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December 29, 2004


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Don Lloyd


---In a mathematical conversation, someone suggested to Grothendieck that they should consider a particular prime number. “You mean an actual number?” Grothendieck asked. The other person replied, yes, an actual prime number. Grothendieck suggested, “All right,take 57.”---

I'm confused as to what the point of the story is. It was clear until I realized that 57 is NOT a prime number.

Regards, Don

Delmore Macnamara

Don (assuming you are not being ultraironic), that 57 is *not* a prime is precisely the point - partisans of "abstract nonsense" (I use the phrase affectionately) are often surpisingly unfamiliar with the actual facts of arithmetic.

At Edinburgh there is an algebraic topologist, Dr Andrew Ranicki. He used to cover many blackboards with (to me) unfathomable proofs in his lectures, but never in the obvious sequence i.e. higher boards before lower ones, left before right. He was prevailed upon by the student representative to number his boards so that the slower students could follow the correct sequence. He agreed, but it is debatable whether his efforts helped much; a typical numbering would be 1,1,3,4,6,5,...

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