Manifold Yau

calabi-yau sliceWell, here’s yet another discussion of Yau to gobble up. It is a New York Times article by Dennis Overbye on Yau, his life and work*. I’ve no idea why this was written, or what the timing was. I’d like to believe that it was just because it is a good subject -because it is- and that it is worthwhile to do an article about a Mathematician of considerable stature in the field, and about the ins and outs of the world of Mathematics -because it is. But I can’t help but wonder if this would have seen the light of day if there was not the big argument going on about the New Yorker article and Yau’s displeasure with its contents. (Image on the right -click for larger- was taken from this site. It is a slice of a Calabi-Yau manifold. There’s more in the article about Yau’s work on those.)

Well, I don’t care what the reason is. I love to see articles of this type written about this subject matter irrespective of whether there is a juicy potential lawsuit in the public eye. It is good for people outside the field to get a feel for the fact that these are real people out there studying these seemingly esoteric subjects. I also find it interesting myself, since I really am not acquainted with this circle of research and don’t really know the narrative very well. So this is good coverage to have more of, in general. (But then I’m an idealist when it comes to what should be out there in the press coverage of science and related issues.)

I think it is a nicely written article, covering quite a bit about the mathematics and a great deal of interesting information about his role in the world of modern Chinese science, from his nurturing of young scientists to some slices of the politics involved. It is also peppered with lots of generous but nevertheless often contentful quotes from various mathematicians and physicists (you’ll recognize some bits from Hamilton’s letter that we talked about earlier), and so do have a look at it if you get the chance.


(*Thanks, Aaron!)

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30 Responses to Manifold Yau

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  2. nc says:

    Howdi Clifford,

    I’m [widely regarded as] a moronic crackpot, so maybe you can help with a question on the Calabi-Yau manifold?

    Suppose GR is as Lunsford investigates 6 dimensional (3 distance-like dimensions, 3 time-like dimensions).

    All I need is know is whether 10-d superstring is compatible with 6-d GR instead of the usual 4-d GR, ie, what if anything is known about 4-d Calabi-Yau manifolds?


    Reference links

    [snip snip.. they can be found as below – cvj]

    BTW Clifford, if this is off-topic I’m copying this comment to my blog so you are free to discuss there if you prefer.

    [snip… -cvj]

  3. There is precisely one Calabi-Yau manifold of real dimension 4. It’s called K3.

    It is very well studied, both in physics and mathematics.

  4. nc says:

    Hi Jacques,

    Thank you very much for this K3 name. It is stated on that:

    “In mathematics, in the field of complex manifolds, a K3 surface is an important and interesting example of a compact complex surface (complex dimension 2 being real dimension 4).

    “Together with two-dimensional complex tori, they are the Calabi-Yau manifolds of dimension two. Most K3 surfaces, in a definite sense, are not algebraic. This means that, in general, they cannot be embedded in any projective space as a surface defined by polynomial equations. However, K3 surfaces first arose in algebraic geometry and it is in this context that they received their name — it is after three algebraic geometers, Kummer, Kähler and Kodaira, alluding also to the mountain peak K2 in the news when the name was given during the 1950s. …

    “K3 manifolds play an important role in string theory because they provide us with the second simplest compactification after the torus. Compactification on a K3 surface preserves one half of the original supersymmetry.”

    It also refers to which is almost unintelligible [to my level of maths] and which looks similar. I’ll take a closer look when I have time.

    Many thanks,

  5. Say Lee says:

    The NY Times Article is now linked in Dr. Yau’s website.

    However, I think the title, Emperor of Math, is questionable as it evokes images of the feudal past of the Chinese history: dictatorial.

    Also, the quote due to Morgan toward the end of the article:

    “He has done tremendous things for math,” he said. “He’s a great figure. He’s Shakespearean, larger than life. His virtues are larger than life, and his vices are larger than life.”

    seems to suggest that since Dr. Yau is “Emperor of Math”, he is capable of “larger than life” vices. The insinuation is indeed hitting below the belt.

    I hope my interpretation on both counts is too much reading between the lines on my part.

  6. Clifford says:

    Probably best to let that one slide…. Yau’s team seems to have, by linking to the article.



  7. John says:

    Say Lee

    “However, I think the title, Emperor of Math, is questionable as it evokes images of the feudal past of the Chinese history: dictatorial.”

    The title is probably a sarcastic reflection of a quote in the New Yorker’s article where Yau was referred as the “king of geometry” or something of that capacity.

    In terms of power of mathematical intelligence, it is perhaps true that Yau is an Emperor, or one of the Emperors, of mathematics. In terms of power of mathematical politics, however, the title of “Emperor of Math” belongs to Phillip Griffiths, the mathematician that was quoted a couple of times in the New Yorker article talking about power and control. Griffiths does not do the same level of math that Yau does, but his power and political influence in math has never been matched by anyone, certainly not by Yau.

    As described in the NY Times article, Yau has been hitting really hard at Beijing University with academic corruption charges, especially at its math department. He has his reasons. But it was either naïve or arrogance on Yau’s part, he totally neglected the fact that Phillip Griffiths has an honorary degree from Beijing University and has been closely associated with its math department. When opportunity came, Griffiths, tapping into the special relationship he has had with Nasar, hit back. It was to ruin Yau and it almost did. It surely will be a lesson for Yau to remember for the rest of his life. I am sure that Yau now knows who is the real Emperor.

  8. Say Lee says:

    Thanks, John. You have put the matter in a better perspective for me as I did not know of the link between Griffiths and Beijing U.

    I think Yau’s intention to hit hard at Beijing U is a noble one and while naive it may seem, I hope his efforts would galvanize more people who matter into action.

  9. Amanda says:

    To John:

    Thanks to the New Yorker, Yau’s lies, theft and dirty politics were exposed. Even the NY Times article, written by a journalist with whom Yau has a “special relationship” could not hide all his deeds.

    It looks really “noble” to fight academic corruption in China, while creating it everywhere else.

    Having no other ways to defend his dishonesty, some turn to conspiracy theories.

    There is one point where I would agree with you: the New Yorker article gave Yau a lesson. I hope he will learn from it. But even if he does not, there are a lot of people around who now know the truth. In the future it will be more difficult for him to play his games

  10. Say Lee says:

    But what is the truth? The New Yorker’s version?

    And where is Dr. Yau creating the so-called academc corruption elsewhere?

  11. John says:

    To Lee and Amanda,

    I don’t know whether Yau’s fight on China’s academic corruption is noble. If Yau is as political as Phillip Griffiths, I bet he would never have tried to fight any form of corruption in China. China is ruled by one party, the communist party, that upholds absolute power. Absolute power, you guess it right, corrupts absolutely. To assume a mathematician, even a Fields medal winner, having some hope to win the fight on academic corruption in China is both naïve and foolish, although the NY Times article seems to indicate that Yau’s fight has born some fruits. I will not be surprised that Yau eventually loses the fight.

    What amazed me is the stand that New Yorker took. It in effect stabbed Yau in the back, while he is trying hard fighting Beijing University’s academic corruption. It is no secret that New Yorker is a magazine with mostly liberal stances, and the biggest “vice” for the liberals is that they seem to have difficulties to keep their pants up. I could have never foreseen an alliance between an American liberal magazine and the crooks in Beijing University. It is hard to believe that the communist party chief of Beijing University had asked everyone in the university to study the New Yorker article. New Yorker has achieved something that no American magazine and newspaper has ever done before, to be considered as a communist party document, and Nasar has done Phillip Griffiths a gigantic favor.

    Yau has much to learn about politics from Phillip Griffiths.

  12. Aaron Bergman says:

    You ever get the feeling that you’ve stepped into the middle of some long running battle that you know nothing about?

  13. Say Lee says:

    If by “nothing” you mean firsthand account, then you’re absolutely right. But who does have firsthand account of most things other than the protagonists?

    Others like me would have to rely on thirdhand account and for that we have to thank the emergence of the blogosphere, which has been described as a social leveller.

    But with conflicting accounts presented by vested interests on opposing sides, one would have to sift through the myriad sources to inform of one’s interpretation of the events. Unless subsequent surfacing of “evidence” proves otherwise, I would like to believe that Dr. Yau’s is on a noble cause, and is being victimized for what he stands for.

  14. JZ says:

    I have a feeling that Aaron Bergman wants to tell us this “long running battle” that no one seems to know about.

  15. Aaron Bergman says:

    Nope. I have no idea. It just feels like there are a lot of strong feelings that don’t seem to me to be completely explained by the article.

  16. Clifford says:

    Aaron:- Yes, there certainly seem to be. I think that what you’ve observed has only scratched the surface of a bubbling sea of feelings on both sides. Interesting….


  17. JZ says:

    I also wonder the timing of the article.

  18. John says:

    I probably have stepped on some toes.

  19. Richard says:

    “Aaron:- Yes, there certainly seem to be. I think that what you’ve observed has only scratched the surface of a bubbling sea of feelings on both sides. Interesting….”

    I do get the feeling that this unusual case has aspects that have not been made completely visible to most of us, and that obscurity has fueled the conflict.

    Meanwhile, Perelman remains aloof in Russia, and the sound of one hand clapping continues …

  20. Elliot says:

    A mathematician named Yau
    Read the New Yorker, then had a cow
    His lawyers litigious
    Took on those deemed vicious
    Grisha’s bling annoyed Shing anyhow



  21. John says:

    To Elliot,

    I hope writing verse is your daytime job. With talent like this, you can become rich and famous.

  22. Clifford says:

    It’s really pretty good isn’t it?

    When’s the book of collected verse coming out!?


  23. Elliot says:


    Thank you both. Unfortunately this is NOT my daytime job. But I’m working on it 😉


  24. Elliot says:

    Damn it finally hit me. I should have submitted it to the New Yorker 😉


  25. John says:

    Should send to a musician
    Make a song
    Sing your heart out
    Wealth and fame come along

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