ISSN 00623604, Russian Journal of Developmental Biology, 2010, Vol. 41, No. 3, pp. 198–199. © Pleiades Publishing, Inc., 2010.
Original Russian Text © T.V. Gelfand, 2010, published in Ontogenez, 2010, Vol. 41, No. 3, pp. 239–240.
On October 5, 2009, one of the greatest mathema
ticians of the 20th century, Israel Moiseevich Gelfand,
passed away. His outstanding contribution to mathe
matics and works on biology and medicine cannot be
fully measured by usual metrics. He organized and
conducted for many years two seminars famous all
over the world, thus contributing significantly to edu
cation. Many of his disciples became famous mathe
maticians. He also had a profound influence on the
people he encountered.
I will not elaborate on his scientific achievements
as I hope his numerous colleagues and disciples will do
that. I will just mention a few essential points.
First of all, about mathematics. When asked which
area of mathematics he studied, Gelfand would reply,
“Mathematics,” often surprising his interlocutor.
Mathematics was for Gelfand an amazing example of
a language which allows people of various cultures to
understand each other and cooperate. He considered
mathematics a part of universal culture, like music or
poetry. In the introduction to a report at the “Unity of
Mathematics” conference, in celebration of his
90th birthday, he said, “Many people consider mathe
matics a boring and formal science. But every really
good work in mathematics always comprises beauty,
simplicity, accuracy, and wild ideas.” He noted that
these traits are also characteristic of classical music
and poetry. In fact, all these traits were characteristic
of Israel Moiseevich himself.
Mathematics was for Gelfand a way to learn and
teach others to think clearly and also to speak and
write clearly and to the point. I do not know the pre
cise details about how the mathematic correspon
dence school in Moscow works, though I have had
Gelfand’s book, written for this school, since child
hood. For the American analog of this school
(GCPM), the materials for which we prepared
together, Gelfand chose this principle: “It is impossi
ble to know everything in our era of fast change. The
goal is to learn how to learn.”
Gelfand was nominated as an honorary member of
many leading universities and academies around the
world and received a number of prestigious awards. He
viewed his universal recognition with a pinch of
LOSSES OF SCIENCE
A Few Words about Gelfand