Srinivasa Ramanujan

Since I had no one to cel­e­brate with, yes­ter­day, I had a Net­flix episode and a rather bad movie. The lat­ter, how­ev­er, tells a fas­ci­nat­ing story.

Reg­u­lar­ly, I come into con­tact with the math­e­mat­i­cal uni­verse, as if this uni­verse were a secret gar­den nev­er vis­it­ed, too chick­en that I was to explore the com­plex paths. The film in ques­tion, The Man Who Knew Infin­i­ty, tells the sto­ry of the British math­e­mati­cian Srini­vasa Ramanu­jan’s adven­ture. The film is bad, because it is real­ly too sweet, seems to start in the mid­dle of the sto­ry and we per­ceive very lit­tle of the infin­i­ty that the title announces. More­over, the sce­nario is strange­ly sim­i­lar to Wikipedi­a’s arti­cle on the guy.

In any case, the phe­nom­e­non of Ramanu­jan deserves atten­tion. His short time on Earth was rarely rec­og­nized, because at the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tu­ry, Indi­ans, still under British rule, were con­sid­ered sec­ond-class peo­ple. Ramanu­jan’s sto­ry could be summed up as fol­lows : inspired, math­e­mat­i­cal equa­tions came to him almost in a dream. He was cer­tain­ly a sea­soned math­e­mati­cian, yet with­out much gen­er­al train­ing since he focused only on math­e­mat­ics, leav­ing oth­er sub­jects behind, which invari­ably led him to aca­d­e­m­ic failure.

Deeply reli­gious, he could undoubt­ed­ly be con­sid­ered an enlight­ened per­son at the time. Although there are a few leg­ends around him, Ramanu­jan did not seem to appre­ci­ate the evi­dence in math­e­mat­ics too much. For him, his dis­cov­er­ies were self-evi­dent and it took the patience and rig­or of his British men­tor, G.H. Hardy, to get the prodi­gy’s genius rec­og­nized and chan­neled. Hardy would say that his most impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion to math­e­mat­ics was the dis­cov­ery of Ramanujan.

This young Indi­an man had a pro­found impact on the world of math­e­mat­ics of his time. He left four impor­tant note­books of for­mu­las that are often yet to be proven and that inspire oth­er math­e­mati­cians. Some of these for­mu­las, in the last note­book, have helped to advance the sci­ence of black holes.

That is all to say about this short and bril­liant light. He died at the age of 32, not from tuber­cu­lo­sis, as the film sug­gests, but from liv­er dis­ease, which was wide­spread in his native Madras.

That’s the way life is. We like to admire these shoot­ing stars with such a short exis­tence and we would like to pos­sess even the crumbs of this pas­sion that devours them. For my part, I regret not hav­ing the time or con­cen­tra­tion to under­stand the infi­nite as Ramanu­jan seemed to know how to do.

There is so much to dis­cov­er… As Hardy said (in the film, any­way), math­e­mati­cians exist to reveal the beau­ty of the world, a splen­dour that escapes them, cre­at­ed by who knows, and where, and by what. The tragedy is great when some­one has only time to open this opaque veil of noth­ing­ness before it melts back to it with­out any oth­er noise.