In Slate today, I have a piece about Yitang Zhang’s amazing proof of the bounded gaps conjecture. Actually, very little of the article is about Zhang himself or his proof; I wanted instead to explain why mathematicians believed that bounded gaps (or twin primes) was true in the first place, via Cramér’s heuristic that primes behave like random numbers.
And a lot of twin primes is exactly what number theorists expect to find no matter how big the numbers get—not because we think there’s a deep, miraculous structure hidden in the primes, but precisely because we don’t think so. We expect the primes to be tossed around at random like dirt. If the twin primes conjecture were false, that would be a miracle, requiring that some hitherto unknown force be pushing the primes apart.