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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.

38
votes
2answers
9k views

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 ...
6
votes
0answers
66 views

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, ...
-2
votes
2answers
142 views

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 ...
12
votes
1answer
306 views

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 ...
18
votes
3answers
618 views

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, ...
2
votes
1answer
193 views

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 ...
3
votes
0answers
138 views

The nationality of “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 ...
0
votes
1answer
338 views

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 ...
7
votes
1answer
215 views

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 ...
10
votes
1answer
413 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 ...
2
votes
2answers
240 views

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 ...
57
votes
5answers
13k views

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?
5
votes
2answers
1k views

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.
13
votes
3answers
980 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 ...
6
votes
3answers
274 views

Symbolism in 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? (...
7
votes
4answers
387 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 ...
5
votes
1answer
241 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 ...
8
votes
2answers
496 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 ...
-4
votes
1answer
354 views

Is there any relationship between 666 and Roman numerals? [closed]

I just realised 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 ...
2
votes
0answers
106 views

What 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 ...
19
votes
2answers
2k 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 ...
-1
votes
2answers
188 views

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 ...
3
votes
3answers
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 ...
8
votes
2answers
240 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 ...
27
votes
6answers
9k views

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 ...
11
votes
2answers
550 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 ...
6
votes
2answers
277 views

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?
4
votes
0answers
173 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 ...
12
votes
4answers
2k views

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 ...
7
votes
1answer
1k views

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 ...
5
votes
1answer
2k views

Did the pope try to suppress the number zero?

What evidence exists to indicate 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, ...
12
votes
1answer
261 views

Was the State of Indiana's legislation changed to fix the value of Pi?

Is the following an anecdote? Mathematicians describe Pi as an irrational number, that is, a number that cannot be expressed as the ratio of any two integers. This was an irksome fact to the State ...
6
votes
1answer
1k views

Did Pythagoras visit Judaea, Arabia, and/or India?

From Wikipedia's page on Pythagoras: Diogenes Laertius reported that Pythagoras had undertaken extensive travels, and had visited not only Egypt, but Arabia, Phoenicia, Judaea, Babylon, and even ...
21
votes
5answers
1k views

Which Babylonian tablets contains the list of squares and cubes?

The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive writes Two tablets found at Senkerah on the Euphrates in 1854 date from 2000 BC. They give squares of the numbers up to 59 and cubes of the numbers up to ...
24
votes
2answers
7k views

What is the origin of the “wheat and chessboard” legend?

The "wheat and chessboard" fable describes a geometric problem that is often quoted in stories about the invention of chess. According to Wikipedia, the main theme of the fable is: When the creator ...
19
votes
2answers
5k views

How did Columbus calculate the size of the Earth?

Eratosthenes' calculations of the size of the Earth were very precise and very accepted during Columbus' time. Still, Columbus was convinced that the world was significatively smaller and that getting ...
6
votes
1answer
329 views

Vigenere vs. Bellaso

I noticed on the Wikipedia article for the Vigenere cipher, that: The Vigenère (French pronunciation: [viʒnɛːʁ]) cipher has been reinvented many times. The method was originally described by ...
8
votes
1answer
558 views

How far into the past was significance ascribed to the Golden Ratio?

I think everyone knows about the golden ratio or the divine proportion (I got to know more about it after reading the wikipedia article on it). It's present everywhere in nature and also in the human ...
14
votes
3answers
1k views

Early history of prime numbers

Prime numbers are those whole numbers greater than 1 which cannot be written as a product of numbers greater than 1. I'm curious about their very early history, say 200 BC and earlier. What I know: ...
17
votes
1answer
844 views

What were tally sticks?

What were tally sticks, and how was it that they they worked for the economy? I understand that they were a form of currency and were of fixed value based on the notches, but how did they work as a ...