A Best Seller

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Euclid

“Which was to be proved.”

Euclid

“Elements” by the famed Euclid of Alexandria, has been on the bestsellers list for thousands of years.   It is the most widely translated, published and studied mathematical book in the western world.   To this day, mathematicians refer to the basic rules about triangles, squares, and circles as Euclidean geometry.  Of course, Euclid’s achievements were based on centuries of intellectual effort proffered by the legendary Greek thinkers, among them Thales of Miletus, Anaxagoras and Xenophanes.

Euclid gave humanity a radically new way of thinking about certainty. He argued truth could be established through deductive reasoning and evidence based proof, rather than relying on leaps of intuition and faith.  While very little is known about Euclid himself, it is quite apparent that he was a brilliant researcher and detailed organizer.  He combined the geometrical theorems of his day into a coherent framework of basic theory and proofs. Geometry was well-developed; Euclid took these known practical techniques and expanded them into a purely theoretical system.

Euclid, from what little has come down through the centuries, was “most fair and well disposed towards all who were able in any measure to advance mathematics, careful in no way to give offence, and although an exact scholar never vaunting himself.”  A man, who never “vaunted” himself, influenced many generations of scientists, the likes of Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, and Sir Isaac Newton.  Philosophers Bertrand Russell, Alfred North Whitehead and Baruch Spinoza used the “Elements” deductive structure model for their respective disciplines. Abraham Lincoln’s copy of Euclid was kept safe in his saddlebag; Einstein referred to “Elements” as the “holy little geometry book.”  Perhaps, we should leave the last word for a poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay with her sonnet, “Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare”

Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.
Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
In shapes of shifting lineage; let geese
Gabble and hiss, but heroes seek release
From dusty bondage into luminous air.
O blinding hour, O holy, terrible day,
When first the shaft into his vision shone
Of light anatomized! Euclid alone
Has looked on Beauty bare. Fortunate they
Who, though once only and then but far away,
Have heard her massive sandal set on stone.

34 thoughts on “A Best Seller

    • So true – your comments reminded me of a quote I have by Roald Dahl on “original thoughts.”

      “I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours, a fixed salary, and very little original thinking to do.” Roald Dahl

      Is is possible that it is easier not to think….?

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      • there is an old Bertrand Russell quote about ‘most men never think, in fact I make a handsome living and only think once a week” — something like that 🙂

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      • I tried to find that quote – sounds like him. I think that you will like this one…

        “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” Bertrand Russell

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      • that’s a good one as well. Perhaps I mis-remembered and it was a different Irish philosopher. 🙂

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      • I work with brilliant people in IT. Some quite eccentric, once I had to attend meetings because two people would only talk when I was in the room.

        I think brilliant people can be lonely. They see things in a minute others don’t see in a day. How can you share? I think Bertrand Russell was like that.

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      • I agree. Genius sees the world in through a different lens/perspective. Their minds are constantly at work…
        I often think of Sir Isaac Newton – reclusive and difficult to understand, even ruthless.

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      • Yes, my version of that quote would be “If I have a good job, it is because I have ridden the coat-tails of the 200 IQ guys.”

        They are like everyone else, some quirky, some less so.

        But inevitably interesting.

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      • I was writing my Friday fictioneers story and I realized that a single T is the difference between here and there.

        that’s as complicated as I get 🙂

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    • Thank you! The Greeks started something that will continue way beyond our timeline. We owe them a great deal. I am also interested how Western and Eastern mathematical thought came together. But I will hold off on that “Science Series” until I have completed a little more research…

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      • hi Rebecca, i just read all the other comments. i enjoyed it very much. the fellow bloggers are brilliant, and your replies are always so insightful! thanks for being you, Rebecca!

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      • I agree – there is such depth to the comments! So glad that you are part of the discussion – means a great deal to me.

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  1. I believe at age 15 I said, “A curse on Euclid!” And that was being polite. lol

    The teacher was kind and I survived. 🙂

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    • I can only imagine the scene! You have a way with words so I am certain that your teacher thought you were only being theatrical. Glad you survived!!!

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  2. if Lincoln chose to keep his copy of “Elements” safely stored in his saddle bag, perhaps we would do well to study it ourselves. By the way, what a list of scientists that I know so little about. A challenge to investigate–should actually be fun.

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    • It was truly amazing how mathematics and science came together during a time when most knowledge was driven by the gods. It really takes original thinking. I think that you will like this quote:

      “Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new at all.” Abraham Lincoln

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  3. very interesting, I have to agree with one of the comments here, we learned a new thing every day, thank you for that. “Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare” so much meaning in these words

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    • I remember dreading science class until I came up with the idea of partnering with the smartest kid in my chemistry and physics classes. His enthusiasm for all that is science gave me a new perspective and yes, much higher marks….

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  4. Thanks for interesting information … It’s a real pleasure in this place: your blog !

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  5. You really do wonder about those great thinkers and how their perseverance in understanding the world paved the road for all to follow. You are truly a student of the world, and the depth of knowledge you have is so impressive.

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    • You are far too kind! For most of my life, I was always more interested in fiction than non-fiction, until one day, I read “The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie.” From that moment on, I have only read non-fiction because reality is more exciting. I am just reading “Savage Beauty” the life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford. I just don’t have enough time to read all of the books, take all the photos, talk with my friend, blog, walk, etc etc etc. I think that is what makes life all the more exciting.

      http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/354038.The_Last_Days_of_the_Incas

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