Erdős Dictionary …


Paul Erdős (26 March 1913 – 20 September 1996) was a Hungarian mathematician. Erdős published more papers than any other mathematician in history, working with hundreds of collaborators. He worked on problems in combinatorics, graph theory, number theory, classical analysis, approximation theory, set theory, and probability theory. He is also known for his “legendarily eccentric” personality.

He had his own idiosyncratic vocabulary: he spoke of “The Book”, an imaginary book in which God had written down the best and most elegant proofs for mathematical theorems. Lecturing in 1985 he said, “You don’t have to believe in God, but you should believe in The Book.” He himself doubted the existence of God, whom he called the “Supreme Fascist” (SF). He accused the SF of hiding his socks and Hungarian passports, and of keeping the most elegant mathematical proofs to himself. When he saw a particularly beautiful mathematical proof he would exclaim, “This one’s from The Book!”. This later inspired a book entitled Proofs from THE BOOK.

Other idiosyncratic elements of Erdős’ vocabulary include:

  • Children were referred to as “epsilons” (because in mathematics, particularly calculus, an arbitrarily small positive quantity is commonly denoted by that Greek letter ε
  • Women were “bosses”;
  • Men were “slaves”;
  • People who stopped doing math had “died”;
  • People who physically died had “left”;
  • Alcoholic drinks were “poison”;
  • Music was “noise”;
  • People who had married were “captured”;
  • People who had divorced were “liberated”;
  • To give a mathematical lecture was “to preach” and
  • To give an oral exam to a student was “to torture” him/her.

A personal story about July 20, 1969 …


July 20 is a summer day. While my hometown Ağrı, a northeastern remote town of Turkey, is not one of the warmest places on earth, it is still a relatively warm but also quite dusty place in July. I was only 12 then, just finished elementary school, heading to the Jr. High, or as they say in Turkey, the Middle School. There was no TV in Ağrı at that time; it was an invention that had yet not arrived my home. The newspapers came daily, but usually a day late due to the time it takes to bring them from Istanbul by bus. Everyday, I visited my father’s hardware store and some other places, reading yesterday’s papers and following one of the greatest stories: The landing of man on the moon. Quickly, it became my job to inform my relatives about this story. I was the only person in town who knew what was going on. I knew the names of everyone involved in the story, from the President JFK, members of his cabinet, the director of NASA, top scientists, engineers, to the astronauts who were locked in that uncomfortably small capsule and was sent off of the earth. As much as a 12-year can claim authority on the subject, I became the source of information for my family, my relatives, our neighbors and anyone else who wanted to know. For many, this was an event to which they paid intermittent attention, and quickly forgot afterward. For me, however, it was an event that shaped the rest of my life. I decided that I wanted to become a scientist or engineer who can be involved in projects like this; the moon may have been captured, but many celestial objects are yet to be reached: Mars, Venus, maybe even Pluto. After 40 years, humanity still did not figure out an efficient way to send manned spaceships beyond the moon, but the dream remains and our robot machines are already digging the surface of the Mars or heading beyond the solar system. As for me, due to what was available or feasible, I studied first electrical engineering and then computer science, but I am still a constant admirer and avid reader of space exploration.

I am grateful to those who dreamed of and finally made the landing on the moon possible; without their implicit encouragement, an unpretentious boy from a remote northeastern town of Turkey would have never received a doctorate in computer science from the University of California.

Q & A …

– Do you believe in God?
– If you ask me if there is a God, perhaps I can answer that.
– Is there a God?
– If there is, he erased all possible traces, making it impossible to construct a proof. I don’t know why he did that. He must know better.

On 22 March 1954 Einstein received a letter from J. Dispentiere, an Italian immigrant who had worked as an experimental machinist in New Jersey. Dispentiere had declared himself an atheist and was disappointed by a news report which had cast Einstein as conventionally religious. Einstein replied on 24 March 1954:

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

Einstein generally spoke and wrote in German, definitely in his earlier years but even after he moved to the US and worked at IAS in Princeton. However, this comment was indeed in English. Page 43 in Albert Einstein, The Human Side: New Glimpses From His Archives, Edited by Banesh Hoffman and Helen Dukas, ISBN: 9780691023687.


what happens if …

Brezhnev is showing his humble mother around his historic office, his magnificent collection of foreign luxury cars and his palatial dacha with its superb meals, and asking for her impressions — to which she replies: “It’s wonderful, Leonid, but what happens if the Bolsheviks come back?”


Man is fallible and full of fear.
No exceptions.

it is about everything …

“What is this movie, Prometheus, about?”, was asked Scott Ridley; he answers: it is about everything. It seems to me, now, we are all interested everything. Physicists want TOE, Theory of Everything; global economy claims and wants to own just about everything; from Patagonia to Siberia, people read, analyze, desire just about the same things, i.e., everything. Global warming is about everything we have. We live in the age of “everything” .. we can no longer be satisfied with just a thing, or anything small or local. We want to understand, see, touch, and taste everything.

My profile at Google Scholar …

Screen Shot 2013-04-12 at 10.19.43 PM

Hirsch suggested (with large error bars) that, for physicists, a value for h of about 12 might be typical for advancement to tenure (associate professor) at major research universities. A value of about 18 could mean a full professorship, 15–20 could mean a fellowship in the American Physical Society, and 45 or higher could mean membership in the United States National Academy of Sciences

i-10 index:
The I10-index indicates the number of academic papers an author has written that have at least ten citations from others. It was introduced in July 2011 by Google as part of their work on Google Scholar, a search engine dedicated to academic and related papers.