Monday, June 18, 2007

Great Mathematicians

Pythagoras--about 560-480 B.C. Greek philosopher and founder of a devout group of disciples, the Pythagreans. He proved the Pythagoras's Theorem, so it's named after him and not the Babylonians who first used it. He studied harmony and came up with the ratios that make up the musical scales. He studied astronomy, but had a geocentric view of the universe. A very interesting person to study, find out more at


Euclid--about 325-270 B.C. Also Greek, Euclid wrote the Elements of Geometry, which was the standard text on the subject for 2000 years (What modern textbook could hold a candle to that record?).


Archimedes--about 287-212 B.C. Archimedes was an amazing thinker. He's been called the greatest scientific mind of the ancient world.

Archimedes3 (unfortunately, this site says that Archimedes discovered pi, which is simply not true. It was Pythagoras who discovered that pi is an irrational number, so it's existance was known well before Archimedes. However, the site does have some great illustrations.)

Leonardo Fibonacci--about 1170-1240. One of my favorites, Fionacci was born in Italy toward the end of the Middle Ages. His writings introduced the decimal system to Europe. He illustrated the Phi sequence of 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, etc., with his famous rabbit problem.


Pierre de Fermat--1601-1665. Fermat was a French mathematician who worked math problems for his own enjoyment (though one would think that they all rather enjoyed what they did). He was a lawyer by profession. He had a bad habit of not furnishing proofs for his results. Fermat worked with Pascal to develop modern number theory and the laws of probablility.


Blaise Pascal--1623-1662. Another Frenchman, Pascal was a scientist and mathematician who built a mechanical calculating machine. He worked in many areas of mathematics and theological works which are still read today.


Rene Descartes--1596-1650. Also a contemporary of Pascal, Descartes was a French philosopher who had great influence on mathematics as well as philosophy. He applied algebra to geometry, making it possible to plot algebraic equations as geometric curves; this is called Cartesian or analytical geometry.


Isaac Newton--1642-1727. An English scientist and mathematician, it is hard to overestimate his impact upon the world. He actually spent more time in Bible study than in any other area.


Leonhard Euler--1707-1783. Euler was Swiss, but spent most of his life in Russian and Germany. The most prolific writer of the great mathematicians, he was totally blind the last seventeen years of his life. He is credited with inventing most of the symbols used in mathematics.


Karl Friedrich Gauss--1777-1855. A German mathematician and astronomer, Gauss invented the method of least squares, which allowed scientists to predict outcomes without having complete data. He was only 20 years old at the time. He also developed non-Euclidian geometry and learned new languages throughout his life to keep his mind sharp.


Each of these men could be studied in great depth, and should be studied to some extent in order to add a living dimension to learning mathematics. Sadly, the fact that from Fibonacci forward these men were Christian believers or at least strongly influenced by their Christian culture to accept that God created an orderly universe, making mathematical systems possible, is often left out of their biographies.

Living Math offers ways to "humanize" math through history and literature, and you'll find many helpful resources there.

This week's Carnival of Homeschooling is hosted by The Consent of the Governed.

1 comment:

  1. Ah! A blog post after my own heart. I will be linking to this.


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