Thursday, 17 May 2018

Glorifying young achievers who died at a young age and the path to fame

This is how I portrait Nils Henrik Abel: he suffered from tuberculosis and would cough so movingly, it would cause a pain in any servant or visitor. But he struggled for a bigger cause! Would get dressed in the latest 1800's fashion every day, rewrite and rethink formulas. When he assured every note was readable for the afterworld, he would dramatically drop the quill pen and then drop dead himself.

Probably not. You hardly ever know for how long you will live or exactly when you will die, but this meticilous planning could hardly have taken place. Yet there is something glorifying about death: suddenly, we are allowed to summarise someone's life and bring up what we think to be the very best. It will, worst case scenario, make someone look like a chemist though that someone actually saw himself as a physicist (happened to a Nobel prize laureate, poor guy), and other misunderstandings.

What leaves me curious is the general path of discovery and contribution. Was Able's entire work read through by academic friends? Did they leave out an important line of proof - just like some old theatre plays suddenly get discovered, after having been in a cellar for hundreds of years? Or was it one particular idea he presented on the blackboard that was catchy enough to not ruin the careers of other professors, so it was remembered and his mathematical ideas from then on got their own wings?

Why I ask is that besides acknowledging greatness - which Abel indeed stands for, haven given material for thought at least a hundred years ahead for other mathematicians - is that sometimes, a career needs an extra push. No names, but a previous lecturer of mine had Stephen Hawking as his tutor at Cambridge and claimed Hawking would never had gotten this much attention had he not had his particular condition. My tutor could also have been plain jealous - put he has an interesting point. 

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