Fifth Postulate: How Unraveling A Two Thousand Year Old Mystery Unraveled the Universe / Edition 1

Fifth Postulate: How Unraveling A Two Thousand Year Old Mystery Unraveled the Universe / Edition 1

by Jason Socrates Bardi
     
 

What do Einstein's theory of relativity, string theory, and lots of other mind-bending—and space-bending—revelations of modern physics have in common? None of them could have been discovered until scientists and mathematicians recognized an uncomfortable truth—that there was a reason the world's greatest mathematical minds had failed to prove

See more details below

Overview

What do Einstein's theory of relativity, string theory, and lots of other mind-bending—and space-bending—revelations of modern physics have in common? None of them could have been discovered until scientists and mathematicians recognized an uncomfortable truth—that there was a reason the world's greatest mathematical minds had failed to prove Euclid's fifth postulate after more than two thousand years of effort: the postulate, which defines the nature of parallel lines and space, was untrue.

In The Fifth Postulate, acclaimed science writer Jason Socrates Bardi tells the perplexing tale of what happened when, in the early 1800s, three great mathematicians, working independently, came to the same profound conclusion. Not only was the postulate unprovable, but discarding it opened an entire new universe of non-Euclidian geometry, in which the recognition that space is curved solved scores of previously insolvable problems and laid the groundwork for a host of new discoveries to come. Which of these brilliant thinkers would claim credit for this momentous discovery? None of them.

Why would the reigning genius of his day hide his manuscripts and barely mention their conclusions and back away in horror from what was arguably the greatest logical insight in the history of science? Why would the respected head of a European university face confusion and ridicule when trying to publish the same discovery? And why would a promising young army engineer find the secret and then retire, trying not to think about it anymore?

This bizarre true story of reluctant discovery recounts the little-known tale of the strangely parallel, triumphant, and tragic lives of János Bolyai, Carl Friedrich Gauss, and Nikolai Lobachevsky. It examines a world of science in which the objective quest for new truth is inhibited by blind adherence to an old, unproven postulate—mainly because of fear that, if it were untrue, everything that was known about geometry, nature, and the universe itself would have to change.

Even more surprising is the story of an eighteenth-century priest who, in an attempt to illustrate the absurdity of a world without the fifth postulate, stumbled upon and described non-Euclidian geometry without ever having understood the importance of what he had found. You'll also meet the mathematician who spent much of his life searching for a proof to the postulate, only to discover that his close friend Gauss had discarded it years before but had never told him.

Packed with fascinating anecdotes and insights, as well as crystal-clear explanations of complex mathematical concepts, The Fifth Postulate is compelling reading for anyone interested in the history of science and mathematics and the politics of discovery. It is also a chilling cautionary tale about the fragility of truth whose lessons are as pertinent today as they were two centuries ago.

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780470149096
Publisher:
Turner Publishing Company
Publication date:
12/10/2008
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.10(d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments.

Prologue.

1 A Mathematician’s Waterloo.

2 The Strange Vegetarian Cult and Mathematics.

3 The Mystery Maker.

4 Those False and Would-Be Proofs.

5 A Codebreaker’s Fix.

6 Searching for Ceres.

7 The Dim Light of Exhaustion.

8 Gauss’s Little Secret.

9 Lessons of Curvature.

10 To Stir the Nests of Wasps.

11 A Strange New World.

12 A Message for You, Ambassador.

13 "To Praise It Would Be to Praise Myself."

14 The Birth of Electronic Communication.

15 The Imaginary Man from Kazan.

16 The Soul of the Universe.

17 The Curvature of Space.

Notes.

Bibliography.

Index.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >