Random Notes

57 – The Grothendieck Prime

Posted by mfluch on December 26, 2007

The following anecdote about the number 57 is quoted from Allyn Jackson’s article “Comme Appelé du Néant – As If Summoned from The Life of Alexandre Grothendieck”:

One striking characteristic of Grothendieck’s mode of thinking is that it seemed to rely so little on examples. This can be seen in the legend of the so-called “Grothendieck prime”. In a mathematical conversation, someone suggested to Grothendieck that they should consider a particular prime number. “You mean an actual number?” Grothendieck asked. The other person replied, yes, an actual prime number. Grothendieck suggested, “All right, take 57.”

Grothendieck is considered one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century. He thought in great generalities but yet thinking in concrete examples was not his strength. Note that 57 is equal to 19 times 3…


5 Responses to “57 – The Grothendieck Prime”

  1. […] Another tidbit of info, around 1.07 in the video, is a clarification to the traditional story of 57, the Grothendieck prime: […]

  2. […] la pifió? En una conversación matemática, alguien le pidió a Grothendieck un número primo. ¿Cuál fue el número propuesto por el matemático alemán? El 57, que no es primo, pero que […]

  3. […] A possibly apocryphal story has it that Alexandre Grothendieck, asked to pick a prime number to work as an example for something he was explaining, picked 57. Ironically, Marcus du Sautoy once told me that the Grothendieck prime was 59, which is a brain fart of the second degree. […]

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