This is a cool story of Israel's strange and often unpredicable manner of manifesting its resilient genius, despite the odds and its own stupid mistakes....
A mathematical mystery that has baffled top minds in the field of symbolic dynamics for nearly four decades was cracked last year by a 63-year-old former Israeli security guard.
Avraham Trakhtman, a mathematician who worked as a laborer after immigrating to Israel from Russia, succeeded in solving the elusive Road Coloring Problem. The conjecture assumes that it is possible to create a universal map that would direct people to arrive at a certain destination, at the same time, regardless of their original location. Experts say this proposition, which seems to defy logic, could actually have real-life applications in the fields of mapping and computer science.
"In math circles, we talk about beautiful results. This is beautiful and it is unexpected. Even in layman's terms it is completely counterintuitive, but somehow it works," said Stuart Margolis, a colleague who recruited Trakhtman to Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv. "The first time I met him he was wearing a night watchman's uniform," said Margolis.
The mistake in this case is how long it took for Trakhtman's skills to be recognized for what they are. Language would also have been an obstacle. So all the more power to him that managed to get to a teaching position at a university within three years.
Margolis says the solution could have many applications. "Say you've lost an e-mail and you want to get it back - it would be guaranteed," he said. "Let's say you are lost in a town you have never been in before and you have to get to a friend's house and there are no street signs - the directions will work no matter what," he said.
It seems almost surreal to me, but then, any kind of math seems like that to someone who hasn't a clue.
"Civilization is not self-supporting. It is artificial. If you are not prepared to concern yourself with the upholding of civilization -- you are done." (Ortega y Gasset)
Saturday, March 22, 2008