Sunday, April 18, 2004

A meta-proof

inspired by pandagon: a meta-proof of P=/!=NP, coming to a newsgroup near you:

P: I would like to announce my proof of P=/!=NP. The proof is very short and demonstrates how to solve/not solve SAT in polynomial time. You may find a write up of the proof here.

|-- V: I started reading your proof and when you claim 'foobar' do you mean 'foobar' or 'phishbang' ?
|----P: I meant 'phishbang'. Thanks for pointing that out. An updated version is here.
|------V: Well if you meant 'phishbang' then statement "in this step we assume the feefum" is incorrect.
|--------P: No no, you don't understand. I can assume feefum because my algorithm has a glemish.
|-----------V: It has a glemish ? !! But having a glemish doesn't imply anything. All algorithms have glemishes !!
|----V': Yes, and in fact in the 3rd step of argument 4, your glemish contradicts the first propum.
|--V'': I think you need to understand some basic facts about complicity theory before you can go further. Here is a book to read.
|----P: My proof is quite clear, and I don't see why I have to explain it to you if you don't understand. I have spent a long time on this.
|------V': Um, this is a famous problem, and there are many false proofs, and so you do have to convince us that the argument using glemishes can actually work.
|--------P: But what is wrong in my proof ? I don't see any problems with it, and if you can't point one out, how can you say it is wrong.
|----------V'''': I don't have to read the entire proof: glemished algorithms are well known not to work.
|------------V'''''': Check out this reference by to see why.
P: <silence>
|--P: <answering earlier post>. This is what I mean by a glemish. it is really a flemish, not a glemish, which answers your objection.
|----P': Keep up the good work P. I tried publishing my result, and these people savaged my proof without even trying to identify a problem. All great mathematical progress has come from amateurs like us. See this link of all the theorems proved by non-experts.
|------V': Oh jeez, not P' again. I thought we had established that your proof was wrong.
|--------P': no you didn't: in fact I have a new version that explains the proof in such simple language even dumb&%&%s like you can get it.
|------P: Thanks P', I understand that there will be resistance from the community since I have proved what they thought to be so hard.
|--V': P, I'm trying to understand your proof, with the flemishes, and it seems that maybe there is a problem in step 517 with the brouhaha technique.
P: <silence>
|----P: V', thanks for pointing out that mistake. you are right. Instead of a brouhaha technique I need a slushpit. The details are complicated, so I will fix it and post a corrected version of the proof shortly. Thanks to all those who gave me constructive advice. I am glad that at least some of you have an open mind to accept new ideas.

This was prompted by the latest P=NP fiasco on comp.theory. I can only express my amazement and wonder at the few tireless souls (and they seem to be the same ones) who patiently try to address each new crackpot proof that comes down the pipe.


  1. that's an interactive proof. This is the reason it does not relativize

  2. Just if this guy were so prone to silence

  3. You don't understand! It works!

    Just kidding. :) This problem is not special to CS or P?= NP. Many open famous math problems receive attention from cranks. I think the best ways to reply to them are:
    1. do not reply. (not very nice, but works.)
    2. reply with an email sending a copy of
    3. If the person is a (lets say) computer science student interested in complexity, I may do a little more and spend a little time to take a look at the proof and encourage the person to continue studying more. If the person starts to act inappropriately I would ask them to write a program to check their solution for the first few thousand instances (my experience shows that most of these are people claiming to have solved an NP-complete problem in polytime). Either they do not do it, or they see that their solution is not correct. I do this just because I think we can and should get young people into complexity and computer science.

  4. Smug academics!

    No wonder Grigori Perelman spurned the "top" prizes from academics - the Fields Medal as well as the million bucks! Academics evaluate everybody else but themselves and each other! Students are to be treated like shit ...


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