The Kolmogorov Option

Scott Aaronson in Shtetl-Optimized:

MaxresdefaultKolmogorov was private in his personal and political life, which might have had something to do with being gay, at a time and place when that was in no way widely accepted. From what I’ve read—for example, in Gessen’s biography of Perelman—Kolmogorov seems to have been generally a model of integrity and decency. He established schools for mathematically gifted children, which became jewels of the Soviet Union; one still reads about them with awe. And at a time when Soviet mathematics was convulsed by antisemitism—with students of Jewish descent excluded from the top math programs for made-up reasons, sent instead to remote trade schools—Kolmogorov quietly protected Jewish researchers.

OK, but all this leaves a question. Kolmogorov was a leading and admired Soviet scientist all through the era of Stalin’s purges, the Gulag, the KGB, the murders and disappearances and forced confessions, the show trials, the rewritings of history, the allies suddenly denounced as traitors, the tragicomedy of Lysenkoism. Anyone as intelligent, individualistic, and morally sensitive as Kolmogorov would obviously have seen through the lies of his government, and been horrified by its brutality. So then why did he utter nary a word in public against what was happening?

More here.

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