Recently, a young man thanked me for the mathematics mentorship he received from me over two decades ago when he was just entering his teenage years. He honestly informed me that he has done well in the mathematics that were necessary for his career in business and was uninterested in any other mathematics. Then he jokingly added, "mathematicians are generally not very rich people and as a result, they are generally not very powerful people".
I met this young man over two decades ago when he was about thirteen years old in the after school program of a church in North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA. The Late Right Reverend Dr. Maurice Coombs was the rector of the church my wife and I attended at that time in Philadelphia. One Sunday after church service, Reverend Coombs called me and showed me an announcement in a Diocesan bulletin. The announcement requested a mathematics tutor volunteer for youths in the church's afterschool program. Reverend Coombs asked me if I was willing to volunteer. I said yes eventhough I was concerned about my lack of knowledge of the neighborhood. My wife at that time was popular in the city and knew the neighborhood well. So she lectured me and provided the pre-visit information I needed.
The church administrator welcomed me on my arrival at the church. After confirming my identity and references, she introduced me to the rector of the church. Thereafter, she called the young girls and boys (3 girls and 4 boys) into a classroom, introduced me to them and left. I saw clean, goodlooking and quiet youths as I scanned the room. After mutual greetings, I started the conversation by asking for a show of hands of those interested in mathematics. Nobody raised a hand. Instead one of the boys asked me "who told you we need mathematics?" "Your church". I responded. "Ok, can mathematics make us money?" the boy continued. "Yes". I responded. "How quickly can mathematics make us money?" another boy asked. "Hmmm I'll get back to you on that question". I responded. It occurred to me then that getting the attention of the youths with respect to mathematics will not be easy. So I pivoted the remaining time towards discussions of interest to them and informed them we will officially start the tutoring on the next scheduled date. Discussions about the myths they had heard about Africa were of interest to them. So we spent the remaining time on their questions about Africa.
I informed my wife at that time about my experience when I got home and suggested we pay the youths for every problem they got right in order to get their attention. We agreed on the amount and a duration of two weeks (6 classes) for the solve and earn incentive.
The classroom was filled with bouncy enthusiasm when I tabled the solve and earn incentive during our second meeting. The two boys who were the catalysts for the idea, exclaimed "Yeah! that's quick so lets start". So we started. No one earned the maximum amout until the third meeting. However, every one got some amount for nice efforts.
At the end of the ninth meeting, I informed the youths that the remaining three classes will be conducted without money. "What! you've run out of money?, you see this mathematics of a thing does not have money". My two vocal friends responded. "I want you to learn for knowledge sake for your reward will last much longer than any amount of money". I responded. "Oosh, not happy. But you're cool so w'll cooperate". They responded. Everyone cooperated and the remaining classes were finished on a friendly note.
Now, the statement mathematicians are generally not very rich people and as a result, they are generally not very powerful people is partially true. It is true that most genuine mathematicians are not very wealthy. These mathematicians pursue knowledge for knowledge sake. Their commitments to their mathematical endeavors are often total and sometimes perceived as insane because of their deviations from preconceived notions of normalcy. It is false that mathematicians are not generally powerful people. Mathematicians, more than any other group of people, decode Nature's codes. As a result, mathematicians, more than any other group of people, live forever through their discoveries. That is power.
What are you willing to sacrifice For Knowledge Sake? Can you sacrifice your life as did the great mathematician Archimedes (287-212 B.C.) who was slain by a soldier because he was lost in thought pondering over the mathematics of a diagram he had drawn in the sand eventhough the war that sacked ancient Syracuse was raging all around him? Archimedes discovered many interesting mathematical beauties. However, he is best remembered for the Archimedes Principle (his discovery of buoyancy). Buoyancy allowed doers to build practical ocean vessels that transported the poineers that established the New World, defend countries with war vessels and submarines, etc. It is often the case that thinking precedes the doing that pushes civilization forward. In other words, It is the thoughts of thinkers that push doers. Sometimes the thinker and the doer are one. Archimedes lives forever through his discoveries. That is power.
What are you willing to sacrifice For Knowledge Sake? Can you sacrifice your Ivy League education and employment as did the great mathematician Rene Descartes (1596-1650 A.D.) and roam through travel, sometimes working, sometimes living in solitude for knowledge sake? Descartes gave the world analytical geometry and changed the world forever. Descartes lives forever. That is power.
What are you willing to sacrifice For Knowledge Sake? Can you live without a permanent home, car, wife and children as did the great mathematician Paul Erdos for knowledge sake? Erdos believed that the meaning of life was to prove and conjecture. Consequently, he left many proofs and conjectures that will forever remain mathematical treasures. Erdos lives forever. That is power.
Archimedes, Descartes, Erdos and many other mathematicians who came before and after them are powerful mathematicians who changed the world forever because they pursued knowledge For Knowledge Sake.
Look around you my friend. You will see the thoughts of mathematicians everywhere. In your sleeping and in your waking; in your eating and in your working; in your illness and in your leisure. Everywhere. That is power. Power different from business power or political power. Everlasting and ubiquitous power.