On mashing doughnuts into balls
If you’re at all into math (and even if you’re not), you probably know
Well, of course, they had to give the Fields Medal to Perelman, which he rejected, “not wanting to be a figurehead for [the Poincaré conjecture] or wanting to represent it.” (the words of Sir John M. Ball, president of the International Mathematical Union)
Perfectly understandable! And perfectly understandable that such a seemingly common-sense math problem that has proven so intractable for hundreds of years, until being solved by an eccentric genius, should provide quite a bit of fodder for the media, both traditional and otherwise. The conjecture relates to telling as easily as possible whether or not a three-dimensional thing is a sphere. Poincaré conjectured that if a “three-manifold” (read: “3-D thing”) “has the trivial fundamental group” (read: “every loop in the ‘thing’ can be ‘lassoed’ into a point”) then it’s the same as a sphere.*
Both Stephen Colbert and Ze Frank (of The Show with Ze Frank fame) hit on the idea of disproving the conjecture by smooshing doughnuts (which have holes!) into gooey, delicious doughnut-balls (that have no holes!). Furthermore, they both made gags about Munchkins, those adorable little hole-less doughnuts…funny! I’m betting that this is an example of spontaneously converging comedic brilliance, but the cynic inside of me won’t let go of the idea that one of them ripped the other off!
Regardless, math is funny, and delicious!
Links: to The Show and The Colbert Report segments featuring doughnut-crushing fun
*Note: If you’ve seen the Poincare conjecture described as saying “you can’t turn a solid torus into a sphere without tearing or breaking” you may be a little confused. That statement is not wrong, and it does follow from the Poincaré conjecture, but you can also show that it’s true much more easily than by using the Poincaré conjecture, and it certainly is no proof of the conjecture, as it’s been insinuated to be.