Paul Erdos, the wandering dervish

It’s 1999 and I am reading in a special issue of Time magazine about the geniuses of the second millennium: Einstein, Einstein, Einstein and finally a short article about this “mad looking” guy and W O W…I discovered a wandering dervish, a nomadic mathematician: Paul Erdos!

Both his parents were high school mathematics teachers. Erdos (pronounced AIR-dosh) was as generous as he was brilliant with his ideas—never hoarding them and always sharing them with whoever was ready to give him a place to stay and work with him on the joyous and collaborative activity of mathematics: he would show up at their doorstep and say:” My Mind is Open!”

And this is how the myth of the Erdos Number or the “collaborative distance” between an author and Erdos was created: Erdos himself is assigned Erdos number 0. Mathematicians who have written papers with Erdos (511 by 2007) receive Erdos number 1. Writing a paper with someone having Erdos Number 1 earns the author Erdos Number 2, etc…
I made this image of the name of the 8,162 people with the Erdos Number of 2:

Addicted to coffee and amphetamines he was most of the time, super alert, achingly lucid. He wrote papers with more than 500 people, the optimum” intellectual promiscuity”…

Finding  that “property is nuisance,” Erdos had no home, no car, no checks to write and no income taxes to pay; a mathematical pilgrim with no home and no job: the real wandering dervish who founded the field of discrete mathematics, which is the foundation of computer science. “In the years before the Internet, there was Paul Erdos.”

To check out the funny side of the ‘collaborative distance” visit

Here are some funny quotes by Erdos:

“Finally I’m becoming stupider no more…”

“God may not play dice with the universe, but something strange is going on with the prime numbers.”

“There are three signs of senility. The first sign is that a man forgets his theorems. The second sign is that he forgets to zip up. The third sign is that he forgets to zip down.”

To see Erdos tell a funny joke go here

To see parts of N is a number, a documentary about him by George Paul Csicsery, go here

Today is my blog’s third anniversary!