The Italian-American mathematican, Juan Carlos Rota (1932-1999) wrote … We often hear that mathematics consists mainly of “proving theorems.” Is a writer’s job mainly that of “writing sentences?” Mathematics is much, much more than just dealing with theorems.
Having said that, just as a good writer knows how to craft his/her sentences, a good mathematican builds their understanding on theorems. Theorems are the firm foundations, the principles upon which the rest of mathematics is built. Everything that we ‘know’ and every skill that we use in mathematics has been analysed and proven by someone … from the very mundane and practical to the amazingly abstract and beautiful.
Why does 1 + 1 = 2? Well, we know it does … but why? Such thoughts are not trivial. Entire books have been written about such matters. The great British astrophysicist, Sir Arthur Eddington (1882 – 1944), wryly observed, “We used to think that if we knew one, we knew two, because one and one are two. We are finding that we must learn a great deal more about ‘and.’”
The image to the left is of Euclid’s proof of Pythagoras’ Theorem in Greek. In his day, all the Greek would have been written in capital letters and run together, but the text used here is easier to read. Why did I choose this image? Simply because Pythagoras’ Theorem is one of the most famous theorems of mathematics. Also, the fact that you can see it in its Greek form underscores the fact that mathematics is a discipline that transcends cultures and times. I found the image on a most marvellous site designed by J B Calvert called Reading Euclid. Let me encourage you to browse this site and learn something of the Greek (language) from which our geometry came. What J B Calvert shares about Pythagoras’ Theorem is fascinating!
Sadly, I could not find out how to contact him for permission to use this image (and his site was last revised on 16 June 2002) … but I hope he doesn’t mind.
I recently read that mathematicans today are expanding the numerous branches of mathematics at something like 250,000 published theorems per year! Obviously, no one can keep up with such rapid development. I certainly will not try. All you will see here are some key historical theorems presented and discussed … as I am able to add them.
Graeme and the maths material made available really helped me through HSC two unit mathematics. The maths I learnt back then I still use in my university degree today, and will most likely use in the future.
Jane C (student, 2010)
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