Author Archives: Laurence Kirby

Posts: 20 (archived below)
Comments: 9

Math = Writing = Accounting?

Iraq 4000 years agoEleanor Robson tells us that practically all (97%) of written documents from southern Iraq 4000 years ago were accounts. Thus the twin births of writing and of mathematics both came about together due (largely) to accounting. Was this just a reflection of the bureaucratic nature of early Mesopotamian civilization, or is accounting the only possible stimulus for these crucial advances?

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“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?

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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?

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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?

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The Ancient Roots of Modern Mathematics

This blog accompanies the short documentary film “Plimpton 322: The Ancient Roots of Modern Mathematics” and will host a discussion of issues arising from the film. It’s for Professor Laurence Kirby’s students at Baruch College, and anyone else interested.Laurence Kirby

Watch for posts of questions, comments, and challenges.

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