Numbers at Work: A Cultural Perspective
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Drawing primarily from historical examples, this book explains the tremendous role that numbers and, in particular, mathematics play in all aspects of our civilization and culture. The lively style and illustrative examples will engage the reader who wants to understand the many ways in which mathematics enables science, technology, art, music, politics, and rational foundations of human thought. Each chapter focuses on the influence of mathematics in a specific field and on a specific historical figure, such as "Pythagoras: Numbers and Symbol"; "Bach: Numbers and Music"; "Descartes: Numbers and Space."
experience numbers, over which time has no sway. We listen to a clock striking in a tower: one, two, three, four, ﬁve, six, seven, followed by a silence. Seven is the number that the clock is using to tell us the time. We understand this on the basis of our counting skill. Pursuing this seemingly trivial insight further, we may note that the seventh stroke sounded no diﬀerent from, say, the ﬁrst or the fourth. However, as part of counting up to seven, we realize that we have already gone past one
insoluble for reasons of principle, as they noted to their astonishment, but this is discussed in greater detail later. 11 P Y T H AG O R A S : N U M BE R S A N D S Y M B O L Forty, in itself a number of no particular numerological interest, still has a very powerful symbolic signiﬁcance in the broad context of puriﬁcation, which survives to this day in the etymology of the word quarantine. We should also cite the belief that the fortieth day marks the end of an acute illness and the division
of algebraic-sign errors, that bane of math classes, which continues to spread disaﬀection with the subject even to this day. However, the die has been cast, and more than 300 years a er Leibniz, it is hopeless to try and push triadic against a safely ensconced base ten. 74 ASCII is an acronym of American Standard Code for Information Interchange. 75 Examples of non-printable control characters in the ASCII code are the numbers 0000010 = 2 or 0000011 = 3, which mark the beginning and the end
our senses. While we can see and touch the silver pieces we are counting and mentally connect them to the number thirty, we cannot see or touch the number thirty itself. We hear the x N U M BE R S AT WOR K steeple clock strike, and we count up to eight—yet all that we hear is those strokes of the clock that we mentally subsume under eight; we do not hear the number eight itself. There is no way in which we can have direct sensuous experience of numbers, no way of experiencing them in their
en been asserted that the vacuity of number symbolism, which has been apparent in the last two examples, is the result of giving fantasy too loose a rein, of a ributing more meaning to numbers than was ever there to be found. The population ﬁgures of states are straightforward indicators of their sizes. Whether they have many divisors or only two is completely irrelevant to this function. For the Pythagoreans, however, the “dumbing-down” of the concept of numbers to mundane quantiﬁcation was a