Monthly Archives: September 2011

“Draw a triangle”

Ask a friend to draw a triangle — the one that comes immediately to their mind’s eye on hearing the word “triangle”. This is an experiment proposed by Eleanor Robson in her article Words and Pictures. What are the results? Do we differ from the ancient Mesopotamian scribe … or from each other?

Robson is arguing that even so basic a concept as a triangle is, in part, culturally determined. Are there modern cultural differences in the triangle, or other basic mathematical concepts?

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

10 vs 60

What base was he using?

We still depend on the positional number notation invented by the ancient Sumerians. But we’ve settled on using a different base. What are the advantages of base 10 over base 60? And what are the advantages of base 60 over base 10? Why did 10 win out, except for certain specialized uses connected with the measurement of space and time? And why those exceptions?

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

The Ishango Bone: mathematics or merely decoration?

Ishango bone The Ishango Bone is the oldest artifact mentioned in Plimpton 322. Is it really mathematical? Without knowing its context we can’t say for certain. What evidence from the object itself, or what arguments, do you find convincing either way?

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments