Vladimir Voevodsky

Updated 1 year ago

Bak Math Fibonacci Equations

June 4, 1966 – September 30, 2017
Gifted award-winning mathematician, renowned for founding entirely new fields of mathematics and creating groundbreaking new tools for computers to confirm the accuracy of proofs.
New York Times Obituary

Vladimir Voevodsky

In 2002, Vlad was awarded the Fields Medal, which recognizes brilliance and promise in mathematicians under 40.
“Many of us in the greater NYC trance music scene knew him. Didn’t realize he was a famous Fields Medal winner, mathematics’ highest honor. To me, he was just Vlad and not some Fellow at Einstein’s Institute for Advanced Research who was brought into Harvard graduate program with no application or school experience and changed the meaning of the equals sign.
Vlad was wild at heart, a true bohemian. He often drove up from Princeton to NYC and the Pine Barrens. We had many wild and crazy adventures, such as outdoor all-night dance parties in the woods with sound systems light shows and hundreds of people.
I’ll share one of the stories he told me.
One time he was at the Voov music festival in Germany where he was in a teepee doing meth. He didn’t really like meth, it was too hard, but it was all he could get his hands on at the time..He described points where everything was so bleak and dark that he wanted to kill himself and then decide not to, several times a second. Vast eternities between each second. He ended up thinking he got married to the princess of a tribe there in an ornate Indian ceremony where they had all these accouterments and religious objects and a special marriage dress that he described all in great detail… and it all ended up to be a hallucination/misunderstanding.
He REALLY liked Lisa my girlfriend at the time, who was also Russian, and I had to fend him off in my place in Brooklyn 😀 But it was all in good fun and he was a good person, a good heart. He LOVED his daughters.
I don’t know how he died from an aneurysm, but he had a strange habit of making his own Dexedrine from stuff he bought at Wal-Mart. It apparently affected his brain differently from others – rather than a meth effect, it made him hallucinate. I don’t know any of the details, I don’t know where the aneurysm was (usually the brain) and I don’t know if he continued this after the early to mid 2000s, but his recreational activities may have contributed to a weakened heart. 
Vlad somewhat reminds me of another Russian genius who left us way too early, Sasha Chislenko from MIT, who we lost in the 90s to a GHB overdose. There is a fine line between genius and madness. The place the special brain takes the owner can be hard to take. And sometimes very smart people can lock in to esoteric, dangerous drugs and leave us.
Vlad was only 2 years older than me. It was too soon. The loss to humanity of decades of mathematical innovation is stinging. Again, I don’t know of a definite link with his partying. It could have been congenital. To be safe, though, any drug that can kill you in an overdose, like Sasha and the GHB, or taxes your heart over time, like Vlad, must be avoided at all costs.
A part of me feels complicit in having been once part of a party subculture where these kinds of activities were not frowned upon. Because then people can die. And most us, we die, we leave behind family and friends. But some of us, like Vlad, can leave decades of unpublished mathematical theory that may very well, let’s be honest, take centuries to discover. That’s a whole other level of tragedy.
Regardless, his genius endures and his contribution to mathematics will be immortal. His was an extraordinary life, lived to the absolute fullest.
I miss you Vlad. You made me a better person by even knowing you. Take care, my friend.

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