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abstract illustration of Indian celebrating mathematics day Jayanti or Ramanujan Srinivasa holiday
abstract illustration of Indian celebrating mathematics day Jayanti or Ramanujan Srinivasa holiday

A Brilliant Mathematician’s Last Letter Continues To Matter

Sadly, Ramanujan’s life was cut short by various health issues

One of the most remarkable mathematicians in history was Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887–1920) whose life was cut short by tuberculosis. In an interesting essay, psychiatrist Ashwin Sharma asks us to look at ways that his last letter helps us understand our universe better:

A cryptic letter addressed to G.H. Hardy on January 12th, 1920, will be remembered as one of the most important letters in Scientific history. Written by Srinivasa Ramanujan, a self-taught mathematical genius who, laying on his deathbed, left hints of a new and incredible mathematical discovery. Unfortunately, the letter was to be his last, dying three months later at 32.

Ramanujan’s discovery took over 80 years to solve, and with it came answers to some of the most profound questions in number theory. The strength and scope of the discovery marked it as one of the most significant mathematical breakthroughs of the 21st century.

In the last decade, another breathtaking connection has been found between Ramanujan’s identities in his final letter and K3 surfaces, a model used in string theory to explain the fabric of space-time. The findings may bring us tantalizingly closer to a unifiying theory of quantum mechanics and general relativity.

Ashwin Sharma, “How Ramanujan’s Deathbed Letter is Unveiling Tantalising New Discoveries About Our Universe” at Medium (February 7, 2022)

Maybe. He certainly kept life interesting. As fellow mathematician Freeman Dyson (1923–2020) said, “He discovered so much, and yet left so much more in his garden for other people to discover.”

Short lives can be very significant.

You may also wish to read: Gregory Chaitin on the great mathematicians, East and West. Himself a “game-changer” in mathematics, Chaitin muses on what made the great thinkers stand out. Chaitin discusses the almost supernatural awareness some mathematicians have had of the foundations of our shared reality in the mathematics of the universe.


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A Brilliant Mathematician’s Last Letter Continues To Matter