Andrew Wiles: Obsession, Proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem

Fermat’s Last Theorem states that no three positive integers a, b, and c can satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than two. This theorem was first conjectured by Pierre de Fermat in 1637, and it remained unsolved for over three hundred years. Andrew Wiles proved the theorem in 1994.

What’s fascinating is how long Andrew Wiles spent working on this theorem (answer: seven years). In a great interview with NOVA, Andrew Wiles explains his obsession:

I used to come up to my study, and start trying to find patterns. I tried doing calculations which explain some little piece of mathematics. I tried to fit it in with some previous broad conceptual understanding of some part of mathematics that would clarify the particular problem I was thinking about. Sometimes that would involve going and looking it up in a book to see how it’s done there. Sometimes it was a question of modifying things a bit, doing a little extra calculation. And sometimes I realized that nothing that had ever been done before was any use at all. Then I just had to find something completely new; it’s a mystery where that comes from. I carried this problem around in my head basically the whole time. I would wake up with it first thing in the morning, I would be thinking about it all day, and I would be thinking about it when I went to sleep. Without distraction, I would have the same thing going round and round in my mind.

Have your ever been consumed by anything on this scale?