Genius and Intuition

Following is an article I had written for Petals, a portal for self expression at my first job


Intuition though quite an inexplicable phenomenon yet attracts attention from scientists, mystics and laymen alike. I will take intuitions in the context of geniuses with specific reference to Ramanujam as portrayed in a biography aptly named “The Man who knew Infinity”.

The book attempts to take a holistic view of Ramanujam‘s life, his early years, dominant yet caring mother, his leaning, place in which he lived, the soil on which he walked on. It attempts to describe an oriental mystic and genius meeting the renowned eccentric mathematician Thomas Hardy. This is a recurring theme and comes up in subtle ways, clearly chalking out a line between east and west.

Second aspect of the book is the chasm in which the book is written. This chasm is the view of phenomenon of intuition as seen by the Orient and the Occident. The divide overshadows any other perspective of events described in the book.

Where did Ramanujam‘s magical intuition come from? Was his work a fluke (though a string of flukes, if this is true)? Was it because of his religious beliefs as he used to claim? We are not answering these questions, for the questions and asking of these questions is what matters to us here.

In his prolific book “The Argumentative Indian” written by Nobel laureate Prof. Amartya Sen also discusses this aspect in a different manner and slightly different context. Prof. Sen takes example of Indian mathematician namely Aryabhatta and Varahmihira. Their work and source of inspirations in some or the other ways were always likened with their religious beliefs. The point is not whether their religion beliefs made an impact or not. The point which he puts forth is why this question is asked only in cases of oriental thinkers.

In Ramanujam‘s case, the interest in mystic gets accentuated because he himself told appearances of goddess Namagiri, who informs him all the solutions which became humongous feats in mathematical intellect. He had a deep interest in astrology – not as an amateur, nor a practitioner, but as a serious pursuit which is evident in the prediction of his early death made by himself.

Ramanujam was a strange dichotomous character for the west. A religious, mystic genius in mathematics who worked on intuition rather than rationale, his works were flights of fancy. Flashes of intuitions, boisterous mathematical claims without a proof at hand were commonplace with him. Though many of his claims finally proved to be wrong, the ones that were right, proved to be prolific.

His life also gave a picture of colonized India, where a genius of his stature had no formal education to make him eligible for research work. His brilliance was scoffed off in his own land and would be recognized truly, albeit with apprehension in west.

1 Response to “Genius and Intuition”

  1. 1 Benny Thomas
    2009/05/30 at 7:52 am

    I chanced upon your blog and found it very informative. The event blogs are striking enough to have a feel of the event, so, I would like to have a little chit-chat on your blogging interests. And even we are coming up with an event on startups on June 6th. So, can I have your contact details? Looking forward to hear from you.

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