Paul Erdos

March
26, 1913 – September 20, 1996

by

### Kristi Kirkland

Gulf Coast Community College

April 2000

Paul Erdos is viewed by most present day mathematicians as a very
brilliant, eccentric man. Erdos was born on March 26, 1913 to a Hungarian-Jewish
family in Budapest. Paul’s parents, who were both math teachers, were very
eager for Paul to learn all that he could on the subject as well, and that he
did. Paul was the only living child of Lajos and Anna Erdos, since his two
sisters had died before his birth from scarlet fever.
When Paul was only one his father was captured by the Russian Army during
WWI and sent to Siberia. Following this and the deaths of her two daughters
Paul’s mother, Anna, became very protective of him and she taught him at home.
At a very young age Paul could multiply and divide three-digit numbers. From
that point on he became and remained through out his life somewhat of a
mathematical monk, giving up all of his worldly possessions and devoting his
life entirely to mathematics.

In 1920 Paul’s father, Lajos, returned home from Siberia, having
learned English. While Lajos was being held captive he taught himself English to
help pass the time. As soon as he returned he began to teach Paul to speak
English as well. Since Paul’s father had not had an English teacher he did not
pronounce all of the words correctly, and this explained the strange English
accent that Paul carried with him throughout his life. In fact Paul Erdos even
had somewhat of his own special language that is well known as his “Erdosisms”.
For example, for Erdos the word to die meant to stop working with numbers and
the word to leave meant to actually die. This was a special way Erdos had of
saying certain words, which is better described by Paul Hoffman in his book The
Man Who Loved Only Numbers.

Although
there were many restrictions on the Jews in the 1930's, Paul was able to enter
the University of Pazmany Peter in Budapest where he studied for and was awarded
his doctorate in 1934. Following this he began his post-doctoral fellowship at
Manchester. After leaving Manchester Erdos traveled to the United States where
he took up fellowship at Princeton, but his extension was cut short because he
refused to conform to Princeton's standards. Princeton found him to be "
uncouth and unconventional", which was a typical assumption made by others
about him because of his nonconforming attitude.

Paul Erdos proved that mathematics was not just a young mans game. In the
last 25 years of his life he made it his goal to prove as many mathematical
theorems as possible. Erdos often said, " The first sign of senility, is
when a man forgets his theorems. The second sign is when he forgets to zip up.
The third is when he forgets to zip down." Fortunately Erdos never could
identify with the first, having never forgotten any of his theorems. In fact
during his life Paul wrote and co-authored 1,475 papers and he could recite the
details of them all, which made him a mathematician who probably thought about
more mathematical problems than any other mathematician in history. Utilizing
the advantages of caffeine and amphetamines Erdos worked on mathematics at
almost all hours of the day, seven days a week. Even when he wasn’t working on
his theorems he seemed to be always working on a problem that needed to be
solved, whether mathematical or philosophical.

Those who knew Paul remember a very simple man who knew only one love and
that was numbers. Paul never had a wife, children, or even a home of his own and
he lived only to search for mathematical truth. Erdos had no steady job and he
traveled from university to university in search of another problem to solve and
a new mathematician eager to learn or to teach, for that matter. He would arrive
in a new town, after getting bored with where he had been before, and show up on
the door step of the town’s most
well known mathematician and announce: “My brain is open”. For most of his
life Paul lived out of a single suitcase traveling as far as four continents
anxious to find the next mathematical question that needed to be answered. Paul,
being such a simple man, had little need for money. In fact, when he won the
Wolf Prize in 1983 he received $50,000
and he only kept $720. He also used
the money that he received from lecturing towards worthy causes. Paul Erdos died
from a heart attack at a conference in Warsaw having done mathematics in over 25
different countries. Paul had worked diligently all of his life to try and solve
and understand all of mathematics’ hidden truths. For this reason he is viewed
by many as the “The Man Who Loved Only Numbers” and thought of as one of the
greatest mathematicians ever.

### References

1) Hoffman, Paul. “Who is Paul Erdos.”
__The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: the mathematical truth.__

Copyright 1998. http://paulerdos.com/1.html
(8 Feb., 2000).

2) Hoffman, Paul. “Read
chapter 1e”. __The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: the mathematical truth.
__

Copyright 1998. http://www.paulerdos.com/e2.html
(8 Feb., 2000).

3) Kolata, Gina. “Paul Erdos,
a Math Wayfarer at Fields Pinnacle Dies at 83.” __The New York Times.
__

24 Sept. ,1996. http://www.cs.elte.hu/erdos/NY-Times.html.
(12 Feb., 2000).

4) Schechter, Bruce. “My Brain
is Open.” __The Mathematical Journeys
of Paul Erdos. __Copyright Sept. 1998.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684846357/davidframbles/102-124068323-6887219

(4 March, 2000).

5) School of Mathematics and
Statistics University of St. Andrews Scotland. “Paul Erdos.” January 2000.

http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/history/mathematics/Erdos.html
(8 Feb., 2000).

6) The Times.
“Paul Erdos.” (25 Sept., 1996). http://www.ime.usp.br/dcc/DAAD/ob-times.html
(8 Feb.,

2000).