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    The poster who goes by the moniker "trust god" has attempted to post not a few questions, all related to the conjecture of Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer, which have routinely been severely downvoted and closed. Some of the accompanying discussions became quite ugly, in no small part because of the frustrated emotional reactions of trust god, but more recently I think some of the reactions of respected MO contributors have crossed a line and have gotten way too personal. I refer particularly to question 69875, <a href="">here</a>.

    As I wrote in a comment, this reflects very poorly on MO, and I feel some action might be warranted. For example, this particular question should perhaps be locked and deleted by Math Overflow.

    Since trust god seems to be unable to post a question about Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer that avoids the fate of being downvoted and closed, I also wonder whether it makes sense to have him (I suppose not 'her') continue to post on this topic. Part of the problem seems to be the sheer history of these posts (which are all on the same topic, having to do with interpretations of Tamagawa numbers). It seems to me that there might be the germ of a reasonable question if it came from someone else and were properly reformulated in correct mathematical English, and it could lead to a more enlightening response.

    But in the case of trust god, this seems to be an impossibility, and so the question is whether it might be more compassionate in the long run to undertake an action such as barring more questions of this type from trust god, or bar him from MO altogether, rather than subject him and everyone else to these tiresome and predictable outcomes.

    I think banning him would go a bit far. Has this ever happened on MO? (just curious)

    While my understanding of Algebraic Geometry is limited at best, his Questions often do sound like a rather random mix of fancy words strung together to make him sound smart.
    I've always wondered, do his questions even make sense?

    I've deleted my comments. You're absolutely right, they were unnecessary and inflammatory (so is trustgod's comment claiming that everyone closing his questions is unintelligent and jealous of his ideas, but that does not excuse me). I think this removes the need for deleting the question, would you agree Todd? In the past, I (and many others of course) have already tried the approach of posting a long, sympathetic, reassuring comment to him about mathematics, with no effect. It would be best for me to leave my interaction with trust god at that, I think.

    As to your proposal to ban trust god / prevent questions from him about BSD, I'm not sure. Thinking only in terms of the end result, I think it would be best, but in some sense I feel like trustgod has a "right" to continue asking questions that outweighs that action.


    I am not involved, but I feel like voting "+1" for this discussion in general. Thanks Todd.


    @Michael: if I'm not mistaken, probationary actions against certain MO users have been applied in the past. You may be right that an outright ban would be going too far; I'm quite undecided on this. But some sort of probation may be warranted, especially since trust god is implicitly insulting others by flinging accusations of 'jealousy' and the like.

    I can't tell how much sense or nonsense there is behind these questions. Even to a complete outsider like myself, it's clear that there is at least some sloppiness in trust god's latest question; for example, instead of a product of Tamagawa numbers being related to class groups, he has a single Tamagawa number $c_p$, and even later he refers to 'the' Tamagawa number $c_{p}'$ of an elliptic curve. The fact this goes unnoticed or uncorrected for quite a few hours after he posted his question could lead one to believe he's just playing around with words without real understanding.

    But I leave to the experts to decide -- quite apart from the history or what sort of person trust god appears to be -- whether there is a germ of an interesting question there. That's what I'd really like to hear!

    @Zev: thanks. Obviously it's still not a great discussion, but I guess there's no need for deletion at this point (trust god removed some of his comments as well, which will prompt me to remove mine and simply leave a pointer to this discussion instead). IMO, trust god may forfeit his right to ask questions if he continues with the implicit insults.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJul 10th 2011

    I think (as I believe many others here) that 'trust god' is doing himself, essentially certainly, a huge disservice by approaching mathematics in the way he seems to do. Some tried to explain this to him. Initially, I think, this was the right strategy.

    Yet, while there was some small positive reaction to this (I am thinking of the one reference request for somewhat introductory material), by and large these suggestion get ignored or misinterpreted. So, it seems to me to repeat them (in increasingly direct or snarky or even rude form) does no good. Although, yes, it is difficult to not say something as response to certain of his statements.

    Perhaps, a strategy could be to ignore him for a while; not completely, but in the sense that if one has nothing specifically mathematical to say on his questions, say nothing (and also do not vote to close).

    Of course, it could happen that the site gets flooded by ever more of his questions, and one would have to rethink this startegy. But, and this is my hope, perhaps he will after a while either arrive at the conclusion that this community is unable to answer his questions and leave us alone (which would be a solution of the problem) or in a calmer mood really rethink his approach and eventually arrive at a more reasonable one (which would also be a solution of the problem, and indeed a better one).

    Finally, I find the situation quite unfortunate without really knowing a good solution, because afterall a 19 year old that is so passionate about mathematics is in some sense great; if only he would/could direct his energy and enthusiasm into a more reasonable direction.

    p.s. This discussion assumes 'trust god' is real; I already entertained they idea this is somebody trolling. If so, the ignoring seems also reasonable.


    @quid: that seems very reasonable to me. If no one has anything more to say, don't say anything. I am less sure about not voting to close, but I can understand the reasoning here too, which is not to feed trust god's impression that people are out to 'get him'.

    It is sad, although it's not clear to me how passionate he is about mathematics. I can't imagine what we're seeing is at all enjoyable for him, and it's hard to conceive of someone being passionate about mathematics who isn't deriving any enjoyment from it, big or small.

    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeJul 10th 2011 edited
    If you click on his profile and ask for his newest questions, he has one about a BSD conference. Comparing him to Max Muller, Koundinya Vajjha, perhaps some other youngsters, he has the same need to jump from wherever he is to the forefront of research. It appears he is quite sure that what he is doing is learning mathematics. He is isolated, so he bears some resemblance to some of his elders who feel persecuted for their curiosity. I don't see that there is any way to find out whether he knows, say, first-year calculus. And no way to demand that he study in a reasonable order. In comparison, Koundinya is rather sociable, for one thing using his real name, and is prolific on Facebook. Max was trying to get involved in a Summer REU with Ken Ono, not sure that that worked out, there are a limited number of spaces even if you are going to pay your own way. The idea that I was pushing, that trust god is speaking about these topics to taste the words on his lips, may be true but does not help.

    Well, people are also saying some very smart and compassionate things to trust god. The one idea I mentioned to Koundinya that still seems good is that, at some point, one needs to move from admiring what others have done (and asking experts for full answers) to producing mathematics onesself. I have this urge to point out that Ramanujan worked through some out of date British textbooks and produced his own very real (although hard to read) mathematics before writing to Hardy and Littlewood.

    Finally, I upvoted the comment giving the link to this Meta discussion. That is the usual request, as the top five comments appear on the first screen when there are more than five comments.

    I haven't been following MO this summer as much as usual (sorry!), and in particular I've checked in and out on the "trust god" business only sporadically. I agree that the whole thing is probably more unfortunate than anything else: we have an instance of an outsider who is unusually interested in some of the deepest issues of contemporary arithmetic geometry....but he's not asking questions in acceptable way to the community: on the one hand he doesn't seem to have prerequisite knowledge (and certainly doesn't want to demonstrate or discuss that knowledge) and on the other hand he feels very alienated by the community and often makes bitter remarks about his outsider the community. A lot of people have said things like "Why don't you learn some basic algebraic number theory first and come back to these hard things much later?" which is good advice, but it is clear by now that it is undesired advice.

    It also seems clear by now that Iyengar has burned through too much goodwill to get answers to his questions: he is now asking minor variations of the same question over and over again and not getting anywhere. But as a practicing number theorist let me say that his questions are not nonsense: they are in fact not so far away from good questions that an inquisitive student of the field would do well to ask. Part of the problem seems to be that he asks for a lot without putting in a lot. E.g. sometimes he simply asks things that we just don't know the answers to, e.g. from his latest post:

    1)is there any similar interpretation of the Tamagawa numbers in the case of elliptic curves ,by using the Gauss genus theory to relate it to the Class group,as done in the case of pell-conics

    Logically speaking this is pretty fuzzy: what is the "Gauss genus theory" of elliptic curves? If anything, it should be the Shafarevich-Tate group. What is the "class group" of an elliptic curve? Most working number theorists would say that the closest analogue we know is again the Shafarevich-Tate group. So can we relate the Shafarevich-Tate group to itself? Well, yes, but obviously this is not a fruitful question.

    Nevertheless there's something here: for instance, Cristian Gonzalez-Aviles gave a very stimulating lecture series at UGA a couple of years ago on, broadly speaking, this circle of issues. When I mentioned the conventional wisdom in the above paragraph -- i.e. that Sha is basically the class group in the elliptic curve context -- he gave me a big smile and shot back, "By the end of this talk I hope to convince you that that's not true." (What he convinced me of by the end of the talk was that there was a lot of complicated, interesting mathematics there and his guess was probably better than mine.) I would love to hear someone explain some of the analogies here -- e.g. between Sha of tori and Sha of elliptic curves -- and give some account of why the beautiful theories in the case of linear algebraic groups hit a wall with elliptic curves. In fact, an old friend of mine once expressed the desire to inquire of John Tate exactly when he saw that the theory that he was developing wasn't going to work in the elliptic curve case in the beautiful way that it did for GL_1 in his thesis and what he learned from it. (I don't know if he ever got up the nerve...)

    [2] and is the up to now a good cohomological definition of the Tate-shaferevich group of elliptic curves ,and references will be useful,

    Again, this needs sharpening. I could say that the Shafarevich-Tate group is defined cohomologically, and ask exactly what is not good about the current definition. But if I were in the mood to be more sympathetic, I might admit that the fact that it's so incredibly hard to show the finiteness of this group -- whose finiteness is the key to everything: more and more it is the case that if we assume the finiteness of Sha we can go on to prove our big theorems, but without that we are absolutely stuck -- and that this is indeed some evidence that our cohomological definition is not "good".

    So I like the idea that someone else could ask a question along the lines of what Iyengar has been repeatedly asking, and experts could take a good crack at answering it once and for all. (Or until the field advances, of course.) I know I would learn something from this, and it would remove the bad taste in a lot of people's mouths right now that someone is repeatedly asking deep mathematical questions (or, at least, questions about deep mathematics!) and garnering little more than downvotes, closures and comment wars. I think it would be a fun exercise for some enormously respected not-quite-insider -- e.g. Terry Tao -- to perturb Iyengar's questions into a question that the real experts in the field are willing to answer. If they like, they could play the game of changing as few words as possible: a complete overhaul would not be necessary.

    Any takers?

    • CommentAuthorgrp
    • CommentTimeJul 11th 2011
    There are some other questions which were closed which I thought should be massaged instead; the latest I will ask after I take care of a few other matters. If you want a peek, it amounts to estimating the Turing degree of the orbit of 1 of the Collatz function. Specifically "Let T be the set of positive integers which are sent to 1 after finitely many iterations of the Collatz function. If T is not all of the positive integers one can still show T is recursively enumerable. Is the Turing degree of T low? Note this is a different computability issue than one shown by Conway and others related to Collatz like problems."

    I do not know enough to massage or reformulate the questions Pete Clark suggests raising, but I think it is a way that the MathOverflow community can actively support the site: to rewrite the questions into ones that are good questions for the site. If Pete does not want to ask them himself, I am willing to be the front man. However, I need the script written for me. If someone provides a question here that is acceptable to the meta posters, I am willing to transcribe it to the site proper. Also, to handle any experts who have questions about motivation and the like, I recommend interested posters respond to them, as I will not know what to say. I pledge to make the question community wiki so that it may be edited further to suit the forum, unless someone can give a good rationale for not doing so.

    Gerhard "101 Uses For Sock Puppets" Paseman, 2011.07.11
    • CommentAuthordke
    • CommentTimeJul 11th 2011 edited
    One person that could probably perturb some of trust god's questions usefully is Franz Lemmermeyer since it seems a number of the questions regarding interpretions of Tamagawa numbers, Sha, class groups etc. are (mis-)quoted directly from Franz's paper on Pell conics.

    It may seem a tad harsh, but it suggests a little intellectual dishonesty that trust god has repeatedly copy+pasted these questions (in a mangled form) but only more recently mentioned the source.
    • CommentAuthorHJRW
    • CommentTimeJul 11th 2011

    I haven't been following this closely, so perhaps this is off base. But if trust god's questions boil down to open problems, then even clearly stated they would be unsuitable for MO.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJul 11th 2011

    HJRW, putting it positively, somehow along the lines of what Pete L. Clark said, one could say they are of the form: "Why is A open; while the (similar) A' is not?" or "Why does the classical approach succesful for A' not work for A?" In principle, this can be a reasonable question even if A is well-known to be open, as an intuition/big-picture question.
    To make it actually reasonable, of course, various side-conditions need to be fulfilled.

    • CommentAuthorHJRW
    • CommentTimeJul 11th 2011

    In principle, this can be a reasonable question even if A is well-known to be open, as an intuition/big-picture question.



    Pete and Gerhard, those are magnanimous proposals. In particular, it's nice that you, Gerhard, are willing to step up, but I hope someone a bit more involved in the field volunteers as well.

    I hope it's reasonable to add a request (possibly already understood by now) that whoever asks such a reformulated question acknowledge Iyengar/trust god's posts in some way as having led to this. This in order to assure him that no one is trying to undercut him or 'steal' from him, and also perhaps to boost his morale a little. I just hope that wouldn't backfire in some way.


    If I were to ask the question myself, then unless I made a strong effort to avoid it, it would probably bear the mark of my status as a semi-insider in the field (e.g., some of my published work concerns Shafarevich-Tate groups, but I have never thought deeply about the connection to Tate's thesis. Why on earth the number of rationally defined components in the special fiber of the Neron model of an elliptic curve at p is called a Tamagawa number has always been mysterious to me.) The particular combination of knowledge and ignorance it would convey would not be optimally appropriate for a general mathematical -- or even number-theoretic-- audience.

    But you know, if no one else wants to do it....Anyway, I agree that reading Franz Lemmermeyer's paper first is basically a prerequisite: it embarrasses me to admit that I have not yet done so.

    • CommentAuthorYemon Choi
    • CommentTimeJul 30th 2011

    The latest fishing expedition is, at time of writing, about to get closed. I get the impression that people are choosing to leave no comments rather than to leave harsh ones, but perhaps I am projecting my own feelings too much...

    • CommentAuthorYemon Choi
    • CommentTimeJul 30th 2011

    Also: I find myself agreeing broadly with dke's comment above. It is not entirely surprising that Iyengar has written questions with increasingly fluent use of the relevant technical jargon, because that jargon has featured heavily in some people's responses to previous questions. (My favourite cry of "stone soup" comes to mind.)

    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeJul 30th 2011 edited
    I just voted to close, as you say. I see little use in commenting. If somebody really wants to publicize something about BSD, that could be done through an MO question. But Iyengar/trust god would then benefit to precisely the extent that he has already, not by understanding anything in mathematics.

    Now that I read the earlier posts in this thread again, I find myself doubting that a perfect question (posted by Franz, say) relating to BSD and five perfect answers on all possible interpretations would actually change anything. If the motivation were something as simple as learning mathematics, self study of materials at the correct level would work. I think, in fact, Iyengar would just move on to the next buzz word.

    Seeing that the fishing expeditions have become a habit and that peoples' general reaction seems to have no effect what so ever on the poster, I have begun flagging these posts as spam.

    I'm sorry, but I don't understand. Are trust god and Iyengar the same person?
    Alright, I'm going to give it a try. My question is . I'll note that I phrased the question to honestly reflect my background level, which I strongly suspect means that it is asked above Trust God's level. My hope in an ideal world would be that the answer to Trust God's questions would be "Work through Weil's Basic Number Theory, work through Silverman's elliptic curve textbooks, then look at the reference's in the answer(s) to David's question."

    @David: Well done, as always.

    Thanks, Pete. I'm super-impressed by the answers I've gotten.

    Unfortunately, I will now look like a hypocrite if I start asking lots of detailed questions about them without first reading the papers they cite, and that may take a while...
    • CommentAuthorvoloch
    • CommentTimeAug 5th 2011
    No good deed goes unpunished.
    • CommentAuthorsigfpe
    • CommentTimeAug 5th 2011

    It seems to me that mathoverflow isn't an appropriate venue for religious proselytization, and it shouldn't matter whether this proselytization takes place in the question field, the comments field or the username field. I won't go so far as to say I find it offensive, but I find it grating and annoying to see one person posting the same religious exhortation repeatedly on the site. It's intended as a kind of virus so that even in meta discussions like this one the same exhortation is unwittingly repeated without even involving the original author. Isn't this an abuse of mathoverflow?

    • CommentAuthorgrp
    • CommentTimeAug 5th 2011
    And if I were to tell you that 'sigfpe' represents an otherwise unutterable derogation which bothers me every time I see it, would you change your handle? While I would also prefer that the poster use a different name, I think we should show some tolerance. This community has a lot of differences within itself; if these differences get magnified and are less tolerated, the community will fragment and possibly disappear. Thus I recommend tolerance. Although I can see an argument for calling the poster's use of the handle a misuse of the system, I think calling it abuse is extreme.

    If you disagree, write to the moderators.

    Gerhard "Not Everybody Likes My Behaviour" Paseman, 2011.08.05
    @Gerhard: there's probably some reasonable community norms we could have with names. I mean, it's not hard to imagine names that would be deliberately and effectively offensive. Names that have personal attacks embedded in them, for example. I'm not bothered by "Trust God"'s name, but it's not hard for me to imagine other people having problems with it. I'm more disturbed by people taking the names of dead people, like our user "Gengis Khan".
    • CommentAuthorgrp
    • CommentTimeAug 5th 2011
    Ryan, do you live in the Los Angeles area? I hope not, for I found a listing of a "Gengis Y Khan" in that area. I won't say that that entity and the one posting on MathOverflow are the same, but neither will I rule the possibility out. While I agree that there should be standards, I imagine they should be as much forum-based as based on community preference. Again, I take Andrew Stacey's stance (from another thread)and recommend tolerance.

    Gerhard "A Rare Name In Texas" Paseman, 2011.08.05
    Gerhard, if you want to know where I live you can read my user page.
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeAug 5th 2011

    Since "proselytization" now got mentioned here as well as on main: this seems quite a bit of an exageration to me. There is not even a specific religious believe that is apparent, and moreover I always read thís as a personal statement not a suggestion. In any case, while, yes one could avoid this, I would ask those people that complain whether they personally have, or believe others actually have, a true problem with this or merely want to make a point (and if so, I might point out that MO is also not the place for this).

    I am trying and failing to understand the annoyance with Trust God's choice of handle. If you are a very religious person who observes a taboo against writing "God", I can see an issue*. Other than that, just treat it as a name, similar to "Daniel", "Samuel" or "Michael". Trust God hasn't engaged in any proselytization beyond his or her name. In general, it's pretty offensive to tell people they can't be called what they want to be called; check out the anger at Google Plus this week if you want to see how people feel about this issue . I think we should stay out of that territory if we don't have to go there.

    The other aspects of Trust God's behavior leave more to be desired. He just got a year's worth of amazing reading recommendations, and he or she is back asking questions which are barely changed. Could we get a moderator to step in?

    *This has some personal resonance to me. When I was younger, I was very uncomfortable referring to the religious group that distributes Watchtower Magazine, because I wasn't sure whether it was acceptable to utter a mispronunciation of the Tetragrammaton.
    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeAug 5th 2011
    Until trust god is banned in some official way, i am just going to vote to close and flag as spam. Enough spam flags and the question leaves the main visible queue. As I mentioned earlier, we are not looking at someone who will ever learn any mathematics from us, nor study anything at an appropriate level. David bit the bullet and asked a fine question, even Franz answered, but little changed. I don't see much threat in his choice of pseudonym, but he really does not belong on MO.
    • CommentAuthorsigfpe
    • CommentTimeAug 5th 2011


    And if I were to tell you that 'sigfpe' represents an otherwise unutterable derogation which bothers me every time I see it, would you change your handle?

    If a sizable group of people felt this way, yes, I'd change it. It'd be the polite thing to do.

    But I can see I likely hold the minority view here so I'll follow your recommendation for tolerance (which I am, of course, already doing).


    +1 David (on both counts).

    • CommentAuthorAlex Bartel
    • CommentTimeAug 6th 2011 edited

    Trust God hasn't engaged in any proselytization beyond his or her name.

    That's not true. He wrote in a comment addressed to me at some point (when I objected that I didn't want to be blessed by anyone) that if god doesn't bless me, then my life will be hell, etc. This comment is now deleted.

    Taking the nick Trust God and signing mathematical questions with "may god bless you" is, to me, comparable to calling oneself Joseph Stalin and signing the posts with "may the proletariat of the world unite against the evils of capitalism". Actually, I see hardly any difference at all.

    Anyway, seeing as this site is supposed to be a place where professional mathematicians have pleasant mathematical conversations, a user who keeps alluding to god, babbles jargon he doesn't understand, shouts, writes in his profile that he wants to have nothing to do with us snobs, who purposefully try to obscure our ideas, etc. has already been cut too much slack, in my opinion. I am with Will Jagy. I will flag his posts as spam until their quality shoots up by several orders of magnitude. Given his history (and the fact that I wouldn't want to have this person around in our common room, of which MO is supposed to be a virtual analogue), he will have to ask much better questions than an average user, before I stop perceiving of them as spam.


    I note that tg has had his account suspended for a couple of days.

    Well, the gracious suggestion made by Pete Clark has been acted upon. David Speyer posted a beautifully formulated question and got some excellent responses, so at least something positive came out of the experiment. But I have to agree that as far as tg is concerned, nothing seems to have changed. It is 'nice' that tg thanks these efforts (profusely), but aside from that he has no meaningful response, and there is no indication that I can see that he has learned anything from them.

    Therefore I see no real counterargument against the latest thoughts of Will Jagy and Alex Bartel. This experiment has run its course, I'd say. It's sad, of course, but continuing down this path was bound to lead to disappointment anyway. Sometimes disappointment is the best teacher. I wish tg future growth and success.


    I agree with David that people should be able to pick their own name within reason.

    The behavior Alex describes bothers me though. MO is supposed to be a professional environment, and as a general rule it's inappropriate to bring religion or politics into professional settings.

    I would like to add that this is a situation that makes SE's uniform "no sigs" policy make a lot of sense.

    • CommentAuthortrustgod
    • CommentTimeAug 6th 2011
    @todd trimble:sir i am very thankful to all for making such a long discussion ,on my stupidity ,to add something,i am a male ,my name is iyengar,
    i am 20 years old,
    but you see sir,i am learning a lot,i never discarded your valuable advices ,and you just imagine how hard is for a person who studies privately and comes to a level to atleast speak of problems like birch and swinnerton dyer conjecture,i didnt had any formal training ,i just had an introduction to elementary mathematics in school,i tried running for books,reading them and cracking my brain,and you people need to recognize how hard is for a person to make a journey through modern mathematics,without having a guide
    and we are not that sophisticated as you are,no body know what is a computer in our place,i need to develop my vocabulary mathematics and so on

    apart from wasting your valuable time by my stupid stuff,i sincerely apologize everyone who i have troubled with my attitude ,
    especially i thank @todd trimble, and @Pete L.clark for devising the idea and @prof.David speyer and wasting his valuable time for beautifully transforming a stupid and a trash question of me into a new fantastic elegant question that got fantastic response

    like i remember how people can change useless things and extract the content from them, i say even the match stick that can fire and glow entire place needs a hand to light it
    not that i become great,but everyone needs some help ,and persons in my position surely require help,

    i am extremely sorry for wasting everyone's time ,i touch everyones feet ,who have helped me,and i say the ritual of touching feet refers to getting blessings from elderly persons,as every one here are elder than me both in age and knowledge i say so

    advice me what problem you people have with me so that i can change my attitude
    yours sincerly,
    • CommentAuthortrustgod
    • CommentTimeAug 6th 2011
    @pete L.clark:sir you are like a cloud with silver lining ,who encouraged me a lot,and told that plan,
    @david speyer:sir thanks a lot for transforming it beautifully ,
    and many one i am in debt with all of you in my life time ,and @todd trimble,for starting a meta discussion
    • CommentAuthortrustgod
    • CommentTimeAug 6th 2011
    and even though you people spam me,block me,scold me ,and even slap me,i take each of them as a precious blessing or advice to go further in life,and i never get discouraged sir

    @trustgod: the main thing I don't understand is why you are attempting to reach right away for the stars at such an early stage of your career. It should be obvious that the Millenium Problems are fantastically difficult, even for the world's greatest mathematicians, and it is sheer folly to think you can tackle them like this. It would be something like successfully building a rocket ship to fly to Mars with your bare hands, using materials you find in your neighborhood, and asking questions about this fromm time to time on an engineering forum.

    If you want advice (and I'm not sure you do), it would be to first master things more within reach. Are you able to solve all the exercises in a book like the one by Ireland-Rosen?

    I am not saying that you will never solve a grand problem like a Millenium Problem (which by the way is probably the hardest way yet devised to earn a million US dollars), but you have to start from a much more realistic level first. It would be a very good idea to ask for advice from a professor face-to-face, and devise a program of systematic study. Unfortunately MO cannot take the place of that. It really can't.

    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeAug 6th 2011 edited
    Todd, it appears iyengar, for reasons we may not learn, has no expectation of a career whatsoever, and probably not of university, so he lacks the options of Max Muller, Koundinya Vajjha, other youngsters. There is some unknown misfortune here, but not one with which we can assist.

    Will, thanks for that info. I've not much more to say then. But I do think back to my own salad days, when I was working odd jobs to support myself -- when I had time to myself, I would just stretch myself out on the couch and play with math. It's nice to realize that one can just explore math for the sheer pleasure of it, without a lot of existential drama attached to it.


    Dear Iyengar,

    As a person of a similar age who also participates on this forum, let me try to offer you some advice.

    First, I recommend following the many suggestions offered you by Todd Trimble, Gerry Myerson, and others who have commented on your threads. Even if your goal in mathematics is purely recreational (i.e. you seek to appreciate the field for its own sake, but have no thoughts of a potential career in it), to understand any aspect of modern mathematics requires a great deal of training, and working mathematicians have undergone this. You have opined that everyone needs to start somewhere: this is precisely what you should do. If you have not already done so, reading books such as Ireland-Rosen (and to name a few more, Serre's "A Course in Arithmetic," Rudin's books on analysis, etc.) is a prerequisite to understanding fancier things. Note that there is much interesting mathematics outside of number theory. This is what mathematicians did when they were youngsters.

    Second, I recommend that you change your handle to something religiously neutral, and that you not use the phrase "touch one's feet." Most mathematicians (at least in my experience) are quite happy to answer questions, and don't consider it a waste of their time. In some (extremely nebulous) sense, it is their job. A simple "thank you" will be much better received.

    Finally, I recommend finding an expert to talk to, who will be able to offer more detailed advice. If it is not possible to do that in person, at least an email exchange. Like you (and probably most people on this thread), I too tried to learn mathematics by myself for a while, but it is very hard to do, and talking to other people helps you understand what is important.

    • CommentAuthortrustgod
    • CommentTimeAug 6th 2011
    @akhil mathew:sir i have never found a good person like you,and there are many persons here who have given me uplift,and i say frankly a thing to you sir,this is my view ,
    people have made mathematics into fragments and introduced jargons so that people outside the area cant understand them,

    and you see a mathematical equation has a meaning behind it ,like you see the homology sequence is the count of holes ,and its a pattern to transform one object into other,
    and it was understood by me after many days of deep thinking,and if you see the standard book,it just mentions a gigantic equation called the exact sequence,like wise ,there are deep intuitions behind tamagawa numbers ,L-functions,why they were invented ,and that intuition is not explained in any of the books,where authors just move on the words and equations ,i started analyzing what is going on behind the equations in my intermediate,upto then i never knew how does multiplication work (what a shame on me),we dont have a good education system too,i tell you one thing sir,teachers insist upon students to mug up and remember the equations ,without telling how they work,
    they select some 5 questions and mark them as important,and the question paper in the end exams contains the same questions ,so people are not aware how these equations work,
    and i am from India,and from a remote place ,generally you might have heard about how bad is the education system in india,i am not saying in all places,but many of the rural places dont have a good institutions , at least for studying , if i am studying in a institution then why would i post such questions here,i would have instead asked my lecturers ,
    and we are not from a sophisticated place ,and even there are people who dont know what is a computer,and we have been introduced and learnt computer when we are 18 years old,
    before then i never heard about what a computer is ??,on the other hand people from western countries ,even a small kid knows everything about these machines
    and i dont have a good library so i need to go to city to fetch some books,later on i came to know about these ebooks, i dont have a job,i am ready to work even as a sweeper in a good library,and any job,which gives my food and internet and some time to learn mathematics,i dont want salary,i am not interested in building mansions and roaming in cars,i want internet and free time so that i can imagine mathematics,and study it , i decided to quit marrying so that my time would be wasted

    this is a short introduction about my background,

    i sincerely follow your advice sir,but you see now a days people are so ethical-less that they will suppress others from going high,i met many people ,i wasted my money on phone,and no one suggested me what to do,everyone just told that they were busy ,and so on,out of 100 eminent mathematicians i called,only 3 responded ,see how microscopic is the ratio,

    and after all these analysis ,

    ,i just recently read many things about you,you are a child prodigy and i am very happy that you responded to my post,
    please advice me,and i have explained my situation ,please say your valuable advice ,
    i am much thankful to you sir,
    i am sorry if i have wasted your time with my stupid analysis and my background,i am in dire need of your advice

    @Iyengar: As I said, I think you should try to contact someone who already has a solid and deep knowledge of modern mathematics (i.e., not me). But if I can be useful, feel free to email me; my email address is available on my webpage (linked to on my profile). It seems that the discussion is getting off topic for this forum, so I'd rather not comment further except to say that the strength of your interest in mathematics is quite impressive!

    P.S. When emailing professors, as with posting on mathematics fora, I think you'll get a better response if you capitalize and use proper grammar, though I understand you only apparently recently learned how to use a computer.


    Iyengar, that is a very kind offer from Akhil (who I think is being a bit modest -- his knowledge at a relatively young age is extremely impressive). He could give you a lot of great advice, I believe. But:

    If you decide to take him up on his offer for you to email him, or should you email anyone else for that matter, not only should you make an effort to use correct grammar, capitalization, and punctuation to the best of your ability (1). You should probably also avoid carrying on at length about what your personal philosophy of mathematics is, and you should also avoid going into your personal circumstances at great length. (Some brief description may be okay. Long descriptions are not -- they will almost undoubtedly backfire.)

    Your task at hand in contacting a mathematician (or talented student -- we are all students in some sense) should be how to more effectively understand modern mathematics. It would be unwise to go into the deficiencies of the Indian educational system -- even if you have a point there. Just stick to the task at hand. And don't offer effusive thanks ("touching your feet"); that too will probably backfire, as it sounds too effusive too western ears, and possibly sounds insincere. You can say, "I really appreciate your help; thank you very much", and most mathematicians will be pleased to hear they were helpful in some way.

    As an American mathematician, I tend to the democratic feeling that we are all in mathematics together, and most of us enjoy sharing knowledge with each other when we can. People like me tend not to think of themselves as demigods who deserve to have their feet touched with reverence -- in fact, most people from the culture I am familiar with are rather uncomfortable around such notions. We are just human beings. I advise you to keep "touching your feet" to yourself, and not make others uncomfortable.

    (1) Of course, the international language of science is "broken English" -- a lot of allowances are made for less than perfect mastery from non-native speakers. But one should try to do one's best anyway. People appreciate care and thoughtfulness in presentation.

    • CommentAuthortrustgod
    • CommentTimeAug 7th 2011
    i was feeling bad that MO suspended my account ,but i am more happy,that today i met such a beautiful persons here,who encourage people like me,
    both of you @todd trimble,@akhil mathew have helped me a lot,and @pete.L.clark and @david speyer have given beautiful idea
    so i am thankful to everyone here,
    people must be aware of things like MO ,it will be very beneficial for those who have thirst of mathematics,as we have lot of good people with a good ethical values ,and intention to help others ,which is more important

    i just say a last enclosing word "a candle can light thousands of candles without losing its brightness",so there are many such candles here,

    thanks a lot everyone,i am in debt with everyone for the help you have done ,i never forget this help,and i never allow this help go in vain,i surely try to reform myself ,and i write to good persons like you,