was mathematician Paul Erdős autistic?

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righton
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12 Feb 2010, 11:12 pm

He was born in the 1910s in budapest and lived a long time, died in the late 1990s I believe. He was essentially homeless his entire adult life. He moved around the world to different universities, staying with different colleagues. While a guest at someone's house, he would often wake them up in the middle of the night because he had some mathematical idea he wanted to discuss. He was absolutely obsessed with math... it was all he ever did or thought about. He wrote hundreds of papers... possibly the most prolific mathematician of the 20th century. He spoke bad, broken English with his own vocabulary mixed in... for instance, he called children "epsilons" and god "the supreme fascist." He called music "noise." He was an unapologetic amphetamine addict. He was famous for collaboration; he usually co-authored papers rather than authoring them on his own. He wore only silk underwear and undershirts because anything else irritated his skin. Another mathematician, Turan, wrote an account of meeting Erdos as a child in Hungary. They were both extremely brilliant yet odd children so their parents set up a "playdate." Turan recalled Erdos had a very odd gait, and the first thing he said was "How many digits of pi do you know?"



MathGirl
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12 Feb 2010, 11:43 pm

I've seen it mentioned in a book that he had undiagnosed Asperger's.


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aleclair
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13 Feb 2010, 1:13 am

I believe Linked (though more computer science than math in my book) tells a lot of those anecdotes of Erdos - they certainly have entertainment value, Aspergers or no Aspergers. Diagnosing historical figures, though, is just speculation in my book - fun speculation, but speculation.

I certainly would have liked to meet him, though I would have most likely been too embarrassed at my inability to prove math theorems to hit it well with Erdos.



5772156
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13 Feb 2010, 11:23 am

I met Erdos a number of years before he died. A high percentage of professional mathematicians are probably on the spectrum. But even in that crowd Erdos stood out with symptoms; for example he disliked physical human contact including shaking hands and was cared for by his mother until she passed away at age ~91. The mathematician S. Ulam described him (in the early 1940s) this way, "Erdos is somewhat below medium height, an extremely nervous and agitated person... almost constantly jumping up and down or flapping his arms. His eyes indicated he was always thinking about mathematics, a process interrupted only by his rather pessimistic statements on world affairs, politics, or human affairs in general, which he viewed darkly. If some amusing thought occurred to him, he would jump up, flap his hands, and sit down again."

In terms of practical day-to-day living, Paul was almost totally dependent on others for assistance. After his mother's death, he was completely cared for by people in the mathematical community, who took care of practical issues for him, including such details as laundry, travel arrangements, and so forth.



Last edited by 5772156 on 18 Feb 2010, 10:50 am, edited 1 time in total.

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13 Feb 2010, 10:15 pm

5772156 wrote:
I met Erdos a number of years before he died. A high percentage of professional mathematicians are probably on the spectrum. But even in that crowd Erdos stood out with symptoms; for example he disliked physical human contact including shaking hands and was cared for by his mother until she passed away at age ~91. The mathematician S. Ulam described him (in the early 1940s) this way, "Erdos is somewhat below medium height, an extremely nervous and agitated person... almost constantly jumping up and down or flapping his arms. His eyes indicated he was always thinking about mathematics, a process interrupted only by his rather pessimistic statements on world affairs, politics, or human affairs in general, which he viewed darkly. If some amusing thought occurred to him, he would jump up, flap his hands, and sit down again."

In terms of practical day-to-day living, Paul was almost totally dependent on others for assistance. After his mother's death, he was completely cared for by people in the mathematical community, who took care of practical issues for him, including such details as laundry, travel arrangements, and so fourth.
Wow, replace math with my interests and that sounds like me! 8O


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13 Feb 2010, 10:44 pm

There is a joke among mathematicians, the "Erdos numbers" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erd%C5%91s_number