Shimura Memoire on André Weil

Goro Shimura (志村 五郎 born 23 February 1930) is a Japanese mathematician, and currently a professor emeritus of mathematics (former Michael Henry Strater Chair) at Princeton University

Shimura is known to a wider public through the important Modularity Theorem (previously known as the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture before being proven in the 1990s); Kenneth Ribet has shown that the famous Fermat’s Last Theorem (FLT) follows from a special case of this theorem. Shimura dryly commented that his first reaction on hearing of 1994 Andrew Wiles’s proof of the semi-stable case of the FLT theorem was ‘I told you so’.

Shimura’s mémoire on the 20th century great French mathematician André Weil (Fields Medal, Founder of Bourbaki):

1. Weil advised us not to stick to a wrong idea too long. “At some point you must be able to tell whether your idea is right or wrong; then you must have the guts to throw away your wrong idea.”

2. According to him, one of the best way to learn French or any foreign language was to see the same movie in that language again and again, staying in the same seat in the same movie theatre.

3. A French gentleman’s ideal is to have three concurrent loves: the first one, whom he cares about at present; the second, a potential one, whom he has his eye on with the hope that she will eventually be his principal love; the third, the past one, with whom he hasn’t completely cut off his relations. Then he observed: “It’s a good idea for a mathematician to have three mathematical loves in the same sense.”

4. As to Fields medals, he said: “It’s a kind of lottery. There are so many eligible candidates, and the whole selection process is a matter of chance. Therefore the prize could be given to any of them as in a lottery.”

5. He used to say that a good mathematician must have two good ideas. “It is possible for someone to have a really good idea, but it may be just a fluke. Once the person has a second good idea, then there is a good chance for him to develop into a better mathematician.”

6. In the summer of 1970 after the Nice Congress, I was talking with him somewhere in the Institute about French mathematicians. He observed that there were three young mathematicians in Paris who started brilliantly, and so there were high expectations for them. He mentioned three well-known names and said, “What happened to them? They utterly failed to produce anything great.” After around 1975 he expressed, more than once, his pessimistic view that French mathematics had been declining for some time.

{Note: This recorded memoire of Shimura made the French very unhappy, for which Shimura refused to delete it from the book }

7. Weil told me several anecdotes about Hardy. “Hardy’s opinion that mathematics is a young man’s game is nonsense,” Weil said.

8. When I prodded the guests to tell their ambitions in their next lives… “I want to be a Chinese scholar studying Chinese poems,” said Weil. After visiting China twice, he had been reading English translations of Chinese standard literature like "The Dream of the Red Chamber"(红楼梦).

{Note: Weil met Hua LuoGeng 华罗庚 and remarked if every Chinese is like Hua, very soon in future the Westerners will have to learn Math in Chinese}

9. Weil said, “I would like to see the Riemann hypothesis settled before I die, but that is unlikely.” Weil died at 92 in 1998.

2 thoughts on “Shimura Memoire on André Weil

  1. Pingback: Our Daily Story #10: A Shop Assistant Math Professor | Math Online Tom Circle

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