Signs of Modern Astronomy Seen in Ancient Babylon - "Scientists have found a small clay tablet with markings indicating that a sort of precalculus technique was used to track Jupiter's motion in the night sky." [more inside]
Sci-Fi Author (and Metafilter's own) Charlie Stross has an interesting thought experiment: Could you get to a technological society without the use of writing? And if so, what would that look like?
The word algebra stems from the Arabic word al-jabr, which has its roots in the title of a 9th century manuscript written by the mathematician Al-Khwarizmi. The Kitab al-mukhtasar fi hisab al-jabr wal-muqabala (The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing) was a pioneering piece of work - offering practical answers for land distribution, rules on inheritance and distributing salaries. This treatise also underpins the science of flight and the engineering behind the fastest car in the world. via
The Role of Writers in a STEM Obsessed Society
“As writers, it’s easy to think of how we matter to literature classrooms, but what the appointment of writers-in-residence in hospitals, history classrooms, foreign language learning spaces, and cooking schools reminds us is that we are relevant wherever there is humanity—which is to say, wherever humans are with their stories. Writing is healing. Writing is art. Writing is learning. As such, writing across the disciplines matters. Many models of artist residencies depend upon the retreat model, wherein the artist sequesters herself away with a small community of other artists. While these models have value, especially when considering how solitude relates to the creative process, it’s heartening to me to see more models catch on that value the place of the writer in society, rather than hidden away from it.”
Understanding e to the pi i - "An intuitive explanation as to why e to the pi i equals -1 without a hint of calculus. This is not your usual Taylor series nonsense." (via via; reddit; previously) [more inside]
Despite Western anxieties over Muslim conquest, traditions of Islamic astronomy and the portability of ritual space in Islam find Muslims at home among the stars. [more inside]
How did something as loud as a bell—something which is experienced so much more often, and more powerfully, by hearing than by sight—become dumb?[more inside]
While the concept of shunya or "zero", both as place holder in the decimal system and as "null" or "nothingness" has been historically attributed to the Indian mathematician/astronomer Aryabhata, it was when I went to search for its history and impact that whole new world was revealed. From culture and art to spiritual practice, the concept of zero has captured the imagination of many throughout the ages. Books have been written, its origins debated while the etymology of the word itself sometimes replaces understanding. From a disconcerting concept of nothingness to the ubiquitous misspelling of the one followed by a hundred zeros, Shunya today is more than just the gaping void it originally represented.
Using computer systems for doing mathematical proofs - "With the proliferation of computer-assisted proofs that are all but impossible to check by hand, Hales thinks computers must become the judge." [more inside]
The origins of plus and minus signs - "There be other 2 signes in often use of which the first is made thus + and betokeneth more: the other is thus made – and betokeneth lesse."
What is the smallest prime? "It seems that the number two should be the obvious answer, and today it is, but it was not always so. There were times when and mathematicians for whom the numbers one and three were acceptable answers. To find the first prime, we must also know what the first positive integer is. Surprisingly, with the definitions used at various times throughout history, one was often not the first positive integer (some started with two, and a few with three). In this article, we survey the history of the primality of one, from the ancient Greeks to modern times. We will discuss some of the reasons definitions changed, and provide several examples. We will also discuss the last significant mathematicians to list the number one as prime."
Ron Doerfler's Dead Reckonings - Lost Art in the Mathematical Sciences is a collection of essays, in weblog format, on historical techniques in mathematical sciences, antique scientific instruments and other related topics. [more inside]
144 sites for online education. Categories include science and health, business and money, history and culture, law, computer science, mathematics, and languages. [more inside]
A Brief History of Mathematics is a BBC series of ten fifteen-minute podcasts by Professor Marcus du Sautoy about the history of mathematics from Newton and Leibniz to Nicolas Bourbaki, the pseudonym of a group of French 20th Century mathematicians. Among those covered by Professor du Sautoy are Euler, Fourier and Poincaré. The podcasts also include short interviews with people such as Brian Eno and Roger Penrose.
The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive is an astounding collection of historical material on mathematics, especially biographies. (Previously: 1 2 3 4.)
Gerbert D'Aurillac: mathemetician and engineer, Pope, ghost, and meddler with dark forces. [more inside]
Everything you know about Pythagoras is wrong (except the bit about the beans). Less the golden-thighed Einstein of the Ancient World and more the L. Ron Hubbard of Magna Graecia. [Last link has some rude words]
Charles Babbage's Difference Engines. One built in 1853. A subsequent design completed in 1991. And again in Lego. Both designs recreated in Meccano parts. [more inside]
"To avoide the tediouse repetition of these woordes: is equalle to: I will settle as I doe often in woorke use, a paire of paralleles, or gemowe lines of one lengthe: ======, bicause noe .2. thynges, can be moare equalle." Welsh mathematician Robert Recorde (1510–1558) invented the equals sign in his 1557 work The Whetstone of Witte, which also introduced "Zenzizenzizenzic", the eighth power of a number. Recorde had advocated the + and – symbols in his 1540 work The Grounde of Artes. He died in debtor's prison in 1558. Read, watch, or listen to a recent lecture that links the equals sign to developments in art, navigation, and astronomy. (Wikipedia)
The mathematician Anatoly Fomenko is one of a number of Russian academics advancing revisionist chronologies which portray a greatly foreshortened view of European history. He argues that mediaeval and classical histories as we know them today were fabricated in Renaissance times. In his book 'History: Fiction or Science', he 'proves' that Jesus Christ was born in 1053 and crucified in 1086, and that the Old Testament refers to mediaeval events... Fomenko's theories have been debunked, but his ideas have nevertheless gained some currency in Russia: among his supporters is the former chess champion Garry Kasparov. Of course, Fomenko is by no means the first mathematician to grapple with the subject of chronology: indeed, any history must be founded in part on a calculus of dates... Are there any parallels, I wonder, between the spread of theories like Fomenko's and the renewed prevalence of Biblical chronologies in the US, for example: is there some kind of psychological solace in perceiving history on a smaller scale than current academic orthodoxy allows? (more inside).
The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive from the University of St. Andrews' School of Mathematics and Statistics.
Women Mathematicians. With numerous biographies and photographs, this website indexes the many contributions that women have made to the field of mathematics. From Pythagoras' wife Theano and martyr Hypatia, also notable are the first female computer programmer and the first female Ph.D. recipient.