Saturday, May 26, 2012

Harriot’s Cubes

Filed under: General,Geometry — Tags: — m759 @ 1:28 PM

See also Finite Geometry and Physical Space.

Related material from MacTutor

Harriot and binary numbers

The paper by J. W. Shirley, Binary numeration before Leibniz, Amer. J. Physics 19 (8) (1951), 452-454, contains an interesting look at some mathematics which appears in the hand written papers of Thomas Harriot [1560-1621]. Using the photographs of the two original Harriot manuscript pages reproduced in Shirley’s paper, we explain how Harriot was doing arithmetic with binary numbers.

Leibniz [1646-1716] is credited with the invention [1679-1703] of binary arithmetic, that is arithmetic using base 2. Laplace wrote:-

Leibniz saw in his binary arithmetic the image of Creation. … He imagined the Unity represented God, and Zero the void; that the Supreme Being drew all beings from the void, just as unity and zero express all numbers in his system of numeration. This conception was so pleasing to Leibniz that he communicated it to the Jesuit, Grimaldi, president of the Chinese tribunal for mathematics, in the hope that this emblem of creation would convert the Emperor of China, who was very fond of the sciences …

However, Leibniz was certainly not the first person to think of doing arithmetic using numbers to base 2. Many years earlier Harriot had experimented with the idea of different number bases….

For a discussion of Harriot on the discrete-vs.-continuous question,
see Katherine Neal, From Discrete to Continuous: The Broadening
of Number Concepts in Early Modern England  (Springer, 2002),
pages 69-71.

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