It's the future, Jim, but not as we know it...

There's more to tomorrow than robots, flying cars, and a faster internet.
22C+ is all about Deep Futures, futures that matter. Welcome to futures fantastic, unexpected, profound, but most of all deeply meaningful...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Rejected Genius Who Dared Say "no".

INTELLIGENCE FUTURES. Grigory Perelman, has been dubbed the cleverest man in the world. Yet the 43 three-year old Russian mathematician, who lives in a simple two-bedroom St Petersburg flat with his mother, has rejected mainstream science and academia.. In 2006, he was offered - and declined - the Fields Medal, the mathematics world's equivalent of the Nobel Prize. He rejected it, saying he felt alienated from the mathematics community, and that he was "not interested in money or fame". Perelman’s story reveals much about the nature of modern academic culture, its difficulties with the frontiers of knowledge, and the values of modern society. It also suggests much about then way society and culture, and the ways our knowledge acquisition is limiting human futures, and human evolution.

As a child Perelman followed the norms of modern education. His talents were recognised and he was enrolled in an elite maths school. By the time he was 15, he was the best of his age in the Soviet Union.

There is a general misconception that genius is inborn, that intelligence is primarily hereditary an genetic. This is only partly true, and there is wide argument about just how much of intelligence is "nature", and how much is "nurture". My experience has led me to believe that nurture (environment, motivation, and hard work) plays a much greater role in the expression of human intelligence than is commonly presented in the mass media. (1) Perelman’s case reinforces that view.

As a teenager Perelman was completely dedicated to maths, and wanted above all to be the best.

His motivation and hard work were notable, as is the case with so many people dubbed "geniuses". He gained a PhD at Leningrad university, and in the late 1980s he undertook a position at an American university.

But he didn’t fit in. He was extremely eccentric, and lived a frugal lifestyle. By 1995, he gave up his American dream, turned down high salaries in the land of Hopes and Dreams, and returned to a far less prestigious, and rather poorly funded position at the research institute in St Petersburg. Why?

I have often argued that modern universities actually retard human innovation and creativity. This is particularly the case with intuitive and spiritual ways of knowing, which I believe are the crux of contextualizing the human life on this planet and the universe itself. Those wishing to pursue the genuine frontiers of knowledge, universities are often poor places to work. There is far too much constriction in terms of knowledge culture, especially in terms of restrictive, paradigmatically bounded thinking. Most of all, knowledge has been commoditized, and churning out academic papers to create the illusion of knowledge growth has replaced genuine insight and learning. Quanity has usurped quality. 

Grigory Perelman was uninterested in jumping on this academic treadmill, and churning out endless academic papers. He was far more passionate about solving the Poincare Conjecture, an elusive mathematical problem that had remained unsolved for century. However, back in Russia Perelman's colleagues didn’t seem very interested in his passions, and voted him out. Reports indicate that Perelman was incensed. He abandoned academia in 2005.

The man who had just a few years before found the answer to the Poincare Conjecture, validating an hypothesis about three-dimensional space and advancing our knowledge of how the universe works, had been booted off the team. In turn, Perelman appears to have rejected them back. He not only turned down the Fields Medal, but has as yet indicated whether he will accept the million dollar prize it offers. 

When asked about the reason for his decision to leave the field of mathematics, he retorted: "Nothing needs to be known.."

Reading into this rather cryptic comment, it might be might be alluding to the fact that increasingly, much of what is put forward as knowledge in the the academic world is of little value. 

In my books Integrated Intelligence and Sage of Synchronicity, I referred to the most brilliant woman I ever met, a middle aged spiritual teacher named Jessica. Jessica was brilliant in a way that contemporary science not only refuses to accept, but often rejects with hostility. I saw often that Jessica is able to look at an individual and immediately glean information from their mind and body, from their past, present and future. As just a simple example, she can look at a person and know immediately whether they have an intolerance to dairy products. Compared with Jessica, Grigory Perelman is lucky. At least Perelman's ways of knowing are accepted, indeed valorised, by dominant society and science. He has become famous, despite his reluctance to seek glory. Jessica will live and die and will remain invisible to the academics and scientists of this world, because she falls too far off the map of their delimited worlds.

The greater one's genius, the more likely it is that your song will never be heard. How many more Jessica's and Grigory Perelman's are there out there who have never been heard of - who just gave up in despair? One day all this will change, when the power has been rested from the high priests of knowledge. But no yet.


1. See David Shenk’s The Genius in All of Us, (Doubleday 2010) for a persuasive argument on this.
2. Reference for this article:


  1. I couldn't agree more. My education in human development, because it is an evolving field, allowed for more personal interpretation than most fields. I found that my personal education in evolution, spirituality and enlightenment was accepted more in my writings for the developing human than it was in psychology. Using all parts of our intellect is simply not utilized in academia.

  2. Yes, Nancy, it can be frustrating that first person insight has been eliminated from cognitive science, at least in the research phase, at a formal level (of course researchers still use intuition, and even spiritual insight in some cases - they just don't write that up in the paper!).

  3. Not recognised by academia maybe but who would want that recognition when it is worthless?