Friday, 10 October 2014

Fermat's Last Theorem

I was reading a science text from just 25 years ago, and the writer referred to Fermat's Last Theorem as an example, and pointed out it was unsolved. Just 25 years ago, this theorem had been stumping the world.

[And let's get the pedantic note out of the way. It wasn't Fermat's, he said he came across it. It wasn't his last one, just the last one we dealt with. And it wasn't a theorem, it was a conjecture. And most likely he didn't have a solution either. The accepted wisdom is that he used a 'proof by descent' method which works for a lot of numbers, but not all of them.]

It was 'solved' (as a byproduct of other research) in 1994, so we should be celebrating 20 years of FTL being a solved problem now. But we aren't. (That I am aware of.) And I want one of the t-shirts.

But reading that in that book seemed odd. This is a solved problem now. How could any text refer to it as unknown? It's one of those moments when you realise that common knowledge isn't that common, and just how recently we've made progress. Disconcerting.

And more amusingly, the solution to this proves that the Star Trek universe can't exist.


No comments: