Mathematics – A historiography right from zero

For whatever we do, if there’s something we cannot do without, it’s mathematics. Mathematics is intuitional for some, like the boy at the bazaar, who may not have any formal training at all, but will do your calculations almost instantly. To many more, it is a formal journey into numbers, their interactions with other numbers, their behaviour, constraints, and so on. For others, mathematics remains the ideal tool to analyse the world as it is. It is mystifying as well as amazing that almost everything has a mathematical model to it, and describing that model is indeed one step closer to describing the world.

So we know math, let’s assume. But we are Indians, aren’t we? Isn’t there something more to us in this respect? For one, we were the first to put down ‘nothingness’ into a written form, that of ‘0’. And even determined the constant π(pi) correct up to 11 decimal places even way back in ancient India. Do we know, what as Indians, we have to be proud of? Dr Amber Habib, a professor of Mathematics at Shiv Nadar University, agreed to shed some light on this respect.

The Mathematics Society at St. Stephen’s College, for its first talk in the session 2013-2014 invited Dr. Habib to campus on the 19th of August 2013 to host the talk, ‘From Zero to Infinity’, a history of the mathematics that was much in practice in ancient India, nurtured by stalwarts like Aryabhatta, Bhaskara, Brahmacharya and many other mathematicians of that age. It had been the likes of them who had devised ‘Vedic Mathematics’, the integer solutions of Diophantine equations of the form Nx2+1=y2, given any integer N, and many more mathematical wonders. All this from the thought that such equations (called Pell’s equations) cannot be solved unless you take a perspective of all the other equations of their form. Now that was new, indeed.

And while we had fun solving these equations( which sometimes had solutions as large as 10 digit numbers) and performing calculations in the Babylonian system of numbering that uses base 60 (decimal system uses base 10), we indeed learnt a lot about the history of mathematics in our country.

But it is now up to us, that achievements in mathematics do not merely remain in the manuscripts; because as far as it goes, math is the thing of the past, the present and most importantly, the future. As Indians, it is more evident that it is our entire responsibility to take mathematics as far as we can, in our eternal aim for complete understanding.


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