October 29, 2020

#08-003: The Language of the Universe

An early Babylonian mathematical tablet, c. 1800BCE

Note: Our modern understanding of the world would not have been possible without mathematics. Someone--perhaps Galileo--said, "Mathematics is the language of the universe."

Get Ready: Have you ever thought of mathematics as a "language"? How is it the same as languages made up of words? How is it different?

Our understanding of the "obvious" science of mathematics is hard-won. We cannot say exactly when, where, or by whom the prehistoric discoveries in mathematics were made, so I have shared the "best guesses" of historians.

Circa 3000 BCE: Mesopotamia, Egypt, and India seem to have developed tools that many math students would recognize today: rulers, protractors, weighing scales, and other measurement devices. These may have been used in various professions, including farming.

Around the same time, the first numeral system that we have deciphered was used in Egypt. Egyptian numerals used a sign-value system, not unlike the way numbers were traditionally written in ancient Rome (where, for example, XVI means sixteen: 10 + 5 + 1), rather than the place-value system generally in use today. (Some scholars believe China was the earliest culture to use place-value notation.)

Circa 2,300 BCE: The oldest known decimal-based multiplication table was discovered on ancient bamboo strips donated to Tsinghua University in Beijing in 2009. It is surmised that the table was used by officials to calculate the surface area of land, crop yields, or the amounts of taxes owed.

Circa 2000 BCE: The first tablets indicating the concept of area were produced in Babylon, and three-dimensional volume was discussed in Egypt. These are the foundations of geometry. Around the same time, the Babylonians began solving quadratic equations in order to relate the areas and sides of rectangles. Other concepts, much later named for the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras and used in "his" theorem, were also discussed in Babylon and Egypt. The first Babylonian multiplication tables also emerged at this time. And the Babylonians first began to use a primitive form of positional notation, where the location of a number as written tells something of its value (as today when we have columns for ones, tens, hundreds, and so on).

Nothing science does today would be possible without these foundational discoveries!


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_mathematics

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. crop yields
  2. decimal
  3. deciphered
  4. foundational
  5. geometry
  6. hard-won
  7. obvious
  8. positional
  9. protractors
  10. three-dimensional

  1. figured out a text
  2. having length, width, and height
  3. basic
  4. the study of points, lines, angles, and figures
  5. based on ten
  6. difficult to get
  7. the amount of food gained from growing plants
  8. plain to see
  9. regarding the place of something
  10. devices used for measuring angles

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for October 29, 2020

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. g; 2. e; 3. a; 4. c; 5. d; 6. i; 7. h; 8. f; 9. j; 10. b