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Are there any examples of mathematical crackpots who turned out to be right? By crackpot, I mean someone who is not a mathematician whose mathematical theories were not taken seriously, but turned out to be correct.

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closed as not a real question by Arthur Fischer, Phira, Ayman Hourieh, Thomas Andrews, Davide Giraudo Dec 7 '12 at 18:47

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That doesn't really make sense if you think about it, if they're theories turned out to be correct wouldn't they be a mathematician? –  Math_Illiterate Dec 7 '12 at 18:13
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I have voted to close this question because the crackpot label is not about being an outsider or doing research that is out of fashion, it is about communication failure and lack of perspective and autocriticism. It is not useful to answer a question about this label with stories about Ramanujan, Hippasos or Cantor. –  Phira Dec 7 '12 at 18:41
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I disagree (not with the closure, per se). "Crackpot" suggests one who maintains a position against the status quo, despite pressure to conform. A "crackpot" proven right over time becomes an enlightened thinker with courage to stand up for what he believes. In that individual's contemporary context, however, that is not always the case. Consider also Galileo, Copernicus, etc. –  Arkamis Dec 7 '12 at 18:52
    
I don't understand the dismissal or correction of the term crackpot. Sureshs defined his term, which is what is done on these boards all the time. Not only that, but I think he defined it well. People have been called crackpots many times who had good theories. Martin Gardner is one of the ones who championed the term and brought it to modern prominence. Remember what he said about Rene Thom and Catastrophe theory? This is a perfectly valid question, with many good, illustrative answers on how one should actually do math. –  ex0du5 Dec 7 '12 at 20:32
    
Intuitionism. Finitism. Ultrafinitism (which is probably the most accurate view of mathematics as it physically operates in the universe). Heck, even Perelman was laughed at by his contemporaries at Steklov before he published online and went into seclusion. The early discussions on infinity, constructivism, and sets was loaded with labelling of alternative ideas as non-serious, even nonsensical. –  ex0du5 Dec 7 '12 at 20:38

2 Answers 2

Legend has it that Pythagoras would put to death anyone who promoted the idea that $\sqrt{2}$ was irrational. To the Pythagoreans, surely such an individual would be considered a crackpot. They're ideas turned out to be right in the end, nevertheless.

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This is a bad example on many counts, not least because the Pythagoreans took this quite seriously. –  Phira Dec 7 '12 at 18:21
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That it was taken quite seriously is exactly why it is a good example. –  Arkamis Dec 7 '12 at 18:49

While he should never be called a crackpot, the story of Ramanujan is certainly interesting and illustrates that good math might start life in obscurity. When he sent his work to Cambridge, it was initially written off as nonsense because the notation and logical structure wasn't standard. It wasn't until Hardy saw his work and realized Ramanujan's talent and brought him to England.

Also, I agree with the above comment - if someone (anyone) creates mathematics that stand the test of logic and time, that person is by definition a mathematician. It doesn't matter what their "job title" is. A doctor who makes art is still an artist!

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We all start life in obscurity, you know. –  Did Dec 7 '12 at 18:49
    
Well, what I meant by that is not all good math comes from the top universities etc. –  icurays1 Dec 7 '12 at 18:54
    
Hardy's response wasn't like that. He immediately recognized Ramanujan's extraordinary talent. –  John Bentin Dec 7 '12 at 20:17
    
You're right, I remembered the story a bit wrong. He had tried to contact others before Hardy and they had ignored him. Moot point anyway, question is closed... –  icurays1 Dec 7 '12 at 20:22

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