A conversation about mathematics inspired by a guitar. Presented by Katie Steckles and Peter Rowlett, with special guest Sam Hartburn.
You're reading: Posts Tagged: history
This is a guest post by Storm Reinbolt, outlining a historical mathematical incident which almost caused a misdefinition!
π is an irrational number that is equal to 3.1415926535 (to 10 digits). Things could have been different, however, if Dr. Edward J. Goodwin succeeded in passing Indiana Bill No. 246. This bill would have completely changed π and mathematics as a whole.
In 1894, Dr. Goodwin, a physician who dabbled in mathematics, claimed to have solved some of the most complex problems in math. Among these was the problem of squaring the circle, which was proposed to be impossible by the French Academy in 1775. This is impossible due to the fact the area of a circle is $\pi \cdot r^2$, where $r$ is the radius, and the area of a square is $s^2$, where $s$ is the length of each side.
This was proven by Ferdinand von Lindemann in 1882, and is what makes squaring a circle impossible.
In order to square a circle, $\pi \cdot r^2$ must be equal to $s^2$. For example, if $r=1$, we would have $\pi \cdot 1^2 = s^2$, or $\pi = s^2$. This would mean that each side of the square is equal to the square root of π, and since π is transcendental, there’s no algebraic expression that could describe π.
Regardless, Goodwin claimed to have done it, and published his paper to American Mathematical Monthly in 1894. It was gibberish, and no amount of understanding in mathematics would make his work comprehensible. He claimed nine different values of π across his many works, with one claim going as far as $9.2376\ldots$, “the biggest overestimate of π in the history of mathematics” (A History of Pi). When his theories weren’t becoming popular, he decided to take them to the Indiana State Legislature on January 18, 1897.
Goodwin had convinced his state representative, Taylor I. Record, to introduce House Bill 246 (Indiana Bill No. 246). House Bill 246 would make Goodwin’s method of squaring the circle a part of Indiana law. However, those in the legislature either didn’t understand or didn’t even glance at the bill – and the House Committee on Canals decided to pass it. Dr. Goodwin’s ridiculous bill was now headed to the senate.
At the statehouse where the senate took up the bill was Professor Clarence Abiathar Waldo, a mathematics professor from New York. When Waldo heard what the bill was about, he was shocked to discover he was in the middle of a debate on a fundamental principle of mathematics. He decided to intervene and talk to the senators about the repercussions the bill would have on everything mathematics, and was able to stop the bill from passing the second chamber.
After Waldo’s intervention, it was clear to everyone that the people involved in the attempted passing of the bill, including Dr. Goodwin, were all wrong, and it was ridiculous to define mathematical truth by law.
In this guest post by David Benjamin, we explore a little of the life and times of Girolamo Cardano and his interesting family.
Girolamo Cardano (1501- 1576) was at various times in his life a physician, mathematician, inventor, addictive gambler and prisoner. He was the illegitimate son of Fazio Cardano and Chiara Micheria, and the Cardano family was a dysfunctional 16th Century version of the Simpsons.
In the novel I, Claudius, Robert Graves imagines a conversation between three Roman historians: Claudius, Livy and Pollio. After a long argument involving moral decline and sulphurous sheep, the young Claudius comes to the conclusion that:
“…There are two different ways of writing history: one is to persuade men to virtue, the other is to compel men to truth”
I have a paper published online-first by BSHM Bulletin: Journal of the British Society for the History of Mathematics. This means it is online and will be in an upcoming issue.
I recently gave a public talk about George Green’s mathematical education and influences, the audio for which is now available online.
The British Library has an exhibition on at the moment that you might like to see.
Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight is all about data visualisation. Here’s the blurb:
Turning numbers into pictures that tell important stories and reveal the meaning held within is an essential part of what it means to be a scientist. This is as true in today’s era of genome sequencing and climate models as it was in the 19th century.
Beautiful Science explores how our understanding of ourselves and our planet has evolved alongside our ability to represent, graph and map the mass data of the time.
From John Snow’s plotting of the 1854 London cholera infections on a map to colourful depictions of the tree of life, discover how picturing scientific data provides new insight into our lives.
Beautiful Science is in the British Library’s Folio Society Gallery until the 26th of May and admission is free.
Beautiful Science at the British Library.