Tag Archives: geek

xkcd meets reality

Earlier this week, xkcd posted a fantastic comic about the apocalypse happening and the dead rising to walk the earth. In the comic, mathematicians scribbled frantically and raced to Paul Erdos’ grave to get him to sign a document that is presumably co-authorship on a paper. (For the uninitiated, read about the Erdos number.)

Anyhow, I forwarded this to Henry Cohn – a mathematician friend of mine – who sent me the most hysterical email that I just had to share:

By the way, there’s no need to wait until the end times to write papers with dead mathematicians. One example of this is the paper “Higher algebraic K-theory of schemes and of derived categories” by R. W. Thomason and Thomas Trobaugh, which Thomason wrote with his deceased friend Trobaugh after Trobaugh appeared to him in a dream:

“The first author must state that his coauthor and close friend, Tom Trobaugh, quite intelligent, singularly original, and inordinately generous, killed himself consequent to endogenous depression. Ninety-four days later, in my dream, Tom’s simulacrum remarked, ‘The direct limit characterization of perfect complexes shows that they extend, just as one extends a coherent sheaf.’ Awaking with a start, I knew this idea had to be wrong, since some perfect complexes have a non-vanishing K_0 obstruction to extension. I had worked on this problem for 3 years, and saw this approach to be hopeless. But Tom’s simulacrum had been so insistent, I knew he wouldn’t let me sleep undisturbed until I had worked out the argument and could point to the gap. This work quickly led to the key results of this paper. To Tom, I could have explained why he must be listed as a coauthor.”