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The Boston Globe

Science

Math even mathematicians don’t understand

On November 4 I published an article in the Ideas section about Shinichi Mochizuki, a mathematician who claims to have proved the ABC conjecture, one of the great unsolved problems in math. The only catch is that his proposed proof is written in mathematics so complex that literally no one in the world can evaluate its accuracy. Long, unintelligible tracts are not uncommon in mathematics and normally the math community chooses simply to ignore them — but in this case Mochizuki is so highly regarded that experts around the world have decided to puzzle it out, which could take years.

A few weeks later I received an email from a friend of a 90-year-old mathematician named Henry Pogorzelski, an emeritus professor at the University of Maine. The email explained that for the last half-century, Pogorzelski has toiled at a proof of the legendary Goldbach Conjecture and after decades of effort he believes he has it, though his work runs thousands upon thousands of pages, and no mathematicians can understand it or are even willing to invest the time to try to. Pogorzelski’s friend explained that he hoped I might write a story that would stir some interest in the professor’s work.

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