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Many people suffer from an inferiority complex where mathematics is concerned, regarding figures and equations with a fear based on bewilderment and inexperience. This book dispels some of the subject’s alarming aspects, starting at the very beginning and assuming no mathematical education.Written in a witty and engaging style, the text contains an illustrative example for every point, as well as absorbing glimpses into mathematical history and philosophy. Topics include the system of tens and other number ...
Many people suffer from an inferiority complex where mathematics is concerned, regarding figures and equations with a fear based on bewilderment and inexperience. This book dispels some of the subject’s alarming aspects, starting at the very beginning and assuming no mathematical education.Written in a witty and engaging style, the text contains an illustrative example for every point, as well as absorbing glimpses into mathematical history and philosophy. Topics include the system of tens and other number systems; symbols and commands; first steps in algebra and algebraic notation; common fractions and equations; irrational numbers; algebraic functions; analytical geometry; differentials and integrals; the binomial theorem; maxima and minima; logarithms; and much more. Upon reaching the conclusion, readers will possess the fundamentals of mathematical operations, and will undoubtedly appreciate the compelling magic behind a subject they once dreaded.
A PATIENT is sitting in the doctor's waiting-room. He suspects that he won't get away very quickly so he decides to while away the time by reading. There are all kinds of brochures and advertisements of resorts and cruises on the table. He is particularly attracted by a picture which reveals all the wonder of southern seas and tropical townships. His interest is aroused and he opens the booklet–but he is very disappointed. He can hardly understand a word; it is written in Portuguese. He can understand what the pictures are about and there is something else too that he can follow without a translation, that is the columns of figures, the tables of statistics and the departure and arrival times.
You will think that this is rather a childish example of something which is quite self-evident. Who has ever doubted that nowadays almost all civilised countries use a common system of numbers? What is there so remarkable or worrying about this booklet? The number 3 in a Portuguese book means exactly the same as 3 in an English one, and so does a sum like 521 × 7 = 3,647. You would think that there is nothing more to be said about it. On the contrary; if we look more closely at the rather trivial example we shall come at once on the deepest puzzles of mathematics and we shall grasp a number of most important fundamental principles.
There is one thing that has so far been overlooked. When a Portuguese or a German reads the numbers in the prospectus, each uses different words for them. The way in which the numbers are pronounced in various languages goes to the very root of the mysteries of the number system. The English say "twenty-four," the Germans "four and twenty." Instead of saying "septante" for 70, which would be the logical sequence of "quarante, cinquante, soixante ..." the Frenchman says rather surprisingly "soixantedix" and for 80 he actually undertakes some multiplication in "quatrevingt," or 4 × 20.
The first thing we must note is that there is only a very slight connection between our international system of numbers and the alphabet system. The two are based on quite different principles. Numbers are each in themselves symbols standing for an idea; the letters of the alphabet do not in themselves represent ideas but only sounds; only when they are strung together as words can they become symbols for ideas. The concept "3" needs one sign when written as a number. When written as the word "three," 5 letters are used.
All this is only the beginning. We have been talking up till now of figures and numbers, not of the great number system which is said to be the greatest pride of the human intellect. At this point some readers will say, "We know all about the number system if what is meant by that is simply a system scaled in tens. We use it ourselves every day and if this book is going to theorise instead of sticking to necessary explanations we will just shut it up and fling it away." In defence it must be said that no attempt will be made to put forward a theory of numbers or to explain why three hundred is written "300." Because nothing should be taken for granted however, we must seize hold of such matters which are generally known and accepted, in order to be able to make some of the higher concepts of mathematics intelligible right from the start.
The reader would do wrong to speak slightingly of our system of numbers scaled in tens. One of its greatest merits is that it can be learnt by a Primary School child. But there was a time in history when what a child can now do at school was a difficult problem for the greatest mathematicians. For the well-nigh automatic working of our present number system had not yet been discovered or developed. The technique of calculation only became commonly known in the West during the eleventh century A.D. At that time two "schools of reckoning" were struggling for precedence; the one used the abacus, the other the devices of Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Khwarizmi. The abacus is an ancient counting frame. Imagine that we have before us a board divided up by vertical lines. Each column represents a step in the system, a single number, a ten, a hundred, a thousand, etc. To use the abacus to reckon with, we place the required number of counters in each column. Suppose we had to add 504,723 and 609,802. We place the first number on the board in the correct columns, using white counters. Then we do the same with the black counters for the second number. We have to count up the total of black and white counters to arrive at the result. There is no zero (0) in this abacus system. When adding up the counters we must not forget that 1,500 equals 1 thousand, 5 hundred; 104,000 equals 1 hundred-thousand and 4 thousand. It will soon be obvious that al-Khwarizmi's system of numbers is superior to the abacus method of reckoning. This Arabian mathematician came from Khorassan and later lived in Baghdad. Between A.D. 800 and 825 he wrote among other things a work in which he describes the foundations of reckoning with the Hindu or so-called Arabian system of figures, using place values. He knew all about zero and wrote it as a small circle. By devious ways, from the crusaders and from the Moorish universities of Toledo, Seville and Granada, the Arabian works in Latin translation came to be known to scholars of Western Europe. Amongst these works was al-Khwarizmi's on Arabic numerals.
No longer were the clumsy abacus counting boards necessary for reckoning. Now an almost magical system of numbers allowed long and complicated calculations to be carried out with complete assurance. All that was needed to accomplish this was the ten digits from 0 to 9, a pen, a piece of paper and a knowledge of the multiplication table. It is difficult for us to imagine the feelings of the people who first realised that they could throw away their counting boards and in future do a complicated operation on a scrap of paper.
But we must leave these somewhat romantic realms of history and return to the commonplace. This Arabic system of numbers which we now use is a system of writing down certain methods of reckoning by means of certain symbols. These methods are used within the limits of the system in such a way that they do a part of the work of thinking for us. Thus they enable our minds to soar in regions which our powers of imagination could not reach, or at least, in which we could very easily wander aimlessly. So we must examine this Arabic system, the so-called system of tens, more closely to understand wherein its strength lies.
Before we go on to the next chapter the budding mathematician should be given a few practical hints. Write your symbols down as neatly and as carefully as possible. Don't tinker with them, don't write things down in a muddle, don't scribble workings in the margin or in odd spaces. Further, never, as a beginner or as an experienced mathematician, leave out steps in the process of your mathematical operations because you have done them in your head. The whole process must be written down on paper. If you like you can work the whole thing out in your head in order to exercise your mental powers, but you had better make notes on it before you go to bed and then next day write it neatly step by step, checking it according to the rules.CHAPTER 2
THE SYSTEM OF TENS
How extraordinarily simple our system of reckoning is. Really it consists of very little more than the arranging of ten symbols. If we add to these a few connecting signs, like the sign for "plus," "minus," "multiplied by" and "divided by" (+-×÷), and finally the "equals" sign (=), we have almost the whole system at our command. There is one more important thing to be mentioned, the system of place values. By this we mean that a symbol has a value which depends on the place in the number in which it finds itself. Its value increases the further to the left it is placed. Take the number 3333; the extreme right-hand symbol's value is simply 3, the next to the left 30, the next 300, and so on. The value of a number increases tenfold as its position is moved one place from right to left. That is why we speak of the system of tens; 10 is the foundation or base of it.
The Romans used a system of numbers without place values. This made reckoning a difficult business. Suppose we had to add the numbers CCCXLIX and MMCXXIV. The position of the "I" in the numbers does not tell us that its value is in the range between ten and ninety. It tells us something about the value of the last sign. "IV" means "take 1 away from 5." This makes matters very complicated and it is not surprising that reckoning with Roman numerals entailed the use of a counting board. For us who use the Arabic numerals it is comparatively simple to write down 349 under 2124 and add the sum quickly in our heads.
If we are to examine more closely this system of tens which we use nowadays we had better be introduced to a new idea which will simplify the examination for us. This is the idea of a "power." When we speak of raising a number to a power we really only mean that we multiply it by itself as often as is indicated by the little number attached to the figure. For example, if we see 54 printed in a book, this merely means that we are expected to multiply 5 × 5 × 5 × 5; 56 means 5 × 5 × 5 × 5 × 5 × 5; 103 means 10 × 10 × 10. We speak of "5 to the power of 4," "5 to the power of 6," "10 to the power of 3." A number raised to the power of 2, e.g., 102, is usually said to be "squared." We do not normally write 51, or "the power of I." We leave a number unadorned in this case. But we can write a number with the power 0, like this: 100, 250, 30. All these have one value, namely 1. Any number raised to the power of 0 equals 1. The reason for this will be explained in a later chapter, it cannot be given here. In the meantime the fact must be accepted.
Anyone looking at these numbers raised to powers will soon see that if 104 means multiply 10 by itself 4 times, the little number 4 (which is called the index number because it indicates the number of times to multiply), represents the number of noughts in the answer. This is only true when the index number is attached to the number 10, because 10 is the base of our number system.
Let us examine in greater detail any number in this system, say 3206. If we were putting this on to an abacus or counting board we should have to split it up into
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But there must be some method of writing this down on paper so that we can see from it how each number is constructed, without having recourse to a counting board. It is not so very difficult to discover such a method. We can write the number 3206 thus,
6 × 1 + 0 × (10) + 2 × (10 × 10) + 3 × (10 × 10 × 10),
noting as we do so that any number multiplied by 0 equals 0.
We already know that, when a number is multiplied by itself, a short way of writing this is to put a small index number against it to show that it is being raised to a power. Also, a dot is an accepted alternative sign for ×, the multiplication sign. Therefore our example above could be written
6 . 100 + 0.101 + 2 . 102 + 3 . 103.
(Reminder : 100 always equals 1.)
Now we can see on paper the inner structure of a number in our system, that is, in the scale of ten. We can see the values of the places in which the separate figures are positioned in a number, that is to say their "place value." Our example 3206, when written 6 . 100 + 0. 101 + 2 . 102 + 3 . 103, is called a "series" of powers of 10. The 6, 0, 2, 3 are called the "coefficients" of the powers. Do not be put off by these technical terms; we have used this example in which to introduce them because they will be useful in the next chapter.
Before we finish this one, however, and at the risk of boring the reader, we will have another look at our number system. We can see first of all that the system of place values is maintained in the series. The index numbers of 10 follow each other, 100, 101, 102, 103 (103 being a larger quantity than any of the others); the size of the coefficients makes no difference for 9 . 100 is always smaller than 2 . 101 or even than 0. 101; for 9 . 100 represents 9 only, while 2 . 101 equals 20. Suppose we take the number 109 and write it as a further example of a series :–
9 . 100 + 0 . 101 + 1 . 102
or if we like it in the reverse order, as it makes no difference to the sum of the series,
1 . 102 + 0 . 101 + 9 . 100.
We see that even the nought has a place in the series; it shows that the next greatest place value is going to be filled. Theoretically this kind of series could be continued as long as we like. There is no number which is not capable of being expressed in rising powers of 10, each qualified by a coefficient. A perfect number system really requires that each step in the system of place values, each raising of 10 to a further power, should have a name of its own like ten, hundred, thousand. In our system there is not a complete set of names. There are special words to denote only 101, 102, 103 and 106, that is ten, hundred, thousand and a million. Ten thousand and a hundred thousand are simply multiplication expressions. This irregularity in naming the steps probably has its origin in some practical requirements of man in past ages. In very early times it is likely that money and armies only needed numbers up to thousands. It is said that the wealth of Marco Polo first made the concept of "million" necessary. Large numbers like a billion (1012 in England, 109 in America) are often called astronomical numbers, though they are rarely used in exact science.
Before we leave this chapter introducing our number system in the scale of ten, there are probably some questions which have occurred to the reader and which we must try to answer. Why do we use the words "eleven" and "twelve," only to follow them with "thirteen," "fourteen," "fifteen," and so on? What does the peculiar French word for 80, "quatrevingt," mean? There is no doubt that these upset the regular picture we have drawn of our system of tens. "Quatrevingt" (4 × 20) is very similar in construction to "forty" (4 × 10). "Eleven" and "twelve" look suspiciously like a continuation of the numbers one to ten. They are not apparently composite numbers. Why do not we say "oneten," "twoten," "thirteen" (3-ten), "fourteen" (4-ten), instead of eleven, twelve, etc.? Why indeed is ten the base of our system? Is there anything about the number ten which makes it to be preferred before all others? Is this system based on ten something God-given, descended from heaven? Or is the reason for our preference merely the fact that we have ten fingers and that our ancestors used to count on theirs?
There is absolutely no logical reason for preferring a system based on ten to one based on any other number. In the course of history there have been systems based on 60, 50, 20 and 12. In the year 1690 Leibniz, the great mathematician and philosopher, described the most remarkable of all systems, the binary, which uses nothing but the two numbers 0 and 1. In modern times this number system has been found to be convenient for use in electronic computing machines. Finally, the puzzling "quatrevingt" is nothing but a relic of a Celtic system based on 20 (fingers plus toes!) which has slipped into the French language.
Excerpted from Mathematics for Everyman by Egmont Colerus, B. C. Brookes, H. F. Brookes. Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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