Skip to content →

Tag: Grothendieck

Grothendieck’s gribouillis (6)

After the death of Grothendieck in November 2014, about 30.000 pages of his writings were found in Lasserre.

Since then I’ve been trying to follow what happened to them:

So, what’s new?

Well, finally we have closure!

Last Friday, Grothendieck’s children donated the 30.000 Laserre pages to the Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

Via Des manuscrits inédits du génie des maths Grothendieck entrent à la BnF (and Google-translate):

“The singularity of these manuscripts is that they “cover many areas at the same time” to form “a whole, a + cathedral work +, with undeniable literary qualities”, analyzes Jocelyn Monchamp, curator in the manuscripts department of the BnF.

More than in “Récoltes et semailles”, very autobiographical, the author is “in a metaphysical retreat”, explains the curator, who has been going through the texts with passion for a month. A long-term task as the writing, in fountain pen, is dense and difficult to decipher. “I got used to it… And the advantage for us was that the author had methodically paginated and dated the texts.” One of the parts, entitled “Structures of the psyche”, a book of enigmatic diagrams translating psychology into algebraic language. In another, “The Problem of Evil”, he unfolds over 15,000 pages metaphysical meditations and thoughts on Satan. We sense a man “caught up by the ghosts of his past”, with an adolescence marked by the Shoah, underlines Johanna Grothendieck whose grandfather, a Russian Jew who fled Germany during the war, died at Auschwitz.

The deciphering work will take a long time to understand everything this genius wanted to say.

On Friday, the collection joined the manuscripts department of the Richelieu site, the historic cradle of the BnF, alongside the writings of Pierre and Marie Curie and Louis Pasteur. It will only be viewable by researchers.“This is a unique testimony in the history of science in the 20th century, of major importance for research,” believes Jocelyn Monchamp.

During the ceremony, one of the volumes was placed in a glass case next to a manuscript by the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid.”

Probably, the recent publication of Récoltes et Semailles clinched the deal.

Also, it is unclear at this moment whether the Istituto Grothendieck, which harbours The centre for Grothendieck studies coordinated by Mateo Carmona (see this post) played a role in the decision making, nor what role the Centre will play in the further studies of Grothendieck’s gribouillis.

For other coverage on this, see Hermit ‘scribblings’ of eccentric French math genius unveiled.


Grothendieck’s gribouillis (5)

After the death of Grothendieck in November 2014, about 30.000 pages of his writings were found in Lasserre.

Since then I’ve been trying to follow what happened to them:

So, what’s new?

In December last year, there was the official opening of the Istituto Grothendieck in the little town of Mondovi in Northern Italy.The videos of the talks given at that meeting are now online.

The Institute houses two centres, the Centre for topos theory and its applications with mission statement:

The Centre for Topoi Theory and its Applications carries out highly innovative research in the field of Grothendieck’s topos theory, oriented towards the development of the unifying role of the concept of topos across different areas of mathematics.

Particularly relevant to these aims is the theory of topos-theoretic ‘bridges’ of Olivia Caramello, coordinator of the Centre and principal investigator of the multi-year project “Topos theory and its applications”.

and the Centre for Grothendiecian studies with mission:

The Centre for Grothendiecian Studies is dedicated to honoring the memory of Alexander Grothendieck through extensive work to valorize his work and disseminate his ideas to the general public.

In particular, the Centre aims to carry out historical/philosophical and editorial work to promote the publication of the unpublished works of A. Grothendieck, as well as to promote the production of translations of already published works in various languages.

No comment on the first. You can look up the Institute’s Governance page, contemplate recent IHES-events, and conjure up your own story.

More interesting is the Centre of Grothendiec(k)ian studies. Here’s the YouTube-clip of the statement made by Johanna Grothendieck (daughter of) at the opening.

She hopes for two things: to find money and interested persons to decrypt and digitalise Grothendieck’s Lasserre gribouillis, and to initiate the re-edition of the complete mathematical works of Grothendieck.

So far, Grothendieck’s family was withholding access to the Lasserre writings. Now they seem to grant access to the Istituto Grothendieck and authorise it to digitalise the 30.000 pages.

Further good news is that a few weeks ago Mateo Carmona was appointed as coordinator of the Centre of grothendieckian studies.

You may know Mateo from his Grothendieck Github Archive. A warning note on that page states: “This site no longer updates (since Feb. 2023) and has been archived. Please visit [Instituto Grothendieck] or write to Mateo Carmona at”. So probably the site will be transferred to the Istituto.

Mateo Carmona says:

As Coordinator of the CSG, I will work tirelessly to ensure that the Centre provides comprehensive resources for scholars, students, and enthusiasts interested in Grothendieck’s original works and modern scholarship. I look forward to using my expertise to coordinate and supervise the work of the international group of researchers and volunteers who will promote Grothendieck’s scientific and cultural heritage through the CSG.

It looks as if Grothendieck’s gribouillis are in good hands, at last.

One Comment

Stella Maris (Cormac McCarthy)

This week, I was hit hard by synchronicity.

Lately, I’ve been reading up a bit on psycho-analysis, tried to get through Grothendieck’s La clef des songes (the key to dreams) and I’m in the process of writing a series of blogposts on how to construct a topos of the unconscious.

And then I read Cormac McCarthy‘s novels The passenger and Stella Maris, and got hit.

Stella Maris is set in 1972, when the math-prodigy Alicia Western, suffering from hallucinations, admits herself to a psychiatric hospital, carrying a plastic bag containing forty thousand dollars. The book consists entirely of dialogues, the transcripts of seven sessions with her psychiatrist Dr. Cohen (nomen est omen).

Alicia is a doctoral candidate at the University Of Chicago who got a scholarship to visit the IHES to work with Grothendieck on toposes.

During the psychiatric sessions, they talk on a wide variety of topics, including the nature of mathematics, quantum mechanics, music theory, dreams, and the unconscious (and its role in doing mathematics).

The core question is not how you do math but how does the unconscious do it. How it is that it’s demonstrably better at it than you are? You work on a problem and then you put it away for a while. But it doesnt go away. It reappears at lunch. Or while you’re taking a shower. It says: Take a look at this. What do you think? Then you wonder why the shower is cold. Or the soup. Is this doing math? I’m afraid it is. How is it doing it? We dont know. How does the unconscious do math? (page 99)

Before going to the IHES she had to send Grothendieck a paper (‘It was an explication of topos theory that I thought he probably hadn’t considered.’ page 136, and ‘while it proved three problems in topos theory it then set about dismantling the mechanism of the proofs.’ page 151). At the IHES ‘I met three men that I could talk to: Grothendieck, Deligne, and Oscar Zariski.’ (page 136).

I don’t know whether Zariski visited the IHES in the early 70ties, and while most historical allusions (to Grothendieck’s life, his role in Bourbaki etc.) are correct, Alicia mentions the ‘Langlands project’ (page 66) which may very well have been the talk of town at the IHES in 1972, but the mention of Witten ‘Grothendieck writes everything down. Witten nothing.’ (page 100) raised an eyebrow.

The book also contains these two nice attempts to capture some of the essence of topos theory:

When you get to topos theory you are at the edge of another universe.
You have found a place to stand where you can look back at the world from nowhere. It’s not just some gestalt. It’s fundamental. (page 13)

You asked me about Grothendieck. The topos theory he came up with is a witches’ brew of topology and algebra and mathematical logic.
It doesnt even have a clear identity. The power of the theory is still speculative. But it’s there.
You have a sense that it is waiting quietly with answers to questions that nobody has asked yet. (page 68)

I did read ‘The passenger’ first, which is probably better as then you’d know already some of the ghosts haunting Alicia, but it’s not a must if you are only interested in their discussions about the nature of mathematics. Be warned that it is a pretty dark book, better not read when you’re already feeling low, and it should come with a link to a suicide prevention line.

Here’s a more considered take on Stella Maris: