An image of a green fedora hat, which serves as the logo for this site.Gordy's Discourse

A 15,000 page mathematical proof

I clearly have too much time on my hands because I end up reading some strange things. The particular thing I’m talking about here is the Classification Theorem of the Finite Simple Groups, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. I mean, who isn’t?

Okay, I jest. I haven’t the faintest idea what it’s all about, but I quite like the story of persistence behind it.

It took about 30 years to write down the proof and it runs to 10,000 - 15,000 pages. It was mainly done in the 50s, 60s and 70s, but one particular hole in the proof was only plugged in 2004, which added another 1,300 pages.

It’s hard not to ask why anyone bothered. How many people are going to read a mathematical proof that runs to 15,000 pages? I can’t imagine many people will, but I have to applaud the sheer bloody-minded persistence that got it done. I remember when human resource departments used to like classifying people (maybe they still do) and one of those classifications was a completer-finisher. The people who wrote down this mathematical proof epitomise that category of people and then some.

I like this sort of task. I don’t believe everything we do has to have a point. Some things are worth doing just because we can. Not, I hasten to add, that I want the first thing to do with the Classification Theorem of the Finite Simple Groups.

The good news is that, in the early 80s, mathematicians started trying to revise and simplify the proof. They believe they can get their revised proof down to about 4,000 pages. As of 2016 they had managed to write the first 6 volumes of this revised proof, and one particular professor thought they might have the remaining 6 volumes written in 30 years or so.

The particular professor I mention is Professor Dr Hugo de Garis and it’s his article I’ll link to in a minute. I should add that “Professor Dr” is too much pre-nominal signage in my opinion — one or the other is enough.

The professor believes this proof marks the single greatest intellectual achievement of mankind. Furthermore, he believes the proof describes the rules God used to create the universe.

So, if you’re really really bored, here’s the link to Professor Dr Hugo de Garis’s work.

If you ignore the mathematical nerdery it’s not a bad read. Possibly.