Questions tagged [mathematics]

For questions specific to the history of mathematics, the abstract study of topics encompassing quantity, structure, space, change, and other properties. General questions about mathematics are off-topic but might be asked on Mathematics Stack Exchange.

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Why did Gödel think the Viennese Academy of Sciences was founded earlier?

Mathematician Karl Menger, a colleague of famous mathematician Kurt Gödel, says this on pages 222-223 of his book “Reminiscences of the Vienna Circle and the Mathematical Colloquium“: Meanwhile, ...
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3 votes
1 answer
490 views

Who is the author of Romanoff's theorem?

This is the theorem in mathematics. This link Romanoff's theorem provides that the first proof was around 1934 and the proof was by Nikolai Pavlovich Romanov. But when I searched for "Nikolai ...
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2 votes
1 answer
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Where can I find fully translated letters from János Bolyai and Farkas Bolyai?

The mathematicians János Bolyai occupies an interesting place in the history of mathematics for the development of hyperbolic geometry. Certain quotations from letters between him and his father (the ...
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Was the symbol post-classical Mayans used to represent zero really derived from a depiction of a turtle shell?

The Wikipedia page on Mayan numerals mentions the symbol for zero is an upside down turtle shell. It is not clear from the symbol itself that it is a turtle shell, and I'm not able to find any source ...
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3 votes
2 answers
201 views

What does 'des' mean in ancient Egyptian?

Looking at the pefsu problems of ancient Egyptian mathematical papyri, I am wondering what does the word des mean? It is usually used together with the word jug to form des-jug, but sometimes the ...
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4 votes
1 answer
492 views

Was game theory used during World War II?

The mathematical theory of game theory is about finding optimal srategies for games such as rock-paper-scissors. I have heard it claimed several times that game theory was used during World War II by ...
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Is the diagram of the Egyptian trinity a copy of a pictogram on an obelisk?

Is this diagram of the Egyptian trinity a copy of a pictogram on an obelisk? It would be nice to know this and get some pictures of it and know more about the history of this particular obelisk.
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1 answer
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What is the Thalassic Age?

What is the Thalassic Age? What exactly happened during that time? This came from reading that Greeks during Hellenistic period conquered some areas in Phoenicia, Mesopotamia and Egypt and developed a ...
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1 answer
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Why did ancient cultures (e.g. the Mesopotamians) use sexagesimal?

Why did ancient cultures, such as the Mesopotamians, use sexagesimal (base-60)? I've been doing some reading on this, and there seems to be no consensus. Of course, it's rare that there's perfect ...
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4 votes
2 answers
281 views

How were ancient Indian mathematical texts found to modern scholarship?

Unlike e.g. Greco-Roman or Chinese texts, which were written on relatively durable writing material, most ancient Indian literature was done on palm-leaf manuscripts, which typically don't survive ...
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2 votes
2 answers
735 views

How was the first carpenter's square made?

A "square" is a tool, typically L or triangle shaped, that gives a craftsperson a quick and accurate 90° angle to use as a baseline in many important trades. It's easy to find a right angle if you ...
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8 votes
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Do any of the commercially produced Hinton cubes still exist?

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, British mathematician Charles Howard Hinton developed a system for visualizing the fourth dimension in his books “A New Era of Thought” and “The Fourth Dimension”. ...
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1 vote
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Is there a source for the claim that the Oxford Calculators used math to analyze sin?

In Pythagoras' Trousers, Margaret Wertheim states we should note that the Oxford Calculators also attempted to apply mathematical analysis to qualities such as sin, charity, and grace. (54). ...
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3 votes
2 answers
685 views

Does anyone know of any examples of the Magnus effect in a real battle?

I've read a lot about the Magnus effect altering the trajectories of cannonballs and musketballs. Robins noticed it with Musket balls and Magnus with canonballs, but presumably they weren't the first ...
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4 votes
2 answers
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Did the Babylonians know the Pythagorean Theorem before Pythagoras formulated it?

Came across a clip on TV from an (unidentified) BBC documentary showcasing the Plimpton 322 tablet, written in cuneiform c.1800 BC (1200 years before Pythagoras). The narrator says the tablet was ...
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Who was Ahmad al-Barbir al-Tarabulusi, and did he write about an old number-based middle-eastern joke about homosexuality?

While reading the book From one to zero. A universal history of numbers by the French historian Georges Ifrah I came across a retelling about an old joke about homosexuality but I cannot find any ...
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4 answers
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Has anyone created a binary calendar?

Wondering if anyone has ever tried to make a calendar where everything is a power of 2, so maybe the day is divided into 16 and the hour is divided into 64, etc.
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Teaching of Mathematics in Italy and in Germany in the fifteenth century

In is book Beyond numeracy, John Allen Paulos tells this story: A German merchant of the fifteenth century asked an eminent professor where he should send his son for a good business education. The ...
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44 votes
2 answers
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How did the ancient Romans count with their fingers?

This joke was supposed to be funny: A Roman walks into a bar, holds up two fingers and shouts "Five beers, please!" But disregarding the funniness, it made me actually think about the real system ...
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Was 'Jade Mirror of the Four Unknowns' published in 1303, and how do we know?

Wikipedia gives the date for Chinese mathematician Zhu Shijie's Jade Mirror of the Four Unknowns (四元玉鉴, Siyuan yujian) as 1303, citing Elman, Benjamin A. (2005). On their own terms science in China, ...
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Are the proportions of a Christian cross based on a golden ratio? [closed]

I was just 3D modeling something and I noticed the intersection of two lines I made by multiplying one by the golden ratio looks exactly like the kind of cross I see on top of or in the window of a ...
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13 votes
1 answer
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Did any Chinese scholars propose a heliocentric model?

After this related question, I now want to ask about the heliocentric model. Did any Chinese scholars propose a heliocentric model of the universe? The time period I'm interested is any time before ...
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19 votes
3 answers
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Before European influence circa 1600, did any Chinese believe the Earth was spherical, and did they ever try to measure it?

The Pythagorans, Aristotle, and Eratosthenese believed the Earth was spherical. Eratosthenes made a measure based on shadows at two cities on the same meridian. An Indian mathematician, Aryabhata, ...
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After the Mongol Empire fell, did China really turn away from math and physics?

I came across this from the Wiki article on Chinese Mathematics: After the overthrow of the Yuan Dynasty, China became suspicious of knowledge it used. The Ming Dynasty turned away from math and ...
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4 votes
1 answer
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What nationality was "Egbert Van Kampen"?

If you google a bit about the mathematician Egbert Van Kampen, almost all sources you'll find claim that he was born in Belgium in 1908. Does anyone have any reliable sources about this person's ...
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How many digits of Pi did the old Egyptians know?

From "Rhind Papyrus" from 1600 BC we know that the Egyptians had an estimate for pi, namely 3.16, meaning they knew only 2 digits of pi. According to this article they knew more digits, at least 4 ...
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8 votes
1 answer
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When were Liu Hui's mathematical works first translated into English?

I'm researching Liu Hui who lived circa 220 AD to 260 AD. He independently solved many challenging mathematical problems, and was an amazing mathematician previously unknown to me. I came across this ...
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10 votes
1 answer
518 views

Why are doughnuts toroidal?

I study maths and torii come up a bit, and same goes for physics with tokamak fusion reactors, for instance. In popular science talks, sometimes people say "torus" but most people are familiar with ...
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2 votes
2 answers
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How was Galileo's approach to mathematics different than Descartes's approach?

According to Galileo "the world is written in the language of mathematics," and a natural philosopher must learn to read it. How did this approach differ from Descartes' notion of a mathematical ...
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58 votes
5 answers
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How did the Romans do division?

How did Romans do division in their numeral system? Was it by repeated subtraction or did they know anything faster?
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6 votes
3 answers
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How did Kolmogorov help protect Moscow in WW2?

I have been reading this blog post which mentions that: during World War II Kolmogorov applied his mathematical gifts to artillery problems, helping to protect Moscow from German bombardment. So,...
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6 votes
3 answers
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Whatever happened to Turing's friend Arnold Murray?

Whatever happened to Arnold Murray, Alan Turing's friend who was convicted for theft. I could not find any later information on Murray or any recorded interview of his reminiscence of Turing. Thanks.
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14 votes
3 answers
1k views

Study of causal structures and dynamics in history?

I was not really sure how to phrase this question, but ok, let me try nonetheless. My background is in natural sciences, but I have always been interested in history as well. Over past years I have ...
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5 votes
4 answers
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What symbolism is incorporated in this illustration for a book by Riccati?

The front cover of the book Opere (1761) by Jacopo Riccati, author of the celebrated Riccati equation, has the illustration depicted below. What is the symbolism incorporated in this illustration? (...
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6 votes
4 answers
465 views

Was late-medieval French education recalcitrant to math?

The teaching of mathematics (as we understand the subject today) in France is said to result from Ramus. However, It was his predecessor Oronce Fine who convinced François 1 to include it at the ...
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5 votes
1 answer
301 views

What methods did the Old Babylonian society use for solving equations?

According to the Wikipedia article on the Abacus, Ettore Carruccio stated in Mathematics and Logic In History and In Contemporary Thought that the Old Babylonians: may have used the abacus for the ...
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8 votes
2 answers
627 views

How did people count before Fibonacci published Liber Abbaci? [closed]

Counting as we know it, including zero as a number, was brought to the traders and merchants of Europe by Leonardo of Pisa (whom we now know as Fibonacci) by his book "Liber Abbaci" in 1202. This ...
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-4 votes
1 answer
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Is there any relationship between 666 and Roman numerals (DCLXVI)? [closed]

I just realized that 666 is DCLXVI in Roman numerals (all numerals in sequence from largest to smallest). I have checked wiki but there was nothing mentioned about it. Are there any theories or ...
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2 votes
0 answers
289 views

When is the first recorded instance of the lo-shu square?

The lo-shu square (洛書) is a 3×3 grid of numbers, usually written as dots: Legend traces its origin to the legendary Yu the Great (大禹) or Fu-hi (伏羲) ~3000 years ago, but I'm interested in historically ...
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19 votes
2 answers
4k views

How could Eratosthenes measure the circumference of the Earth?

Some 2,200 years ago, Eratosthenes calculated the radius of the Earth. A brief recap Plant a stick in the ground vertically, and wait until the sun is directly above the stick, that is until ...
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-1 votes
2 answers
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When was the last book containing a table of logarithms was published? [closed]

My question is when the last book containing a table of logarithms was published. For example, I know that the CRC Standard Mathematical Tables doesn't contain the logarithmic tables any more, but ...
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3 votes
3 answers
2k views

What is the source of the claim that Enigma codebreaking efforts shortened the Second World War by years and saved millions of lives? [closed]

Since the release of the film The Imitation Game, it has been widely asserted that The cracking of Germany’s Enigma code shortening the war by two to four years and saving an estimated 14 ...
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8 votes
2 answers
265 views

What is the earliest known writing associating the number three with the dimension of the world?

Euclid's elements say: A solid is that which has length, breadth, and depth. This sentence recognizes that there are three dimensions in the world, and it was written in 300 BC. Are there any ...
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32 votes
6 answers
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What was the first solar eclipse that was demonstrably predicted in advance?

There is a famous story going back to Herodotus according to which Thales of Miletus predicted the solar eclipse of May 28, 585 BC, which interrupted a battle. Given that we have not a single ...
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11 votes
2 answers
784 views

What were the causes of decline of Babylonian numeric system?

Babylonia developed a numeric system advanced far ahead of its neighbors, and some might say even superior to our contemporary decimal. It was a 60-base system with convenient composition of factors ...
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6 votes
2 answers
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How did lay people understand logic in the Greco-Roman world?

I'm not interested in what Aristotle or the stoics wrote; how did "common" people understand practical logic, especially as it relates to rhetoric?
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4 votes
0 answers
213 views

When was the first recorded use of hospital readmissions as a summary statistic?

When was the first recorded use, or the first recorded intention of use of hospital readmissions as a summary statistic? A hospital readmission (also called a rehospitalization) is defined as a ...
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12 votes
4 answers
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How did the Egyptian engineers of the Third and Fourth Dynasty construct the Pyramids and Sphinx without modern science and mathematics? [closed]

How did the Egyptian engineers of the Third and Fourth Dynasty construct the Pyramids and Sphinx without modern science and mathematics? What was the "state of the art" in engineering, science, and ...
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8 votes
1 answer
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Were the problems Fibonacci solved in his work "Flos" posed specifically for him?

According to Wikipedia, Fibonacci wrote "Flos", a work which contained solutions to problems posed by Johannes of Palermo. Did Johannes pose a challenge to all European mathematicians of the time, or ...
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9 votes
1 answer
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Did the pope try to suppress the number zero?

Is there any evidence indicating that the Pope attempted to suppress the number zero? In an editorial review, Rob Lightner claims that "Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea", by Charles Seife, ...
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