Eureka! For Princeton math whiz Andrew Wiles, tackling an equation is like groping around in a dark mansion, finding the light switch, and suddenly seeing, with utter clarity, where you are. But in Wiless case, the mathematical challenge of his … see full wiki
In terms of practical value, the solution to Fermat's Last Theorem is lacking. However, in terms of magnitude, it is an enormous achievement. Any potential solver would have to possess all of the following traits: ability, optimism, persistence and confidence, all of which are necessary but none of which is paramount over the others. Andrew Wiles, the solver of the problem, possesses all of these traits in abundance. His place in history is assured and in this tape you learn how it came about. You cannot help but be moved by the passion Wiles has for the problem. At one point he becomes overcome with emotion when trying to explain his struggle to resolve it. It is also clear that his colleagues have no jealousy towards him as a result of his accomplishments. This also helps explain how he was able to work on the problem in close to complete secrecy. While all mathematicians have heard of the problem and probably think about it from time to time, most considered it a dead end where you could spend years of your life and come up with nothing. Wiles is quite right when he says that he understood the problem while in grade school; in fact almost anyone can understand the problem. While the details of the proof are of course beyond nearly everyone, the approach in this tape is such that almost no mathematics is needed to understand the presentation. The story line is that of the human elements of a search for a great prize, and the mechanics of the search are therefore secondary. I found it a riveting piece of film, as in it Wiles becomes the hero in a battle with the forces of nature in pursuit of a great prize. The final and significant point is the question concerning what Fermat actually had as a proof. Clearly, whatever he did bears no resemblance to that of the proof created by Wiles. This is a tape that can be understood by all math students from middle school on. It is a story of triumph over great odds as a result of courage, persistence and ability. There are many such tales in human history and this one is from mathematics.
Published in Mathematics and Computer Education, reprinted with permission.