A History of the Circle: Mathematical Reasoning and the Physical Universe

A History of the Circle: Mathematical Reasoning and the Physical Universe

A History of the Circle: Mathematical Reasoning and the Physical Universe

A History of the Circle: Mathematical Reasoning and the Physical Universe

Synopsis

From the chariot wheels of ancient Egypt to the swirling masses of stars in the galaxy, Zebrowski discusses the concepts underlying mathematicians' calculations and links them to real-life examples with easy-to-follow reasoning and illustrations. 7 tables. 72 figures.

Excerpt

This book is not a history in the conventional sense. It is, rather, an exploration of the mysterious fact that natural phenomena behave in ways that allow us to link the past with the future. Nor is this book meant to be an exhaustive treatise on the mathematics of the circle. I use the circle as an exemplar that allows us to examine the broader relationship between mathematical reasoning and the physical universe. In particular, the following question begs to be examined: How is it that mathematics, ostensibly an abstract creation of the human mind, can produce conclusions that seem to be valid in the external realm of physical reality? This book is my humble attempt to address that question.

I write, not to practicing mathematicians and scientific theorists, but rather to the broader community of educators, students, and independent thinkers who seek to make sense of scientific [truths] that various specialists have discovered through mathematical logic. My theme does not require that the reader delve very deeply into the mathematics itself. Although I have included some examples in the symbolic formalisms of algebra and trigonometry, it is not essential that the reader be an expert in these areas, and skipping over some of the equations will do little injustice to my discussions. This book is intended to be read, not computed.

Each of us has experienced those moments in life when we are overcome by a feeling of deep intimacy with nature. For some, it happens in hiking through a remote wilderness; for others a gentle rain in the city will do. For me, it always happens when I find myself alone on a beach. It was on such an occasion that the idea for this book surfed in on the waves.

During my quarter-century of college teaching, I've presented the theory of wave motion, at different levels, to around seven or eight thousand students. Invariably what excites them most are my digressions from the pure physics— my commenting on historical incidents of rogue waves, great tsunamis, and giant storm swells. I'd sometimes felt a bit uneasy about digressing in this manner, talking about incidents that did not lay foundations for either the physics or the mathematics, but which instead were curious historical events that were fun to talk about. This particular day, my feet in the ocean, it dawned . . .

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