A Certain Ambiguity: A Mathematical Novel

Princeton University Press
3
Free sample

While taking a class on infinity at Stanford in the late 1980s, Ravi Kapoor discovers that he is confronting the same mathematical and philosophical dilemmas that his mathematician grandfather had faced many decades earlier--and that had landed him in jail. Charged under an obscure blasphemy law in a small New Jersey town in 1919, Vijay Sahni is challenged by a skeptical judge to defend his belief that the certainty of mathematics can be extended to all human knowledge--including religion. Together, the two men discover the power--and the fallibility--of what has long been considered the pinnacle of human certainty, Euclidean geometry.

As grandfather and grandson struggle with the question of whether there can ever be absolute certainty in mathematics or life, they are forced to reconsider their fundamental beliefs and choices. Their stories hinge on their explorations of parallel developments in the study of geometry and infinity--and the mathematics throughout is as rigorous and fascinating as the narrative and characters are compelling and complex.


Moving and enlightening, A Certain Ambiguity is a story about what it means to face the extent--and the limits--of human knowledge.

Read more

About the author

Gaurav Suri, a partner at a global management consulting firm in San Francisco, holds a master's degree in mathematics from Stanford. Hartosh Singh Bal, a leading independent journalist in New Delhi, holds a master's degree in mathematics from New York University.
Read more
4.7
3 total
Loading...

Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
Read more
Published on
Jul 1, 2010
Read more
Pages
296
Read more
ISBN
9781400834778
Read more
Language
English
Read more
Genres
Fiction / Historical
Mathematics / Geometry / General
Mathematics / History & Philosophy
Philosophy / Epistemology
Science / Philosophy & Social Aspects
Read more
Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
Read more
Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
Read more
Eligible for Family Library

Reading information

Smartphones and Tablets

Install the Google Play Books app for Android and iPad/iPhone. It syncs automatically with your account and allows you to read online or offline wherever you are.

Laptops and Computers

You can read books purchased on Google Play using your computer's web browser.

eReaders and other devices

To read on e-ink devices like the Sony eReader or Barnes & Noble Nook, you'll need to download a file and transfer it to your device. Please follow the detailed Help center instructions to transfer the files to supported eReaders.
Today complex numbers have such widespread practical use--from electrical engineering to aeronautics--that few people would expect the story behind their derivation to be filled with adventure and enigma. In An Imaginary Tale, Paul Nahin tells the 2000-year-old history of one of mathematics' most elusive numbers, the square root of minus one, also known as i. He recreates the baffling mathematical problems that conjured it up, and the colorful characters who tried to solve them.

In 1878, when two brothers stole a mathematical papyrus from the ancient Egyptian burial site in the Valley of Kings, they led scholars to the earliest known occurrence of the square root of a negative number. The papyrus offered a specific numerical example of how to calculate the volume of a truncated square pyramid, which implied the need for i. In the first century, the mathematician-engineer Heron of Alexandria encountered I in a separate project, but fudged the arithmetic; medieval mathematicians stumbled upon the concept while grappling with the meaning of negative numbers, but dismissed their square roots as nonsense. By the time of Descartes, a theoretical use for these elusive square roots--now called "imaginary numbers"--was suspected, but efforts to solve them led to intense, bitter debates. The notorious i finally won acceptance and was put to use in complex analysis and theoretical physics in Napoleonic times.

Addressing readers with both a general and scholarly interest in mathematics, Nahin weaves into this narrative entertaining historical facts and mathematical discussions, including the application of complex numbers and functions to important problems, such as Kepler's laws of planetary motion and ac electrical circuits. This book can be read as an engaging history, almost a biography, of one of the most evasive and pervasive "numbers" in all of mathematics.

Some images inside the book are unavailable due to digital copyright restrictions.

Circles Disturbed brings together important thinkers in mathematics, history, and philosophy to explore the relationship between mathematics and narrative. The book's title recalls the last words of the great Greek mathematician Archimedes before he was slain by a Roman soldier--"Don't disturb my circles"--words that seem to refer to two radically different concerns: that of the practical person living in the concrete world of reality, and that of the theoretician lost in a world of abstraction. Stories and theorems are, in a sense, the natural languages of these two worlds--stories representing the way we act and interact, and theorems giving us pure thought, distilled from the hustle and bustle of reality. Yet, though the voices of stories and theorems seem totally different, they share profound connections and similarities.

A book unlike any other, Circles Disturbed delves into topics such as the way in which historical and biographical narratives shape our understanding of mathematics and mathematicians, the development of "myths of origins" in mathematics, the structure and importance of mathematical dreams, the role of storytelling in the formation of mathematical intuitions, the ways mathematics helps us organize the way we think about narrative structure, and much more.


In addition to the editors, the contributors are Amir Alexander, David Corfield, Peter Galison, Timothy Gowers, Michael Harris, David Herman, Federica La Nave, G.E.R. Lloyd, Uri Margolin, Colin McLarty, Jan Christoph Meister, Arkady Plotnitsky, and Bernard Teissier.

©2018 GoogleSite Terms of ServicePrivacyDevelopersArtistsAbout Google|Location: United StatesLanguage: English (United States)
By purchasing this item, you are transacting with Google Payments and agreeing to the Google Payments Terms of Service and Privacy Notice.