Who was the REAL Good Will Hunting? – Numberphile
Articles Blog

Who was the REAL Good Will Hunting? – Numberphile

December 8, 2019

BRADY HARAN: So good Will
Hunting in the film is a troubled mathematical genius. And he solved this problem
on the blackboard. There are a few candidates for
the real Will Hunting. Shall we talk about them? Will Hunting solves
this problem. There is an urban legend that’s
similar of a student who ran into his exam late. And he copied down the problem
from the board, and he went and solved them. And the last one seemed
really hard, but he kept working on it. And he managed to
solve it, and he handed in his exam paper. And then the professor rings
him that night saying, you were only meant to do the
first few problems. The last one was an unsolvable
problem. Oh, you’ve solved it! So that’s an urban legend. Great thing about that
is that it happened. So the real story of that
is there was a guy called George Dantzig. He was a Ph.D. Mathematician. And it wasn’t an exam. It was a lecture. He went into his lecture, and he
copied down the homework on the board, these two problems. And he went home and
solved them. And he handed them in, and it
did seem harder than usual. And his professor went,
oh, just throw it onto the desk, will you? The professor– and this is what happened,
apparently. This is the true story. This is how he tells it– wakes him up six weeks later
banging on his door, 8 o’clock in the morning on a Sunday
morning, saying, can I write the introduction
to your paper? He goes, what paper? He goes, those two problems
you solved were unsolved statistical problems
that you’ve done. And this is the first he’s
ever heard of it. This actually happened. George Dantzig was his name. A year later when he had to pick
his Ph.D. topic, he asked his professor what
he should do. And his professor said, oh, just
put those two problems in a binder, and we’ll call
that your thesis. Maybe you have to have done a
Ph.D. to understand how much I hate him right now. So that’s one candidate for the
real good Will Hunting. There’s another famous possible
candidate for this. There was a guy called
William Sidis. Now he was an American
guy who was a child genius, a child prodigy. They said he had an
IQ of over 250. And at the age of 11, he was
giving a lecture at Harvard for the Harvard mathematicians
on some sort– He was touted as he will
grow up to be a great mathematician someday. He got into trouble
as a young man. He carried the red flag
at a Communist rally. And so he was arrested. And he was arrested for
assaulting a policeman. And part of his bail– INTERVIEWER: You hit
a cop, you go down. BRADY HARAN: Yeah! Yeah, that’s right. And if you’re a Communist
as well. So part of his bail was to get
a job as a technician at MIT, which is kind of like Will
Hunting, and to see a psychologist. And the psychologist that he had
to see was his own father, who put him in a private asylum
for a whole year, which he called mental torture. When he came out, he pretty
much swore off academia, mathematics, and spent the
rest of his life taking clerical work, office jobs,
working the adding machines. He found it relaxing. He quite liked the adding
machines, but swore off mathematics for the
rest of his life. It’s possible that the story of
William Sidis that I just told may have influenced Matt
Damon, because they were both Harvard people. So Matt Damon went to
Harvard as well. And so it’s a famous story,
and he was a very famous child prodigy. So it’s quite possible. But in the film, what they
reference is Ramanujan. Ramanujan was this famous
Indian clerk. I have talked about him before,
but I’ll tell his story properly this time. He was a mathematical genius,
again, because where he was in India, he had very limited
mathematical education. He only had a couple of maths
textbooks to work from. And only from this, he was able
to reinvent a whole bunch of mathematical results
by his own. He dropped out of college,
because he was so obsessed with his maths he was failing
his other subjects. And he had to take a
job in an office. He sent his mathematical results
to some Cambridge mathematicians including
Hardy, who realized how important, how amazing
it was, and invited him over to Cambridge. If you want to understand the
relationship between the professor in the film and Will
Hunting, then well, what I’ve got here is a quote from
Hardy about Ramanujan. I think it’s an important quote,
and I think it will explain what’s happening
in the film. So if I may read it from here. He said– So that’s what Hardy thought
about Ramanujan. And you have to remember this. If you see the film, this is how
the professor feels about Will Hunting. When they’re at loggerheads,
when he’s so concerned about his career, it’s because there
is the sense that mathematics is a young man’s game. This is how Hardy felt
about Ramanujan. This is how the professor in
the film feels about Will Hunting as well. So another big thing in the
film is the Fields Medal. The professor in the film is a
Fields Medal winner, if I get that right. And they make a big
deal of it. They call it the Nobel
Prize of mathematics, which is kind of true. They give four of these medals
every four years. And it is a big deal in maths. There is no Nobel Prize
in mathematics. The rumor that goes around
maths departments is that Nobel didn’t like
mathematicians. There’s the story that his
wife ran off with a mathematician. Which is not true, because
he was a bachelor, and he wasn’t married. So it isn’t true at all. He just didn’t value maths. He was interested in physics and
chemistry, and he wasn’t interested in maths. That’s why there is no Nobel
Prize in biology. INTERVIEWER: When you watch
“Good Will Hunting”, does it make you feel good about
mathematics? BRADY HARAN: Yeah. INTERVIEWER: Is it good for
mathematics, that film? BRADY HARAN: Yeah. Because what it does,
is it shows– well, first of all, it shows mathematicians as human beings. They’re not portrayed as nerdy
stereotypes, awkward, or socially awkward or anything
like that. They’re just guys with a job. And that’s what we are. We are just guys with a job. We’re good at our job. What’s wrong with that? And there are genuine
personalities in there. You’ve got the young
mathematician who doesn’t appreciate what he’s got. There’s the Ph.D. student
who’s jealous of all the attention Will Hunting
is getting. We’ve got the professor who is
a regular guy, even though he’s highly regarded in his
field and he’s a very important mathematician,
fictional though he is. He’s a regular guy. He has his own problems. He has his own weaknesses. And it does show that
we are human.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. This is the best commentary I have heard about the Will Hunting movie. The fact that you mentioned William Sidis was interesting because, I was examining the home page of the , ''Prometheus Society'' a high IQ society. On their page was an article called ''The gift of fire'', the story of William Sidis. Have a look. Tnx, JT (IQ 80).

  2. Do mathematicians really use the word “Maths” or is it simply a British term? Seems weird to me over here in the U.S. “Maths” would be plural, but the very definition of “Math” is both singular and plural, correct?

  3. The Fields Medal and the Abel Prize are the top 2 math prizes available. I really like the Fields Medal because the mathematician behind it was a Canadian, and it emphasizes contributions done in the prime of one's mathematical career – namely why the prize is only awarded to those under the age of 40 – rather than like the Nobel Prize which is usually awarded long after a discovery or realization and almost at a point where such knowledge would be considered a little out of fashion.

  4. Every university has that story. Sidis eventually retired to normal life because none of his students would take him seriously at Harvard. What I want you to go over are the rest of the math problems in the movie.The graph problem was of course too easy for the script.

  5. This video is old so perhaps no one will ever see this comment, but I thought the trees had to be homeomorphic. Or was the rule that they couldn't be homeomorphic? I'm confused.

  6. I'm one of the worst students in my math class in germany, but damn I love this channel.
    It made me rise some interest in maths (which I could never even think of 1 year ago). Thanks for showing us how beautiful maths can be!

  7. Some say Antichrist will be a genius.

    Perhaps there is sth to it and George Bernard Dantzig prefigures him … know why?

    G 71 070 01
    B 66 130 07
    D 68 190 15
    A 65 250 20
    N 78 320 28
    T 84 400 32
    Z 90 490 32
    I 73 560 35
    G 71 630 36

  8. Love that explanation, can you do a "thumbnail-sketch" concerning string theory as multi-dimensions, what are these recent theorys driving at, it's almost unimaginable, please, if you may, turn on the lights.

  9. As a side note the soundtrack in the movie is by Elliott Smith ("Between the Bars", "Angeles", "No Name #3", "Say Yes" and "Miss Misery") and there are some similarities to Will in the movie. Elliott Smith was a musical genius, arguably one of the greatest acoustic guitar composers, players and arrangers of all time.

  10. All my life, I'm 72, IQ 132 and went to Grammar School, I've felt I was missing something by not understanding maths, especially Algebra. I get geometry, trigonometry, Pythagorus' theorem, easy. So why is algebra such a mystery?

  11. The very first student you list is almost exactly the same as the beginning of the Stephan Hawking movie Theory of Everything.

  12. Sidis also had written multiple books and may have written more even. But according to them he took an interest in physics, funnily enough.

  13. He would probably have a greater mathematician if he could have been caught and tamed a little in his youth… That sounds like Anakin Skywalker!

  14. Nooooo that's where you cut off the Hardy quote? But the very next sentence is: "On the other hand he would have been less of a Ramanujan, and more of a European professor, and the loss might have been greater than the gain."

    Great video, obviously >.<

  15. Can you guys please invite me to your next little get together?
    As a matter of fact, I'll plan one.
    Will you come if I invite you!?
    You're so fun! I sit at home at my desk in my bedroom and do "maths" with you, on my phone, …almost like you are here!
    I even have sharpies!

  16. The real Will Hunting was my childhood friend, and Damon's classmate, JB. He grew up in the Projects, and went to Harvard on full scholarship. But in reality, there were hundreds of us local Boston kids with high IQs facing a world that thought the idea that even ONE of us existed was so creative and revolutionary that two idiots who wrote a screenplay about the idea were considered so imaginative they were given an award for their brilliance.

  17. Srinivasan Ramanujan – the great mathematician from India especially Tamilnadu (Kanchipuram)
    And I feel so proud that I also from the same place.

  18. If you equate the guy to a genius of course it was torture. I'm no communist but it is all just a power struggle for women, it is torture. And that's does seem like the motivating driver for the majority of the characters

  19. The George Dantzig homework story is extraordinarily similar one about Stephen Hawking, told by his Oxford math professor. While his dormitory mates worked all week to solve just a few of 13 problems, Hawking drank his way through a crate of beer, uninterested in the homework or school. Hawking started the homework the morning of the day the assignment was due. Later, as class time approached, his dorm mates waited for Hawking to come downstairs. One of his mates asked Hawking how he'd done on the homework. Hawking replied that he'd only gotten the first eleven done (only because he'd run out of time). In typical Oxford form, the professor met with students individually to discuss their work. The professor was obviously impressed, yet noted that Hawking seemed completely indifferent. As Hawking left the professor's office he tossed the homework in the waste basket. His professor commented "Anyone else would have framed it." This was before Hawking was diagnosed with ALS. He would later credit ALS for focusing his attention on doing something meaningful with his life, not knowing if he had months or years to live.

  20. Without knowing the two subjects that well, you would presume that somebody with an aptitude for mathematics will be able to transfer their talent to physics. And with how people with exceptional talent generally gravitate through early life as standing out as exceptional until they find a situation where they are grouped with other talented people.. You wonder with the perception of Einstein and Hawking using maths to work out the world… The way kids attach emotional connections to Hero figures… You wonder why anyone exceptional picks pure mathematics?

  21. There is a nobel prize in biology tho. Its split into medicine and physiology since biology is such an expansive field.

  22. Soooooo…Matt Damon isn't that creative. He stole concepts from real life stories and manufactured a new story. Thank you for exposing his secret.

  23. Math is not invented, is discovered. That`s why people can re-discover something that was discovered by others.

  24. I think every teachers and professor should just give unsolved problems at least the first day with their new student, like "here's your first problem of the year, try to solve it as homework, and if you don't, it's okay it's a pretty hard one", and tell them that it is unsolvable only after, this only has benefits : maybe the problem will be solved, the students will learn things by trying, and that will teach them that even if it seems impossible, it doesn't means it is, they would never have even tried if they were told it was unsolved before even showing it, and that's the most important thing, just try

  25. "an IQ of over 250". Oh come on. You're a mathematician, and I know you know darn well that an IQ of 250 would be 10 standard deviations above the mean on a bell curve, so why would you repeat such preposterous claim?

  26. I think if you are at all thoughtful the movie is interesting because in the end Mat Damon chooses very human healthy pursuits over intellectual aggrandizement. I love the film. I do wonder though about Sidis, who no doubt saw communism as a sort of liberation of human affairs, but I wonder how a guy with a IQ of 250 could not realise that one simple advancement in maths or science can often save more lives than any political movement which tends to cost lives.

  27. If only math teachers could show the interest and passion for the subject as this guy does. Honestly, I've always been afraid of maths, but he had me fascinated. A true inspiration…

  28. I came into my final exam an hour late. Differential Equations. It was a two hour test. I finished before anyone else and was the only one who got 100%.

  29. Nice set of mathematical stories. The story about George Danzig is best told in his own account, found in the book Mathematical People. Ramanujan learned his maths, before studying under Hardy at Cambridge, from a synopsis of theorems by Carr. Hardy described the book as not extraordinary, but I have a copy and the book is well organized, interesting, and inspiring. The book is loaded with great inspiring theorems. It is a great book. Upon receipt of Ramanujan's first letter with many stunning theorems, Hardy commented that it couldn't have come from a crackpot and many of the theorems must be true because nobody would have the imagination to dream up such formulations and theorems. George Polya describes (in his book, as I recall entitled The George Polya Picture Book) the one student he had that truely scared him. It was Jon (John) von Neumann. Von Neumann was a student in Polya's course, presumably a number theory course at Gottingen, and Polya went on to described an unproven theorem, commenting that it was probably very difficult to prove. Von Neumann then raised his hand and asked to go to the blackboard, whereupon he rigorously proved the theorem. Polya stated that he was thereafter afraid of the young von Neumann.

  30. Best line in the movie for me was when Will said, 'Maybe I don't want to spend the rest of my effing life explaining things to people.'

  31. I study math as an undergrad myself and I would say that on average our social skills are quite a bit lower compared to students with other majors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *