World’s Strangest

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Pierre de Fermat

Mathematician Pierre de Fermat was born 410 years ago today, as we learn from the Google doodle of the day. The doodle recreates Fermat’s Last Theorem, which he left scribbled in the margin of a book.

Fermat’s claim left mathematicians puzzled for over 350 years — as mathematicians proved it true for many sets of possible values of n — until the general case was finally proved by Andrew Wiles in 1995. The story about the proof is told in Simon Singh’s book Fermat’s Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem.

Did Fermat really have a proof? Most likely not, since the techniques Wiles used to prove it weren’t developed until several centuries after Fermat’s death — and since, in the 30 years he lived after writing the note, he never wrote about the general case of the proof again — but nobody will ever know for sure. I’ll leave that, as they say, as an exercise for the reader.


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August 17th, 2011

Stranger to the World


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