but he still won’t take it. “I don’t need anything, I have everything I need,” Perelman explained to journalists through the closed-door of his apartment. Yet the neighbors say Perelman lives not just modestly, but poorly. A former colleague at the institute where Perelman worked until 2005 put it this way: “He is exceedingly punctilious. Sometimes he would see violations of moral codes where, in fact, there were none.”
We, his contemporaries, feel sure that a million dollars is the equivalent of happiness in life and that one shouldn’t refuse such presents. But Perelman has a different opinion. Do you catch his meaning? He simply has other criteria concerning what is moral and what isn’t, what is correct and what isn’t. It seems that he doesn’t just see “violations of moral codes where there are none,” but sees more than all of us put together. Perhaps that is what helped him solve the “unsolvable” problem.
Grigory Perelman seems to have that mysterious “something,” I don’t know what it’s called, but you obviously can’t buy it and it’s worth a lot more than a million dollars. He knows why he’s here and what he needs. What are all the temptations of the world to him compared with that knowledge?
The mathematician William Thurston had this to say about Perelman’s refusal of this valuable prize: “I am filled with a deep sympathy and admiration for his inner strength and purity, for his ability to be true to himself. We learned from Perelman the mathematician. Perhaps we would also do well to think about ourselves and learn from his attitude towards life.”