Wednesday, February 10, 2010

By the numbers

Pythagoras, the first dude to call himself a philosopher, is best known to kids as the guy who came up with that theorem about the squares of the sides of a right triangle adding up to square of the hypotenuse. (He also was the first to get the mathematics behind musical harmony.) In fact, he didn't just dig numbers, but pretty much worshiped them as the basis of everything. (He especially thought the numbers one, two, three and four were special, adding up to 10 and how cool is that? To him, very.)

But what I had not known is that according to some accounts, after traveling to Egypt and learning a bunch of applied mathematics, he ended up as a teacher in India, where he became a revered leader of a sect-like thing that continued, big time, after he returned to Mediterranean. While in India, he was much influenced by Jainism, an ascetic offshoot of Hinduism that was particularly put off by that religion's rituals, particularly its sacrificial cults. (Jainism later suffered its own schism over such matters as whether believers need to be nude all the time. But Jainism had, and has, its cool aspects. For instance, believers were known to carry brooms as they walked in order to safely sweep away insects so they weren't stepped on. Modern-day Jains, some 2 million in number, support charities that pay for asylums for diseased and decrepit animals. One can think of worse religions.)

Anyway, Pythagoras' fixation on numbers was rather prescient. After all, Einstein's most important equation (not counting that good old e=mc2), is the one that describes the curvature of space on the left side of the equal sign and the mass and energy content on the right side. I don't know to reproduce it here, but it is, after all, a bunch of numbers. How cool is that?

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