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Overview
In this sequel to his awardwinning How Mathematics Happened, physicist Peter S. Rudman explores the history of mathematics among the Babylonians and Egyptians, showing how their scribes in the era from 2000 to 1600 BCE used visualizations of how plane geometric figures could be partitioned into squares, rectangles, and right triangles to invent geometric algebra, even solving problems that we now do by quadratic algebra. Using illustrations adapted from both Babylonian cuneiform tablets and Egyptian hieroglyphic texts, Rudman traces the evolution of mathematics from the metric geometric algebra of Babylon and Egypt—which used numeric quantities on diagrams as a means to work out problems—to the nonmetric geometric algebra of Euclid (ca. 300 BCE). Thus, Rudman traces the evolution of calculations of square roots from Egypt and Babylon to India, and then to Pythagoras, Archimedes, and Ptolemy. Surprisingly, the best calculation was by a Babylonian scribe who calculated the square root of two to seven decimaldigit precision. Rudman provocatively asks, and then interestingly conjectures, why such a precise calculation was made in a mudbrick culture. From his analysis of Babylonian geometric algebra, Rudman formulates a "Babylonian Theorem", which he shows was used to derive the Pythagorean Theorem, about a millennium before its purported discovery by Pythagoras.
He also concludes that what enabled the Greek mathematicians to surpass their predecessors was the insertion of alphabetic notation onto geometric figures. Such symbolic notation was natural for users of an alphabetic language, but was impossible for the Babylonians and Egyptians, whose writing systems (cuneiform and hieroglyphics, respectively) were not alphabetic. Rudman intersperses his discussions of early math conundrums and solutions with "Fun Questions" for those who enjoy recreational math and wish to test their understanding. The Babylonian Theorem is a masterful, fascinating, and entertaining book, which will interest both math enthusiasts and students of history.
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Eli Maor
"An intriguing and highly provocative account of ancient mathematics and the people who created it. Should be required reading for anyone curious about the early origins of science!" (Eli Maor, PhD, author of To Infinity and Beyond, e: the Story of a Number, Trigonometric Delights, Venus in Transit, and The Pythagorean Theorem: a 4,000Year History.)Product Details
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Meet the Author
Peter S. Rudman (Tel Aviv, Israel), a retired professor of physics at the TechnionIsrael Institute of Technology, is the author of How Mathematics Happened: The First 50,000 Years, which was selected in 2008 as an Outstanding Academic Text by the American Library Association.
Read an Excerpt
THE BABYLONIAN THEOREM
THE MATHEMATICAL JOURNEY TO PYTHAGORAS AND EUCLIDBy PETER S. RUDMAN
Prometheus Books
Copyright © 2010 Peter S. RudmanAll right reserved.
ISBN: 9781591027737
Chapter One
NUMBER SYSTEM BASICSWe can be sure that the placevalue, base10 number system with HinduArabic symbols that we now use globally must be just about the best for everyday use. It is the clear winner of a survivalofthefittest numbersystem game that has been going on for millennia. (The nomenclature base10 is interchangeable with decimal and placevalue with positional.) The victory of base10 is remarkable because the choice was simply because we happen to have ten fingers. A creationist might see a divine hand literally at work here, but the rest of us require another explanation. What makes base10 such an ideal number system?
The larger the base, the more compact the number system. For example, the base10 number 189 (= 1 x [10.sup.2] + 8 x 10 + 9) is written as 10111101 (= [2.sup.7] + [2.sup.5] + [2.sup.4] + [2.sup.3] + [2.sup.2] + 1) as a base2 number and as 99 (= 9 ??20 + 9) as a base20 number. Base10 may not be as compact as base20 but it is adequately compact for everyday use. Electronic digital computers use base2 because the two symbols 0 and 1 conveniently represent OFF and ON switches. Base20 evolved in cultures that first solved the problem of counting to greater than ten by adding toes.
Any Nposition, baseb integer can be expressed using HinduArabic symbols in algebraic notation as a sequence of N integers: [a.sub.N1 [a.sub.N2 ... [a.sub.n] ... [a.sub.2] [a.sub.1] [a.sub.0], where the [a.sub.n]'s are integers from 0 to b  1. Equation (1.1) gives the base10 value of an integer in any base.
[MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1.1)
The fractional part of any Nposition, baseb number can be expressed using HinduArabic symbols in algebraic notation as a sequence of N integers: 0. [a.sub.1] [a.sub.2] [a.sub.N]. Equation (1.2) gives the base10 value of the fractional part of a number in any base:
[MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1.2)
__________________________________________________________________
FUN QUESTION 1.1: Write the base5 number 234 as a base10 number. __________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________
FUN QUESTION 1.2: Write the base10 number 189 as a base5 number. Hint: 189 = 125[a.sub.3] + 25[a.sub.2] + 5[a.sub.1] + [a.sub.0]. Start by finding the largest possible value for [a.sub.3]. __________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________
FUN QUESTION 1.3: Write the base5 fractional number 0.234 as a base10 number. __________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________
FUN QUESTION 1.4: Write the base10 fractional number 0.189 as a base5 number. __________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________
For the Babylonian base60 system, various methods enable expression with just the ten HinduArabic symbols. The system I shall use is the same notation generally used to express time (hours:minutes:seconds with 1 hour = 60 minutes = [60.sup.2] seconds), a vestige of the Babylonian base60 system. Colons separate place values and a period (called a sexagesimal point) separates the integer part from the fractional part (just as a decimal point does in the base10 system). Thus, the decimally transcribed sexagesimal (base60) number [1:3:20.15:40.sub.60] has a base10 value: 1 x [60.sup.2] + 3 x 60 + 20 + 15/60 + 45/[60.sup.2] = 3800.2625. Lacking any generally agreedupon convention, there is some unavoidable confusion in reading decimally transcribed base60 numbers. In this book, all calculations presented are done in modern base10 to avoid the distraction of having to interpret other notations. Whenever there is the possibility of confusion as to whether a number is written in decimally transcribed sexagesimal, I add a subscripted 60 as just previously done.
The larger the base, the larger the memorization burden it imposes. The memorization of the values of only ten symbols (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) in the base10 system is no problem and neither would be the memorization of the b symbols in any practical baseb number. However, when arithmetic, and particularly multiplication, is considered, the memorization burden of a number system with a large base looms large. Figure 1.1 presents the base10 multiplication table that we all boringly learned in elementary school but now barely ever use since electronic calculators became ubiquitous. We do not have to memorize all 102 possible products because most of the entries are eliminated by the rules 0 x n = 0, 1 x n = n, and m x n = n x m, where m and n are any numbers. Without much effort, we can simply add up the entries in figure 1.1 and find that there are 36, not an overwhelming memorization burden.
In order to calculate the number of multiplication table entries for any baseb, we note from figure 1.1 that the number of entries is the arithmetic series 1 + 2 + ... + 7 + 8 = 36, and by generalizing this series we can obtain that for baseb, the number of multiplication table entries is
[N.sub.b] = (b = 2) (b  1)/2 (1.3)
Using this equation, we can readily calculate that for base20, [N.sub.20] = 171 is quite a memorization burden, while for the Babylonian base60, [N.sub.60] = 1,711 imposes an impossible memorization burden, which explains why these number systems did not survive.
Now we can see why base10 is essentially an optimized number system: the base is large enough to produce adequately compact numbers, but small enough not to impose too heavy a memorization burden. For the Babylonians, multiplication with a base60 number system was indeed a problem and we shall consider later how they solved it, but now we want to understand why they invented a number system with such a large base. The answer is simply that they invented their number system in a prehistoric (prewriting), prearithmetic era. For counting, base60 was fine, but when their culture advanced to a stage where arithmetic was required, base60 was so entrenched in Babylonian habits and records that they preferred to find ways to cope rather than change their number system. The problem is similar to current reluctance in the United States to abandon use of archaic English units and adopt the metric system.
Let us go back to the time of the socalled Neolithic revolution, around 10,000 BCE in Egypt and Babylon, when huntergatherer cultures were beginning to transform into materially richer and more complex herderfarmer cultures. Finger counting now no longer satisfied counting requirements, and the ancient solution to its limitations was pebble counting. In its simplest realization, pebble counting requires little memorization and uses only the principle of oneforone correspondence. Consider a shepherd putting a pebble in a bowl as each sheep goes out to pasture and removing a pebble as each sheep returns. The number of pebbles left in the bowl is then the number of sheep lost. This is counting and arithmetic without a need for names for numbers, or an ability to articulate counting, with no limit to the number counted, and with a permanent record, a significant advance beyond finger counting.
With growing understanding of the concept of number, our generic shepherd (now perhaps many generations later) wants to know how many sheep he has. A bowl of hundreds of pebbles is not very defining, so he replaces each group of ten pebbles with one larger pebble. Why ten? Because he had first learned to count using his fingers, just as children still do, and therefore ten is a natural choice. If he still has too many pebbles to define his number of sheep conveniently, he can replace every ten big pebbles with a bigger pebble, and so on. There are now never more than nine pebbles of the same size, so even a quick glance at his collection of pebbles allows him to visualize the number. Unaware though he surely was, he had now invented an additive, base10 number system. The smallest pebble has a value of one; the next larger pebble has a value of ten; the next larger pebble after that has a value of a hundred; and so on. A sequence of replacements using the same replacement number defines a number system with a base equal to the replacement number. Figure 1.2 illustrates this unrealized and unintended pebblecounting invention of an additive, base10 number system.
If rather than using pebbles of different sizes in 1for10 replacements, ten pebbles in one bowl were replaced by one pebble in a different bowl, a placevalue, base10 number system would have been invented. Even if one starts with an additive system with differentsized pebbles, for easier visualization of quantity one naturally and intuitively tends to gather each size in a separate pile. Now the values of pebbles are redundantly defined both by pebble size and by pebble position. Eventually this unnecessary redundancy tends to be realized, and hence additive systems tend to evolve into placevalue systems.
If his hands were man's first calculating machine, then pebbles were his second. Number systems with a base originated in a pebblecounting era. Once a replacement is chosen for some logical reason, such as 1for10 because we have ten fingers, then why change it in a sequence of replacement numbers. Since a sequence of the same replacements defines a number system with a base, number systems with a base tend to evolve naturally once use of replacement has begun. The advantage of a number system with a base becomes more apparent when arithmetic other than simple addition of small numbers is required.
We have now developed the three important characteristics of an efficient number system, and they are valid whether the counting is by fingers, pebbles, or written symbols:
1. Replacementextends the counting limit.
2. Baseenables efficient arithmetic.
3. Positionminimizes the number of different symbols.
Quantitative measurement, in addition to just counting of things, became a requirement after about 10,000 BCE. This imposed new demands on number systems. Consider the following scenario: a woman is making a garment and invents the natural, intuitive measuring system of using the widths of her fingers. She measures something as 19 finger widths. In practice, measurement in units of finger widths is by a series of handbreadthtohandbreadth placements, so she defines a handbreadth as a natural, intuitive, new unit, with 1for4 replacements of fingers by hands. Now, letting a larger pebble represent a handbreadth, she records her measurement as 4 large pebbles and 3 small pebbles. Our prehistoric seamstress has now invented a measurement system with units of handbreadths and fingers. The 1for10 replacement scheme that was so natural and intuitive for counting is no longer obviously the better system for units of measurement. What to do?
Solution 1: Retain the natural 1for10 replacements for counting, and retain the various natural replacements for measuring. This method largely accounts for the English system still used in the United States although not officially in England since 1965.
Solution 2: Define new, notsonatural units of measurement so that 1for10 replacements also define measurement units. This is an important component of the present, almost globally adopted metric system and was also the ancient Egyptian solution. It might be an overstatement to say that the Egyptians realized more than 5,000 years ago what the rest of the world is only now realizing. It is possible they simply did what came naturally and used the same intuitive 1for10 replacement system for measuring units as they did for counting. It was fortuitously a good choice.
Solution 3: Modify the natural 1for10 replacements for counting by adopting the natural replacements for measurements. This was the Babylonian solution. It was fortuitously a bad choice that would only become evident millennia later when required to perform arithmetic that was more complex.
Units of linear measurement started just as simple counting did, by using body parts. Using the example of English units, with which we are most familiar, figure 1.3 shows the replacement numbers as they were defined up to the fifteenth century. To convert from a larger unit to a smaller unit it is necessary to multiply by the product of all the replacement numbers between the respective units. Thus, from figure 1.3 we can calculate that the number of inches in a fathom is 4 x 3 x 3 x 2 = 72. Compared to converting units within the modern metric system where conversion is only a matter of moving a decimal point (for example,1.75 m = 175 cm), English units are a bother. Nowadays, with the ready availability of rulers and tape measures there is no logical reason to continue to use bodyparts units, but conversion is a question of politics, not mathematics, and hence is beyond the scope of this book.
For longer distances, the fundamental English unit was based on farming practice, the furlong, literally a furrow long. Another example of an English unit based on farming practice is the acre, which legend has it was the area plowed by a pair of oxen in one day. Eventually, as measurements that were more precise were required, a government had to set standards to reconcile farmingpractice units and bodyparts units. Thus, up to the fifteenth century in England the furlong was defined as 1 furlong = 40 rods = 600 feet. However, England had also inherited from the Romans the unit of the mile, which the Romans had defined as 1,000 double paces. A double pace is 5 feet, so the mile, clearly derived from the Latin word for 1,000, was 5,000 feet. This had the unfortunate affect of inconveniently making the mile a nonintegral (5,000/600 = 8.333...) multiple of the rod, so in the sixteenth century Queen Elizabeth redefined many units to essentially their present values, which among other things redefined the mile as exactly 8 furlongs. The details of this redefinition need not concern us here. The essential point is that every culture goes through a process similar to what occurred centuries ago in England. Units of measurement from different sources must be reconciled by standards set by the government.
For volume measurements, for which body parts do not provide convenient units, ancient practice was that some frequently used container size was chosen as a reference and other units were defined as multiples of this. What is interesting about this method is the universal tendency to choose multiples of two. Figure 1.4 illustrates such practice with English volume units.
In ancient Egypt the basic bodyparts unit was the cubit, the distance from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, about 46 cm. Figure 1.5 illustrates its subdivision into fingers, handbreadths, and feet.
Figure 1.5 also illustrates the peculiar definition of a royal cubit that is equal to 7 handbreadths, whereas the cubit is equal to 6 handbreadths. No surviving document explains the need for the royal cubit unit. We can only guess what the reason was. Perhaps the unit was to differentiate between properties of the pharaoh and properties of common people. However, a clue is provided by the definition of another anomalous unit, the remen: 1 remen = 5 handbreadths. My guess is that the role of these apparently anomalous units was to enable easy halving or doubling of land areas. If the linear dimensions of an area were first measured as a certain number of royal cubits, a halfsize area would be one with its linear dimensions given as the same number of remens. If the linear dimensions of an area were first measured as a certain number of remens, a doubled area would be one with its linear dimensions given as the same number of royal cubits. Figure 1.6 illustrates the process for various shapes of areas: proceeding from left to right the area is reduced by [(5/7).sup.2] = 25/49 [congruent to] 1/2; proceeding from right to left the area is increased by [(7/5).sup.2] = 49/25 [congruent to] 2.
For longer distances and larger areas, the Egyptians mimicked their base10 counting system as illustrated in figure 1.7. The tA is both a distance and an area unit since it is a line with a finite width. Such use of a unit for both distance and area was general ancient practice.
Volume units for liquids were also base10: hin [congruent to] 0.5 liter, hqAt [congruent to] 5 liter, Xar [congruent to] 50 liter. However, volume units for grain were based on successive halving. Starting with a hqAt, fractional volumes were called Horuseye fractions and were written with special symbols as illustrated in figure 1.8. It was documented practice in Babylon and Canaan to use the same unit for a land area and the volume of grain required to seed the area. Perhaps the system of halving land area as illustrated in figure 1.6 and the system of halving grain volumes exhibited by the Horuseye fractions of figure 1.8 are related.
(Continues...)
Table of Contents
Contents
LIST OF FIGURES....................9MATHEMATICAL SYMBOLS....................15
PREFACE....................17
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS....................23
Chapter 1. NUMBER SYSTEM BASICS....................25
Chapter 2. EGYPTIAN NUMBERS AND ARITHMETIC....................39
Chapter 3. BABYLONIAN NUMBERS AND ARITHMETIC....................47
Chapter 4. OLD BABYLONIAN "QUADRATIC ALGEBRA" PROBLEM TEXTS....................61
YBC 6967....................63
AO 8862....................75
[Db.sub.2] 146....................77
VAT 8512....................80
Chapter 5. PYTHAGOREAN TRIPLES....................85
OB PROBLEM TEXT BM 85196 #9....................85
BERLIN PAPYRUS 6610 #1....................86
PROTOPLIMPTON 322....................89
PLIMPTON 322....................93
Chapter 6. SQUARE ROOT CALCULATIONS....................99
EGYPTIAN CALCULATION....................99
OB PROBLEM TEXT YBC 7289....................99
OB SQUARINGTHERECTANGLE (Heron's Method)....................102
OB CUTANDPASTE SQUARE ROOT (Newton's Method)....................104
OB PROBLEM TEXT VAT 6598....................108
PYTHAGORAS CALCULATES SQUARE ROOTS....................109
ARCHIMEDES CALCULATES SQUARE ROOTS....................111
PTOLEMY CALCULATES SQUARE ROOTS....................116
Chapter 7. PI([pi])....................119
RMP PROBLEMS 48 AND 50....................120
OB PROBLEM TEXT YBC 7302....................122
A SCRIBE FROM SUSA CALCULATES [pi] (ca. 2000 BCE)....................123
ARCHIMEDES CALCULATES [pi] (ca. 200 BCE)....................126
KEPLER CALCULATES THE AREA OF A CIRCLE (ca. 1600)....................131
EVERYBODY CALCULATES THE AREA OF A CIRCLE (ca. 2000)....................132
Chapter 8. SIMILAR TRIANGLES (PROPORTIONALITY)....................135
RMP PROBLEM 53....................135
OB PROBLEM TEXT MLC 1950....................137
OB PROBLEM TEXT IM 55357....................140
Chapter 9. SEQUENCES AND SERIES....................145
ARITHMETIC SEQUENCES AND SERIES....................145
OB PROBLEM TEXT YBC 4608 #5....................145
RMP PROBLEM 64....................147
RMP PROBLEM 40....................148
GEOMETRIC SEQUENCES AND SERIES....................149
OB PROBLEM TEXT IM 55357REVISITED....................151
Chapter 10. OLD BABYLONIAN ALGEBRA: SIMULTANEOUS LINEAR EQUATIONS....................155
AMODERN ELEMENTARY ALGEBRA PROBLEM....................156
OB PROBLEM TEXT VAT 8389....................158
Chapter 11. PYRAMID VOLUME....................161
HOW THEY KNEW V(pyramid)/V(prism) = 1/3....................162
EUCLID PROVES V(pyramid)/V(prism) = 1/3....................166
TRUNCATED PYRAMID (FRUSTUM) VOLUME....................169
Chapter 12. FROM OLD BABYLONIAN SCRIBE TO LATE BABYLONIAN SCRIBE TO PYTHAGORAS TO PLATO....................179
LATE BABYLONIAN (LB) MATHEMATICS....................179
PYTHAGORAS (ca. 580500 BCE)....................181
PLATO (427347 BCE)....................189
Chapter 13. EUCLID....................195
WHO WAS EUCLID?....................195
EUCLID I1....................197
EUCLID I22....................199
EUCLID I37....................202
EUCLID I47: THE PYTHAGOREAN THEOREM....................204
EUCLID II22....................206
EUCLID II14: THE BABYLONIAN THEOREM....................207
APPENDIX A. ANSWSERS TO FUN QUESTIONS....................213
APPENDIX B. DERIVATION OF EQUATION (11.2)....................227
APPENDIX C. PROOF [square root of 2] IS AN IRRATIONAL NUMBER....................231
NOTES....................233
REFERENCES....................239
INDEX....................245