Hello, dear friends, we continue painting portraits of our contemporaries. And today our guest is Alexei Savvateyev. Good afternoon, Mr. Savvateyev!
Hello, good afternoon!
I am very happy to greet you in our studio, I have been eager to talk to a mathematician for a very long time.
Thank you for inviting me, it was a pleasure for me to come here. And generally, after they had told me that I was invited to the show, I understood what it was related to — to the interview in Foma magazine.
Well, to some extent yes, but we have been keeping an eye on you for a long time, yes.
Ah, now it’s clear.
Alexei Vladimirovich, let me remind you just in case, we have five topics, as I have told you: faith, hope, patience, forgiveness, love — these are related to completion of the Optina Elders’ prayer, related in the sense that we have structured our show around these topics.
I know which topic will be the hardest for me, but I will keep it to myself for now.
Of these five topics there is a dedicated topic which does not come easy to me.
Is that so! Interesting, thank you for the confession, we will try to find it out. So, these are almost all the rules, the only thing is, like I told you, we have a tradition, I always ask my guests a self-identity question, how could you answer the question: who are you?
I am a communicator of mathematics for children and adults, meaning I carry the torch of mathematics for the masses, If I could add a bit of drama. Simply put, I travel around the country and show that mathematics is beautiful and that it’s not those scary squiggles you were taught: repeat one hundred times a root extraction formula to solve a quadratic equation, something like this, but mathematics is exclusive and it is pure beauty of God,
Yes, you said that mathematics is a language of God, I think you may have said this somewhere some time…
Actually this is a statement of my colleagues, professional mathematicians. I have stepped aside a little bit, I am no longer at the front lines of mathematics, I write articles every now and then, well, my co-authors and I discuss topics, then my co-authors write articles, I mean I no longer do mathematics as a science, I am trying to make out what has already been created, this will be enough for ten more lives. And these friends of mine, who do real mathematics, they say: mathematics is a language for communicating with God, it’s just a language to talk to God, a direct conversation with God. There are religious ways, like prayer, one could call upon, ask for something, and one could just talk. So, they think this is the situation. Well, it sounds a bit bold, but there is something to it, there is some truth in it. God gave us this language so one could express one's thoughts in a clear and precise way.
Alexei Vladimirovich, let us talk about miracles.
In one of your interviews, I believe it could have been the interview to Foma magazine, you said that there were miracles in your life, and told a fascinating story of you taking off your baptismal cross and leaving it on a beach, then your friends searching all over the beach …
I see that you are leaving disgusting details out?
Well, they are not so important here, it seems to me, but we are rousing the curiosity so people would read the interview. So, your friends raked the beach and failed to find it, and then in your dream you saw where it was, you ran there and found it.
White sand, transparent sand with real bushes, actual…
Is this what you saw in your dream?
Yes, I saw that.
Ah, so mathematics keeps working in a dream?
…to a centimeter, to a centimeter, I woke up and it was all there in my head, I ran to the place, calculating, and the first thing that I saw was the cross. I swear, this is exactly how it happened.
But that’s not my question yet, my question actually is: in you interview you yourself said that this would not convince an atheist, he would make something up …
Yes, for instance, an atheist friend of mine, a die-hard religious atheist, essentially, atheism is a system of beliefs, a very fanatic system. And people belonging to this system, their goal is to serve this god, “god of absence of god”, by having to explain any story by lack of God, any story, it is a game of sorts: give me any story, a most miraculous story, and I would lay out for you how could it happen if there were no God, and they keep playing this game throughout their lives, that’s how they are made. And this friend of mine said right away, that you actually saw it on the first night, but you just hadn’t picked it up, you remembered it and then saw it in your dream. Well, it’s hard to object here, we can neither prove nor disprove this statement.
And here is my question: there is this concept of a miracle, that a miracle is something that is usually called supernatural. And Christian understanding, as I see it, is that a miracle is a display of God’s mercy, will, if you like, of this conversation of God with us …
I got you.
How do you describe a miracle, what is a miracle to you?
An excellent question. It is absolutely obvious to me that it could be in any way, simple, meaning there are extraordinary situations, just direct intervention, straightforward, with local cancellation of the laws of physics, what they call.
“Local” is a key word here, no one gives it a thought usually.
Indeed, Oleg Verkhodanov, my friend and quite a committed atheist, just like my other friend, Eduard, the one I have told you about before, so, Oleg says local cancellation is impossible, it is against the laws of physics, and I tell him: listen, everything is possible for God, he can cancel your vision of the laws for a second, this is a philosophic dispute, but the thing is that I assume there can be actual miracles. After all, our view of the world, related to laws, our knowledge of laws — if I drop a stone one hundred times, it would always fall down the same way, — it is related to our own studying of the world, experimenting and getting absolute strong beliefs that this will always happen this way. I do not think that 3000 years ago there was this absolute necessity. This is to say I am not sure, for instance, when they say in the Bible that the sea parted, — I do not know, they always throw punches at me for this, I say I am not at all sure that the sea did not actually part in the literal sense, maybe it was a parable, maybe it was described … let’s say, six days of creation, six acts of creation, six days, is that so?
Yes, it wasn’t a 24-hour period.
It obviously wasn’t 24 hours, because there was no Earth yet, and 24-hour period means rotation, but this is our understanding of 24 hours, this is how we read this, was this translated this way some time by somebody, wasn’t it?
Certainly, by all means.
There was a thought that there were six fundamental acts of will, and they passed. But in the case with the sea — God only knows, it could have parted for real, because something that we all, everyone of us today knows for sure, this system of the laws of physics, it dominates our brain, but perception of reality is perception of reality via our brain. When people ingest strange substances, they get into most strange realities, and we all are perfectly aware of this, and in these strange realities there are obviously different laws of physics …
Or animals also have a different view of the world …
Well, animals do have, but an animal, if it tries to measure, it will also fall just the same way, God knows. I mean I would not ban anything apriori. I think direct miracles are quite possible, and moreover, I think there has been a number of miracles in the history of the Earth, but it could never be proven that a specific miracle had taken place, because a thousand more people around would make it up that they had seen something of the sort …
Indeed, and somebody who saw this miracle, would definitely invent something more, meaning he had not only seen the sea part, but there were also some devils dancing, by all means, there would be more human speculations: a man saw something incredible, but he was so stupefied by it that he is now inventing more details. This is something that would never ultimately be turned into a science, meaning that by the laws of science a miracle is impossible …
It is impossible.
But this is about a truly outstanding miracle. And the miracles you mentioned later, the miracles of things going miraculously lucky, we managed to catch a bus a second before its doors closed, and this helped us catch an airport express train one second before its doors closed, and then ultimately we made it to a plane one second before registration closure — there is nothing supernatural here, but if you take a product of these probabilities, it would be very close to zero. So generally speaking it would of course be a miracle, but you cannot present any laws, there was no violation of the laws of physics. Overall, there is a lot of play with probability.
I believe, I hope that we will have some more time to talk about this. I would also like to ask you about science and religion, because you communicate with young people a lot, and I do too, I have been teaching since 1995, and young people have changed very much over this time, changed drastically. But you know, what strikes me most: it seems to me there is a constant belief even with my freshmen students, who most certainly weren’t raised during Soviet times, who do not know what is scientific atheism, but still they have this idea, somehow embedded in their heads, that science is about the real structure of the world, and religion is all made up and a bunch of fairy tales, and these must contradict each other. Where do you think this comes from?
From education, of course. There are several very famous dudes, running around and pushing this position everywhere. I could call them by names, you know them as well as I do …
So you think this is…
Of course, they put great pressure on everyone, and so to speak, when my friend, a biologist, a PhD just like Alexander Yurievich Panchin, says that advent of life happening by pure chance is completely absurd, so completely it hardly merits discussion, and Panchin immediately starts explaining that these molecules were essentially formed, they were fixed by natural selection, just like they roll the dice, as they say, we have in hindsight, again this game, this means we have to distort everything, turn it upside down, only for our picture to show that there could not be a God. This means we would go any lengths, make any adjustments to keep this feeling in heads of people.
Essentially science is a part of the system of learning the world, which relates to repetition of situations and to establishment of laws. This means that repetitive situations may contain laws of the nature of their repetition, but if you would imagine that you are creating the world, this would of course be…
…an audacious attempt, but still, if you were creating this world, and you would definitely set game rules, you would not be marking down every second. It would be completely senseless to assume that God does everything with his own hands every second, it is clear that He would leave laws to people, so they could use these laws too later, to build an airplane, it is only natural that God would leave us these laws. Science studies these laws, this means it studies what has been left to us, what we could use. But any regular scientist of proper standing knows all too well that there are red flags put up in every science, lines one should not cross. And I wonder, who but God would put up these flags.
And what are these flags?
Well, for instance, in mathematics it is Godel's incompleteness theorem.
Incompleteness, yes, but we need to explain this somehow to our esteemed viewers.
I can tell you this: I learned this theorem and passed an exam, and it was my fourth year with the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics of the MSU, and I said: listen, is there anyone in this room who is still an atheist after all this?
Did you really mean it? (Laughing.)
I did, and right after this I heard: “Ah, Savvateyev, you with your God again, get out of here, this is just a formal statement, it has no relation to God whatsoever …” She said that any uncontroversial axiomatic theory has a true statement, which cannot be proved, concluded from its axioms. Just think about it: a statement is true but cannot be proved — what is this? This is not simply indirect, this is a red flag right here, a red flag: you cannot cross this line, a brain should not go any further — this is in mathematics, but mathematics has a lot of this, actually God’s ears can be seen in every corner in mathematics, as I say. Just the same, physics has its own laws, beyond which we cannot go. For instance, why can’t we forecast weather, why there is still no understanding how to forecast it? It’s theoretically impossible.
A system of equations to reflect 3D movements of air masses: pressure, temperature, humidity — these cannot be integrated in any precise sense of the word, further away than a six-day horizon, and this is a theoretical borderline, then there are averaged modes, but no one can do these now …
So everything that goes beyond six days, potentially would be …
Rubbish, but sometimes it works, since why would rubbish work at all? This is because we make comparisons with the previous history of the climate, let’s say, 150 years back-to-back, we look at different places and choose those situations that are very similar to present day, this is essentially machine learning, just like machine learning: learning a lot of what has happened and just making forecasts, as it was in those cases. And yes, it does work and even quite often, but far from always, and from time to time there are giant failures of these forecasts. The point is that these nonlinear systems of differential equations, the mankind will never, not just today, but will never be able to forecast, if input data isn’t true, is not accurate, and there is no accurate data in the real world, because once again, God gave us the probability theory for a reason, so we do not go too far out.
Alexei Vladimirovich, let us go back to the subject of mathematics being a language of God, on the one hand, and on the other hand, and you have said many times that science and faith are perpendicular …
Yes, we are only studying these laws …
Yes, indeed, but look, I also believe that they answer different questions, religion answers target setting questions — “For what?”, science more likely answers “why and how?” question, and generally there cannot be any conflict. But I had a guest, Vladimir Martynov, a wonderful composer, and he said that at a deeper level both faith and knowledge overlap, because you cannot believe in something you do not know, and you cannot know what you do not believe in. What would you think of this? This means they do not overlap in a man, as in your case: you are a scientist and you are a believer, and faith and knowledge are at a deeper level, this statement?
Yes, this is true.
You believe it is so, don’t you?
Moreover, when you are at a very profound stage in mathematics or in any other science, your further development in this science is a question of your will, I mean, faith, ultimately it does not matter, where you would go, what you would consider important, which directions seem promising to you, — these are also external issues, outside of science.
This is intuition, isn’t it?
This is intuition, which stacks up, and it stacks up, by all means, based on your great work that you did when you studied this science, but at the same time something new adds up, this is where inspiration comes from: this is where you should go. And all this, indeed, most likely, again comes from “up above”. And this is why a man who has reached real heights in science, I don’t know, they do give some examples, Panchin and company, they give examples of some atheists, but these are always some exclusive cases. This means that most of the greatest scientists, just absolutely overwhelming majority, believed in God. And if we recall our great mathematicians: Euler, Shafarevich, who lived in the XX century, they were so devout that a German king, for instance, said about Euler: “He smells of a priest”, Euler got his family together for prayer every day. But here is this thing: there are phenomenons like Einstein, meaning the man came to something external, but he does not understand what this is, he does not belong to a religious tradition. He sees that everything that happens is directed by an external mind or something like it, but he does not call it anything, he does not call it God …
But they say that Einstein actually was a pantheist, that he deified nature to some extent …
It is very hard to understand his views, but most definitely they were not atheistic, this is 100 percent true, this is a look to something that exists externally. We discussed it with Priest Andrey Tkachev once, he invited me and we discussed that there were several stages of becoming religious, and the first one is when you are rendered speechless, just actually stunned, that there is something external, it exists somewhere. Just as it happened to me when I got baptized, I simply saw this huge outer world, which was somewhere outside of all this mathematics, hardest mathematics, which I studied at School No. 57, it just dawned on me that there are things that describe human relations, for instance. How does mathematics describe human relations? The answer is – in no way: in no way and never. And all these hard feelings, because words can hurt. If there were an atheist right here and I would call him a goat, would he be offended or wouldn’t he?
Indeed, why? But would this hurt his feelings?
And what laws define his hurt feelings?
Alexei, if you call me a goat, though I am not an atheist, it would hurt my feelings too. (Laughing.)
It is clear to a believer why this would hurt someone’s feelings, to a person, who knows that there are morals along with laws of science: it is clear that this wasn’t justified and all that. But if there is only chemistry and biology, where do these grievances come from? Where do these huge grievances come from … as soon as a society departs from a model …
It is a good argument, indeed.
Indeed, if an atheist says: “There is no God, I am writing an equation, that’s it” — it’s wonderful, but we can recall various situations when this was reduced to absurdity, when a whole country lived by these laws, what can we recall, which life stories do we recall? We recall the late 18-th century — the Cult of Reason in France, I have only just read Pelevin, his latest book, there is a very good description of all this, a very vivid description: when heads rolled non-stop, rivers of blood. Then there were 1930s in our country…
By all means, yes.
…and some other examples like Pol Pot, Hitler. Right away infernal evil springs to mind, as soon as we deviate from the concept that human relations in fact are directed by religion, and not by any science, as soon as science attempts to play this role, there are millions of victims in an instant. This means science has no right to ever encroach on this, human relations are for religion only.
Alexei, let’s see, now there are no totalitarian regimes, of course, but they keep on saying that our future is science, which is “soon we will live for two hundred years, then there will be digital immortality” and such…
Yes, this is next, utterly horrible …
Is there the danger you have mentioned?
Yes, there is, this is horrible danger. This is even worse, since previously it could have been pointed out to them, have a look, you killed many millions of people, you atheists did this, it was not us, you point at some individual excesses in the Catholic Church, not even in the Orthodox one, these were much rarer in the Orthodox Church, but you are not just guilty as sin, you are guilty as a mortal sin. And if this was possible earlier, then now there is nothing to point at. I say: look what have you come to, where have you taken the civilization, when somewhere in the Netherlands, in England there are serious discussions of “parent number one” and “parent number two”, sex change is being discussed … I am at a total loss, a person who has changed his sex, — how can he get to the paradise? I cannot even imagine this, such horror, it may require deepest repentance of everything, what has happened to him, what has led to this. And this is a regular situation to them! This means we live like apes, I am saying people in the West live just like apes, if you wish — you can change your sex, if you wish — man lives with man, if you wish— it’s over, there is nothing. And what differs a man from an ape — essentially the difference is in religion only.
Alexei, these very atheists we have started to discuss with you today, they often say: believers are weak people, they are self-serving, this is why …
Of course we are weak, this is true, and they are all like Nietzsche. Indeed, absolute truth. Yes, I am a very weak man, I do not understand how can one live without knowing there is something in store for you after death, I just do not understand, how can one be doing anything at all. I travel around with my lectures. Where does Panchin get his inspiration from, where does Gelfand draw his inspiration and talents from? From the very same source, they just don’t know it. A man can never draw inspiration from within himself, never, inspiration is an external thing, yes, we are weak, but we see no controversies in this. It seems very strange: people of science, who seek for lack of controversies, are actually full of them, and those people who recognize controversies, they unload this burden by this, the burden that everything has to be done logically, we take it off. I am a mathematician, but I do very illogical things in my life, I have the right to it and I don’t care, why should I have an obligation to be rational? I do not owe it to anyone. I am very weak, I wouldn’t ever find the strength to do anything, but for drinking, if I had not known that …
And it is not a figure of speech, you’ve been through this.
I have gone through this big time. If only I knew that I will get away with it on the other side, I’d be drinking away my whole life, I’d drink just fine, like an ape, that would be it. But there was this understanding, which came every time, when you feel consequences in the morning and you understand that this is deception, biologists are saying that it’s just some substances poisoning your brain — in fact, these are demons that come to take you away, and we are perfectly aware of this. And this is what keeps me from falling, I mean the understanding that this path will take you to an infernal place, you can get there, they may not save you in the last second, especially if you die drunk, isn’t it so? But overall this is scary, this horror was very important for me. And I cannot stop myself, I cannot just drink one shot, like a regular person, I am a very weak man, I cannot drink one shot or ten shots and say I’ve had enough, — I must drink up every drink around me, anywhere around, any drink I could see. And then this may end in death, and it will be very hard to get where I need to get. This is where my life … indeed, I live like a slave, under the lash, and this is good, what’s not to like? My mathematics videos are released as a result of me living as a weak person, like a servant, essentially I live like a servant of God.
And your hope — what do you hope for?
I hope, of course, like we all hope, that we will get where we deserve to get.
What is there, like a priest told me: what matters most is that “there” does not fail. (Both laughing.)
Yes, of course…
Because things here fail all the time, and the main thing is that things do not fail there.
Yes, religion, some, every system of knowledge of what happens after death, — this is what a religion is, something that is essentially unverifiable, because no experiment is possible, this is why it is not science, science is about what’s here, and religion is about what’s there. But when you read religious texts, if you read them for a long time, and you get in deep, you understand some laws, why are the commandments designed this way, almost for mathematical reasons, almost, that is to say there are very similar things. If some properly adjusted strings are broken, structures gradually fall apart and that’s it — you missed it. But very similar things happen in higher mathematics, I mean, when you know really complex structures, there are things that are similar to the commandments there: here it’s best to do this and it would be correct, and this way of thinking will get you nowhere…
Once again, it turns out that knowledge converges.
It does not matter, science without faith is for drop-outs, mediocre students, for those who are happy to get their university graduation certificates, for those who get their PhD and run around telling everyone how smart they are without any religion, this is for… ignoramuses, this ignoramus of today is this sort of creature.
I would like to talk about this fabulous definition of yours, you say “you can talk this way to adults, and young people are infected with nirvana-like indifference” — I liked it very much, could you please explain what this is? I could only guess what this is …
This is when a person lives his life and there’s little else that he needs, he grabs his laptop, calls a taxi, drives to the city of Vidnoye, it’s up to him to decide, he may do it today and tomorrow he may decide to go for a hillside walk someplace. This man is a software programmer, he does not need to work to make ends meet, he makes quick money, he is rather intelligent to provide for his needs, he does not need a family, because he considers it a burden. Once again, a family in the modern world — there is no such word here, but actually people make great sacrifices, and these indifferent people, living in nirvana, they are not ready to make these sacrifices. What happens here: I owe you something, I owe you, let us meet once or once again, if we like it, but there is no reason for us to bind ourselves with obligations, and then there will be children, they will need to be raised. This sort of attitude, this is a risk, the new world is raising people incapable of further reproduction. But in this case I would express solidarity with evolutionists, because it is clear that neither homosexuals, nor these child-free persons have any chances for survival in this evolutionary race, because they will not leave any descendants. This is why evolution is a wonderful thing in a sense, I am not against evolution, I say yes to intraspecific evolution.
Under the section of hope I wanted to ask you this: what can we do about this nirvana-like indifference? What can we say to these people?
There’s no way.
This is natural selection, if they do not have any children, other people will have.
But even this software programmer that you have so wonderfully described, is there any way to talk to him about faith?
He would say: “I don’t know, some God, what would I need him for, I have no personal use for him”. I heard an opinion: “I don’t know, there is some holy war you have there, Savvateyev, there is God, there is no God, what would I care if he exists or not?” I said: “Do you know what will happen to you after death, or you have no idea?” — “There’s a thousand years till death”. So it’s clear, isn’t it?
That’s only till first illness.
Of course, so there is nothing to be done here, let him live. And I… people who are very close to me, who help me a lot, there are guys who think that way, and my thinking is: for now we are in the same boat with them, I pray for them, is it clear?
Yes, it is.
If, God willing, I go to Heaven, I will pull them up on a rope. But this is only while we are in the same boat. I mean, to put it bluntly, they trust me, they do not believe in God, they trust me, I am responsible for them now and that’s fine, while they are young, not so mature — this is perfectly fine that I am simply responsible for them. And in this regard, I think, that there is no need in trying to convince them of anything, they perceive it as a part of hype: “there, Savvateyev had a row with somebody on TV — cool, we’re gonna have more subscribers”, so this is the approach of today. But when some of them are hit by something like a ton of bricks or someone falls in love for real, in earnest, he will build a family and be a regular person. So I believe there is always hope, there’s hope for them, and outside of them, meaning someone will stay by oneself, and someone will ultimately marry, even as late as at 45 years old. Girls do have to be careful about this: if she plays around too long, she’d be an old woman no one would want, and it’s no problem for a guy, he can play around for a long time.