The Dark Mansion

An inspirational excerpt from “Fermat’s Enigma” by Simon Singh:

…getting this far has required enormous determination to overcome the periods of self-doubt. Wiles describes his experience of doing mathematics in terms of a journey through a dark unexplored mansion. “One enters the first room of the mansion and it’s dark. Completely dark. One stumbles around bumping through the furniture, but gradually you learn where each piece of furniture is. Finally, after six months or so, you find the light switch, you turn it on, and suddenly it’s all illuminated. You can see exactly where you were. Then you move into the next room and spend another six months in the dark. So each of these breakthroughs, while sometimes momentary, sometimes over a period of a day or two, they are the culmination of, and couldn’t exist without, the many months of stumbling around in the dark that precede them.” … “I really believed that I was on the right track, but that did not mean that I would reach my goal.”

Andrew Wiles spent 7 years of dedicated effort to prove Fermat’s Theorem, plus another year fixing a subtle error in the proof. Significant progress, even an outright solution to a problem, is bound to result from the right combination of skills, dedication and detachment from thoughts of rewards or hardship.