Filed in Anecdotes, Business storytelling, Corporate Storytelling, Podcast
When you start something, stick with it until you finish it. Listen to hear how an English mathematician solved the world’s longest-standing maths problem.
Shawn touched on today’s story in last week’s episode, and now we get to hear it in full! It follows Fermat’s Last Theorem and the 358 years it took to solve it. The theorem holds a Guinness World Record for the longest-standing maths problem ever.
If this story sounds a bit familiar to you, it’s because we also heard it in 120 – How to love a maths problem! But in that episode, we hear Mike Adams tell the story, and Shawn’s version includes some additional details. We hope you find an opportunity to use it!
For your storybank
Tags: determination, optimism, persistence, problem solving
This story starts at 01:58
In 1637, Pierre de Fermat, a French mathematician, read an ancient Greek text. He made comments in its margin, one of which would become known as Fermat’s Last Theorem. It stated that no three positive integers for a, b, and c satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than 2.
He wrote that there wasn’t room in the margin to include proof, but he had it.
By the 1900s, mathematicians had proven all of the other theorems and conjectures he’d put forward, except for his Last Theorem. It was downgraded to Fermat’s conjecture because people believed it impossible to prove.
In 1986, Andrew Wiles, an English mathematician, decided to give it a go. He worked on the theorem in secrecy for seven years, publishing and republishing work from previous years.
In his sixth year, he thought he’d worked it out. He wrote a 300-page proof. But when he put his paper out for peer review, his peers detected errors. He had to go back and fix his mistakes.
Then in 1994, Wiles proved the theorem. He was the first to do so in 358 years.
The theorem holds a Guinness World Record for the longest-standing maths problem ever.
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