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The Boston Globe

Ideas

An ABC proof too tough even for mathematicians

In Kyoto, a solitary thinker unveils a solution that’s either a dizzying advance — or a blind alley.

On Aug. 30, a Japanese mathematician named Shinichi Mochizuki posted four papers to his faculty website at Kyoto University. Rumors had been spreading all summer that Mochizuki was onto something big, and in the abstract to the fourth paper Mochizuki explained that, indeed, his project was as grand as people had suspected. Over 512 pages of dense mathematical reasoning, he claimed to have discovered a proof of one of the most legendary unsolved problems in math.

The problem is called the ABC conjecture, a 27-year-old proposition considered so impossible that few mathematicians even dared to take it on. Most people who might have claimed a proof of ABC would have been dismissed as cranks. But Mochizuki was a widely respected mathematician who’d solved hard problems before. His work had to be taken seriously.

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