The title of this entry is a note written by Pierre de Fermat, a 17th century mathematician, about a mathematical equation (below, known as Fermat’s Last Theorem”):

clip_image002 (where n is greater than 2)

The note was discovered in the margin of Fermat’s notebook, but no one could find where he had written out the full proof to the equation. When modern mathematicians tried to replicate the proof they found that it was extremely difficult and for hundreds of years the equation went unsolved. Only in 1995 did a mathematician named Andrew Wiles finally solve Fermat’s Last Theorem, over 350 years after the problem was originally solved by Fermat.

I heard this story first in a high school math class and it has stuck with me. There are several lessons at the core of this story (including a rather obvious one about the importance of record keeping) but what I am intrigued by are the connections that can be drawn between this story and modern short form communication. One could argue that a 140 character tweet correlates roughly to the space allowed by a notebook margin. You have to wonder, will marvelous ideas be lost due to such restricted media of communication? Or worse – will short form messages make us reluctant to actually read anything longer than a few sentences? Important to note, the final published proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem is 150 pages long.

Sources for facts: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/proof/wiles.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_de_Fermat

"I have a truly marvelous demonstration of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain."
  • Alex

    Good one Drew – way to bring together the 17th and the 21st century.