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Category: france

Grothendieck’s gribouillis (4)

Fortunately, there are a few certainties left in life:

In spring, you might expect the next instalment of Connes’ and Consani’s quest for Gabriel’s topos. Here’s the latest: $\overline{\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z})}$ and the Gromov norm.

Every half year or so, Mochizuki’s circle-of-friends tries to create some buzz announcing the next IUTeich-workshop. I’ll spare you the link, if you are still interested, follow math_jin or IUTT_bot_math_jin on Twitter.

And then, there’s the never-ending story of Grothendieck’s griboullis, kept alive by the French journalist and author Philippe Douroux.

Here are some recent links:

Alexandre Grothendieck : une mathématique en cathédrale gothique, an article (in French) by Philippe Douroux in Le Monde, May 6th (behind paywall).

L’histoire étonnante des archives du mathématicien Alexandre Grothendieck, an article (in French) on France Inter by Mathieu Vidar, based on info from Philippe Douroux.

Les archives mystérieuses de Alexandre Grothendieck, a podcast of a broadcast on France Inter on June 10th. Interesting interview (in French) with Philippe Douroux and the French mathematician Etienne Ghys (with a guest appearance by Luc Illusie).

El enigmático legado de un genio de las matemáticas, an article (in Spanish) in El Pais, May 13th, with 8 photos of some of the Gribouillis. The two pictures in this post are taken from this article.

So, what’s the latest on the 70.000+ pages left by Grothendieck?

As far as i know, the Mormoiron part of the gribouillis is still at the University of Montpellier, and has been made available online at the Grothendieck archives.

The Lasserre part of the gribouillis is still in a cellar in Paris’ Saint-Germain-des-Prés, belonging to Jean-Bernard Gillot. The French national library cannot take possession of the notes before a financial agreement is reached with Grothendieck’s children (French law does not allow children to be disinherited).

And there’s a dispute about the price to be paid. The notes were estimated at 45.000 Euros, but some prefer to believe that they may be worth several millions of dollars.

It all depends on their mathematical content.

Unfortunately, pictures claimed to be of the Lasserre notes (such as the one above) are in fact from the Mormoiron/Montpellier notes, which do indeed contain interesting mathematics.

But, it is very unlikely that the Lasserre notes contain (math) surprises. Probably, most of them look like this one

endless lists of people deported by the Nazis to extermination camps in WW2.

Or, as Philippe Douroux is quoted in the El Pais piece: “I think it’s a treasure, maybe not a mathematical one, but a human one. It’s a descent into the hell of one the best organised brains in the world.”

The film made by Catherine Aira and Yves Le Pestipon “Alexandre Grothendieck: On the Paths of a Genius” (on the quest for G’s last hideout in the French Pyrenees) can now be watched on YouTube (with English subtitles)

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Grothendieck, at the theatre

A few days ago, the theatre production “Rêves et Motifs” (Dreams and Motives) was put on stage in Argenteuil by la Compagnie Les Rémouleurs.

The stage director Anne Bitran only discovered Grothendieck’s life by reading the front pages of French newspapers, the day after Grothendieck passed away, in November 2014.

« Rêves et Motifs » is a piece inspired by Récoltes et Semailles.

Anne Bitran: ” In Récoltes et semailles we meet a scientist who has his feet on the ground and shares our curiosity about the world around us, with a strong political engagement. This is what I wanted to share with this piece.”

Some of Grothendieck’s dessins d’enfant make their appearance. Is that one Monsieur Mathieu in the center? And part of the Hexenkuche top left? (no, see Vimeo below)

And, does this looks like the sculpture ‘Grothendieck as Shepherd’ by Nina Douglas?

More information about the production can be found at the Les Remouleurs website (in French).

RÊVES ET MOTIFS from Les Rémouleurs on Vimeo.

In case you are interested, make sure to be in Lunéville, November 29th or 30th.

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a wintry chataigneraie

It took us some time to clear the array of old chestnut trees.

But it paid off. A good harvest easily gives half a ton of chestnuts, including some rare, older varieties.

In the autumn, the coloured leaves make a spectacular view. Now it looks rather desolate.

But, the wind piles up the fallen leaves in every nook, cranny, corner or entrance possible.

My day in the mountains: ‘harvesting’ fallen leaves…

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NaNoWriMo (1)

Some weeks ago I did register to be a participant of NaNoWriMo 2016. It’s a belated new-year’s resolution.

When PS (pseudonymous sister), always eager to fill a 10 second silence at family dinners, asked

(PS) And Lieven, what are your resolutions for 2016?

she didn’t really expect an answer (for decades my generic reply has been: “I’m not into that kinda nonsense”)

(Me) I want to write a bit …

stunned silence

(PS) … Oh … good … you mean for work, more papers perhaps?

(Me) Not really, I hope to write a book for a larger audience.

(PS) Really? … Ok … fine … (appropriate silence) … Now, POB (pseudonymous other brother), what are your plans for 2016?


If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is all about: the idea is to write a “book” (more like a ‘shitty first draft’ of half a book) consisting of 50.000 words in November.

We’re 5 days into the challenge, and I haven’t written a single word…

Part of the problem is that I’m in the French mountains, and believe me, there always more urgent or fun things to do here than to find a place of my own and start writing.

A more fundamental problem is that I cannot choose between possible book-projects.

Here’s one I will definitely not pursue:

[section_title text=”The Grothendieck heist”]

“A group of hackers uses a weapon of Math destruction to convince Parisian police that a terrorist attack is imminent in the 6th arrondissement. By a cunning strategy they are then able to enter the police station and get to the white building behind it to obtain some of Grothendieck’s writings.

A few weeks later three lengthy articles hit the arXiv, claiming to contain a proof of the Riemann hypothesis, by partially dismantling topos theory.

Bi-annual conferences are organised around the globe aimed at understanding this weird new theory, etc. etc. (you get the general idea).

The papers are believed to have resulted from the Grothendieck heist. But then, similar raids are carried out in Princeton and in Cambridge UK and a sinister plan emerges… “

Funny as it may be to (ab)use a story to comment on the current state of affairs in mathematics, I’m not known to be the world’s most entertaining story teller, so I’d better leave the subject of math-thrillers to others.

Here’s another book-idea:

[section_title text=”The Bourbaki travel guide”]

The idea is to hunt down places in Paris and in the rest of France which were important to Bourbaki, from his birth in 1934 until his death in 1968.

This includes institutions (IHP, ENS, …), residences, cafes they frequented, venues of Bourbaki meetings, references in La Tribu notices, etc.

This should lead to some nice Parisian walks (in and around the fifth arrondissement) and a couple of car-journeys through la France profonde.

Of course, also some of the posts I wrote on possible solutions of the riddles contained in Bourbaki’s wedding announcement and the avis de deces will be included.

Here the advantage is that I have already a good part of the raw material. Of course it still has to be followed up by in-situ research, unless I want to turn it into a ‘virtual math traveler ’s guide’ so that anyone can check out the places on G-maps rather than having to go to France.

I’m still undecided about this project. Is there a potential readership for this? Is it worth the effort? Can’t it wait until I retire and will spend even more time in France?

Here’s yet another idea:

[section_title text=”Mr. Yoneda takes the Tokyo-subway”]

This is just a working title, others are “the shape of prime numbers”, or “schemes for hipsters”, or “toposes for fashionistas”, or …

This should be a work-out of the sga4hipsters meme. Is it really possible to explain schemes, stacks, Grothendieck topologies and toposes to a ‘general’ public?

At the moment I’m re-reading Eugenia Cheng’s “Cakes, custard and category theory”. As much as I admire her fluent writing style it is difficult for me to believe that someone who didn’t knew the basics of it before would get an adequate understanding of category theory after reading it.

It is often frustrating how few of mathematics there is in most popular maths books. Can’t one do better? Or is it just inherent in the format? Can one write a Cheng-style book replacing the recipes by more mathematics?

The main problem here is to find good ‘real-life’ analogies for standard mathematical concepts such as topological spaces, categories, sheaves etc.

The tentative working title is based on a trial text I wrote trying to explain Yoneda’s lemma by taking a subway-network as an example of a category. I’m thinking along similar lines to explain topological spaces via urban-wide wifi-networks, and so on.

But al this is just the beginning. I’ll consider this a success only if I can get as far as explaining the analogy between prime numbers and knots via etale fundamental groups…

If doable, I have no doubt it will be time well invested. My main problem here is finding an appropriate ‘voice’.

At first I wanted to go along with the hipster-gimmick and even learned some the appropriate lingo (you know, deck, fin, liquid etc.) but I don’t think it will work for me, and besides it would restrict the potential readers.

Then, I thought of writing it as a series of children’s stories. It might be fun to try to explain SGA4 to a (as yet virtual) grandchild. A bit like David Spivak’s short but funny text “Presheaf the cobbler”.

Once again, all suggestions or advice are welcome, either as a comment here or privately over email.

Perhaps, I’ll keep you informed while stumbling along NaNoWriMo.

At least I wrote 1000 words today…

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