A New, Strange World

Janos Bolyai

Birth: 1802 – Romania

Death: 1860 – Romania

Most people think of Count Dracula whenever Transylvania is mentioned. However, I think of another name at first: Janos Bolyai.

Failed dreams of a young mathematician

Janos Bolyai (from now on I will mention him as Bolyai) is the son of Hungarian mathematician Farkas Bolyai. He showed great potential even when he was just 5-6 years old, and mastered calculus* when he was 13.

*Calculus

The branch of mathematics that deals with the finding and properties of derivatives and integrals of functions, by methods originally based on the summation of infinitesimal differences.

In 1816, Farkas asked his old friend and mathematics teacher Gauss* to take his son as a pupil so that young Bolyai can have the best possible mathematics education. Although, Gauss rejected Farkas’ offer. This wasn’t going to be the only bad new Bolyai gets from Gauss.

*Gauss

A German mathematician who is also known as the prince of mathematics.

For young Bolyai, the best possible choice was to go to Vienna and study military engineering. He was an outstanding student there and finished 7 years of study in just 4 years and joined the army in 1823. He earned a living there until 1834.

A new geometry

Farkas Bolyai spent most of his career for finding a proof (or disproof) for Euclid’s parallel postulate* but failed in the end. It is not a surprise that young Bolyai took the matter in his own hands. He started working on the subject in the early 1820s.

Euclid’s parallel postulate

Also known as the fifth postulate that is given by the Greek mathematician Euclid in the first book of his masterpiece Elements.

Basically, it states that no two infinite parallel lines meet at a point.
L1 and L2 will meet at a point if they are not parallel to each other. Euclid’s fifth states that in essence.

Bolyai spent almost all of his spare time in his army duty for mathematics. In November 3rd, 1823 he wrote a letter to his father, mentioning his findings for the first time with these words:

“… out of nothing, I created a new and strange world.”

A year after this letter Bolyai completed his idea for non-Euclidean geometry. At first, Farkas was distant to his son’s findings, but at 1830 he realized how important his discovery was. This is why he convinced his son to write down his idea. In 1831, Bolyai wrote 24 pages-long appendix in his father’s book.

Farkas sent the appendix to his old friend Gauss to evaluate his son’s work. After reading the appendix, Gauss made two important comments to two separate people…

The idea

Bolyai’s idea at its core: Imagine a new geometry where Euclid’s fifth postulate isn’t true. In other words; a new geometry where parallel lines can meet.

In Euclidean geometry, the shortest path between two points is a straight line. However, according to Bolyai’s non-Euclidean geometry shortest path is a curve. You can read about this subject here.

One could explain Bolyai’s idea like this:

In Euclidean geometry, internal angles of any given triangle add up to 180 degrees. But if we draw a triangle on a sphere (e.g. on Earth), angles will exceed 180 degrees:

Bolyai’s geometry (today is known as hyperbolic or non-Euclidean geometry) was a brand new geometry.

The breakdown

Gauss told one of his friends “I regard this young geometer Bolyai as a genius of the first order.”. But, at the same time he wrote a letter to Farkas and showed a much different attitude:

“… to praise this work would be praising myself, as I’ve had the same ideas some 30-35 years ago.”

Today we know that Gauss, in fact, held similar ideas with Bolyai thanks to a letter of his dated back to 1824. But, this happened much after that he told. It is believed that Gauss wasn’t feeling comfortable about publishing his ideas publicly.

Gauss’ comments on his appendix hit Bolyai hard. His idea stayed unknown for the mathematics community and he was deeply affected after Gauss’ remarks. Soon after, his health had gone bad and he was forced to leave the army in 1834, and he started living an isolated life from his beloved mathematics.

Paranoid

Even after all this, Bolyai kept working on mathematics. In 1848, he received a work that is written by a Russian mathematician named Lobachevsky. Lobachevsky’s work was published in 1829 (before his appendix) and covered almost the same ideas as he had held for non-Euclidean geometry. Gauss knew about this work as well. In fact, he praised Lobachevsky for his work.

After investigating the work deeply, Bolyai believed that Lobachevsky was not a real person, and it was all Gauss behind this work. Unfortunately, Bolyai was slowly losing his mind.

Bolyai stopped his mathematics in his last years and died in poverty in 1860. It is known that he left around 20.000 pages of unpublished mathematical work behind. They can be found in the Bolyai-Teleki library located in Targu Mures.

Today, we honor him by calling non-Euclidean geometry as Bolyai-Lobachevsky geometry.

M. Serkan Kalaycıoğlu

Real MATHEMATICS – Geometry #20

Escape From Alcatraz

Imagine a classroom that has 5 meters between its walls in length. Tie a 6-meter long rope between these walls. Let the rope be 2 cm high off the ground. Since the rope strained to its limits, its 1-meter long part hangs from either side of the rope.

The ultimate goal is to escape from the classroom from under this rope, without touching the rope.

Rules

  • Escape should be from the middle point of the rope.
  • One should use the extra part of the rope to extend it.
  • One of the students will help you during the escape. He/she will strain the rope for you so that you can avoid touching the rope.
  • Each student has exactly one try for his/her escape.

Winning Condition: Using the least amount of rope for your escape.

Football Field

Legal-size for a football field is between 90 and 120 meters in length. Assume that we strain a rope on a football field that is 100 meters long. We fixed this rope right in the middle of both goals while the rope is touching the pitch.

The middle of the rope sits right on the starting point of the field. This is also known as the kick-off point.

Let us add 1 meter to the existing rope. Now, the rope sits flexed, not strained, on the field.

Question: If we try to pick the rope up at the kick-off point, how high will the rope go?

Solution

We can express the question also as follows:

“Two ropes which have length 100m and 101m are tied between two points sitting 100m apart from each other. One picks the 101m-long rope up from its middle point. How high the rope can go?”

If we examine the situation carefully, we can realize that there are two equal right-angled triangles in the drawing:

Using Pythagorean Theorem, we can find the length h:

(50,5)2 = 502 + h2

h ≈ 7,089 meters.

Conclusion

Adding only 1 meter to a 100-meter long rope helps the rope to go as high as 7 meters in its middle point. This means that a 1-meter addition could let an 18-wheeler truck pass under the rope with ease.

M. Serkan Kalaycıoğlu

Real MATHEMATICS – Geometry #18

Protect the Cake

Holy cake is coming to the school today. It will be open for visit in one of the classrooms. You are responsible for the protection of the holy cake. But you have limited people under your command which is why you should use minimum number of guards to protect the holy cake.

About the guards: A museum guard stays at a fixed point and observes the art piece(s) from that point. Obviously guard can see every angle around him/herself by simply rotating.

Floor plan of the classroom is like the following:

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Find the minimum number of guards needed in order to protect the holy cake in this room.

Polygonal Rooms

First we will be examining the simplest polygon.

Example 1: Triangle room.

Assume that holy cake is inside a triangle room. One guard is enough for protecting the cake as he/she will be able to see every part of the room:

Example 2: Rectangle room.

Again one guard will be enough:

Q: Is one guard enough for all polygon-shaped rooms?

Convex-Concave: A polygon is convex if each of its internal angles is less than 180 degrees. Otherwise that polygon is called concave.

As we can see above, all convex polygons can be protected by a single guard. Although it can’t be said for all concave polygons.

Now we know that the room of holy cake is a concave polygon. Let’s examine a simple concave polygon first:

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It is possible to protect the room if we place the guard right on the vertex of the angle that is greater than 180 degrees:

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If we have a room plan as following:

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In such room, one guard doesn’t give enough coverage:

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Guard can’t see the blackened area.

Art Gallery Problem

Before moving on the more complex room plans, we have to check if there is any algorithm for finding the necessary number of guards in concave polygons. This problem was first posed by a mathematician named Victor Klee in 1973 and is called art gallery problem. In order to find the necessary number of guards in a room, we should use a method called triangulation.

Triangulation: Basically it is a process that enables us to divide any polygon into triangles.

Let’s take a concave polygon as an example. First we should use triangulation:

Then we should color the vertices of the triangles. In any triangle vertices must have different colors:

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We used 3 colors: 1, 2 and 3.

Number of guards is the least used vertex color. If guards take positions at those vertices, they will be able to see the room completely:

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Least numbered colors are 2 and 3. Placing guards on either of them is enough to cover the whole room. If, let’s say, we choose to place two guards on the color 3, room will be protected.

Solution

We are finally ready to solve the holy cake problem. First we should triangulate the floor plan of the classroom:

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Next, we should color the vertices of the triangles:

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Three colors were used as follows:

20190328_131241.jpg

The least used colors are 1 and 3. This gives us the number of guards needed (that is 6) in order to protect the holy cake. If, let’s say we choose to place the guards on the vertices with color 1, room will be covered completely.

One wonders…

  1. What would the answer be if there were columns inside the classroom as shown below?
    20190328_131619.jpg
  2. Can you find a relationship between the number of vertices of the polygon and number of guards?

M. Serkan Kalaycıoğlu

Real Mathematics – Strange Worlds #10

Tearing Papers Up

Use a stationery knife and cut an A4 paper. You will end up with pieces that have smooth sides. Hence you can use Euclidean geometry and its properties in order to find the perimeters of those pieces of papers:

However, when you tear a paper up using nothing but your hands you will be getting pieces that have rough sides as follows:

If you pay enough attention you will that the paper on the right looks just like map of an island.

In the previous article I used properties of Euclidean geometry to measure the length of a coastline and found infinity as an answer. Since those two torn papers look like an island or a border of a country, perimeters of those pieces of papers will also tend to infinity. This is indeed a paradox.

This paradox shows that Euclidean geometry is not useful when it comes to measure things/shapes that have roughness.

Birth of Fractals

“Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, and coastlines are not circles…”
Benoit B. Mandelbrot

There are only shapes consist of dots, lines, curves and such in Euclidean geometry. On the other hand shapes of some natural phenomena can’t be described with Euclidean geometry. They have complex and irregular (rough) shapes. This is where we need a new kind of geometry.

In 1967 mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010) published a short article with the title “How long is the coast of Britain?” where he gave an ingenious explanation to coastline paradox. Furthermore, this article is accepted as the birth of a brand new mathematics branch: Fractal geometry.

The word fractal comes from “fractus” which means broken and/or fractured in Latin. There is still no official definition of what a fractal is. One of their most definitive specialties is “self-similarity”. Fractals look the same at different scales. It means, you can take a small extract of a fractal object and it will look the same as the entire object. This is why fractals are self-similar.

a

Romanesco broccoli has a fractal shape as you zoom in you will see shapes that look the same as the whole broccoli.

Fractals have infinitely long perimeters. Therefore measuring a fractal’s perimeter or area has no meaning whatsoever.

Coastlines are fractals also: As you zoom in on a coastline or a border line, it is possible to see small versions of the whole shape. (Click here for a magnificent example.) This means that if we had a way to measure a fractal’s perimeter, we can solve the coastline paradox.

So the big question is: What can one do to measure a fractal?

Dimension

According to Mandelbrot, it is possible to measure a fractal’s roughness degree; not its perimeter nor its area. Mandelbrot called this degree fractal dimension. He realized that fractals have different dimensions than the shapes we know from Euclidean geometry.

I will be talking about dimensions in Euclidean geometry before moving on to explaining how one can calculate the dimension of a fractal.

In the Euclidean geometry line has 1, plane has 2, space has 3 dimensions and so on. Teachers use specific examples when this is taught in schools. For space, a teacher asks his/her students to observe any corner of a ceiling:

hjfhjfhj

There are 3 different directions one can choose to walk from that corner. While this is a valid example, it only shows what 3 dimensions look like.

Q: How can one calculate the dimension degree of an object/shape?

Line

Let’s draw a straight line and cut it into two halves:

If straight line had length 1, each segment now has length 1/2. And there are 2 segments in total.

Continue cutting every segment into two halves:

20190217_005201

Now each segment has length ¼ and there are 4 line segments in total.

At the point a formula breaks out:

(1/Length of the line segments)Dimension Degree = Number of total line segments

Let me call dimension degree as d.

For 4 line segments:

(1/1/4)d = 4

4d  = 4

d = 1.

This concludes that line has 1 dimension.

Square

Let’s draw a square that has unit side lengths. At first cut each side into two halves:

There will be 4 little replicas of the original square. And each of those replicas has side length ½.

Apply the formula:

(1/1/2)d = 4

2d  = 4

d = 2.

Let’s continue and divide each side into two halves. There will be 16 new squares:

20190217_005002

Each side of these new squares has length ¼. Apply the formula:

(1/1/4)d = 16

4d = 16

d = 2.

This means that square has 2 dimensions.

To be continued…

One wonders…

Apply the same method and formula to find the dimension of a cube.

M. Serkan Kalaycıoğlu

Real Mathematics – Geometry #17

Why do we have round wheels in cars and bicycles?

Square Wheels

Let’s construct a square wheel like the following and test if it can be used as an efficient wheel:

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After turning the squared-wheel 45 degrees the square will look like the one on the right:

At this position it is clear even to the naked eye that the height of the wheel is taller comparing to its original state. If we continue turning the wheel for another 45 degrees it goes back to its original position.

Squared-wheel has big disadvantages. A car or a bicycle with squared-wheels will be doomed as height of the vehicle constantly changes.

Triangle Wheels

Among the triangles equilateral is the best one for constructing a wheel as all of its sides have equal length:

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After turning the triangular-wheel 60 degrees to the left, it will have the same height:

Although let’s go 30 degrees back and examine the height of the wheel:

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Here height of the wheel is clearly taller than the height of the original state. This proves that it is not appropriate to construct a triangular-wheel on a vehicle. Otherwise you might have problems with your spine.

Power of the Circle

The reason why circle is the most powerful and convenient shape for our vehicles is that neither of its height nor width changes while rotating. This separates circle from all the other polygons and makes it the best shape for wheels.

çembeee

Nonetheless, one wonders if circle is the only possible shape for wheels.

Reuleaux Triangle

Leonardo da Vinci is one of those names that appear in your mind when someone mentions Renaissance. The relationship between this magnificent figure and Reuleaux triangle comes from a world map that was found inside his pupil Francesco Melzi’s notes:

289294-1338211643

This is known as one of the very first maps that included America. It is believe that this 1514-dated drawing was due to Leonardo da Vinci. If this is true, then it is safe to assume that da Vinci was the first person ever who used the Reuleaux triangle.

It was Leonhard Euler whom discovered the shape and explained it mathematically almost 200 years after da Vinci’s map. You probably realized this from my articles: “It is either Euler or Gauss.”

How come it is called Reuleaux? Because a century after Euler, a German engineer named Franz Reuleaux discovered a machine using Reuleaux triangle. In 1861 Franz Reuleaux wrote a book that made him famous and today he is known as the father of kinematics.

How to Construct Reuleaux Triangle?

I will show you my favorite method for its construction using three identical circles. First draw a circle that has radius r:

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Then pick a point on that circle as a center and draw a second circle again with radius r:

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At last, pick one of the crossings of the circles as center and draw a third circle with radius r:

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The central area of these three circles is a Reuleaux triangle:

When a Reuleaux triangle is rotating, it will have the same height at all times just like the circle:

18mlevdqtxdsbjpg
A bike that has a Reuleaux-triangled wheel.

One wonders…

  1. Using Euclid’s tools (a compass and an unmarked ruler) draw an equilateral triangle.
  2. Try to construct Reuleaux triangle with on the equilateral triangle.
  3. Can you contruct Reuleaux polygon(s) other than the triangle?

M. Serkan Kalaycıoğlu

Real Mathematics – Geometry #16

Smell of a Cake

I smell something wonderful. I beam myself up to the kitchen to investigate the source of this smell. I find it: My mother’s chocolate-chipped cake. As I leaned towards the cake, someone grabs my arm: Mom caught me…

I use the emotional card. She doesn’t buy it anymore. My opponent is experienced; my opponent is winning the battle!

As I was thinking of giving up, she offers me a deal. If I can cut three equal pieces out of this cake, one of the pieces will be mine.

Mom’s conditions:

  • Only instrument of measurement allowed for the cut is a compass.
  • Goal is to cut three pieces that have the same area. Size of the pieces is up to my cutting skills.
  • While making the cut, small differences (as if one area is 3,04 and other is 3,09) will be ignored by the mother.
  • Most important condition: Pieces must be in the shape of a ring.
  • You only have one chance for cutting. There is no turning back after the knife touches the cake.

Art of Cutting Cakes

I tried to find a method on paper because I satisfy all the conditions for the cut.

First I drew a circle that has center O:

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Then I created a chord which is as long as the radius of the circle:

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I placed the chord on random places inside the circle and marked chord’s midpoints:

I chose any of those marked points and drew a new circle that has center O:

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Then I followed the same procedure inside the new circle:

And finally I did the same things for the third time:

Areas which I colored with pens are equal to each other:

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Radius of the biggest circle=5 cm.
Radius of the second circle=4,34 cm.
Radius of the third circle=3,56 cm.
Radius of the forth (smallest) circle=2,55 cm.

For those who wonder the areas, you could calculate and see the approximate results.

One wonders…

I found out that it is possible to cut equal areas that are ring-shaped with using only a compass as mother asks.

Now think: How long the chord should be in order to cut the biggest possible piece?

M. Serkan Kalaycıoğlu

Real Mathematics – Geometry #15

Drawing a square

I am dealing with geometry and I imagine that I am in ancient Greece again. Aegean sea is in front of me and I am sitting on a marble between two huge white columns while holding an unmarked ruler and a compass.

First I draw a circle that has center at A and has radius r:

çember1

Then I draw the same circle but taking its center at B this time:

çember2

I connect the points A and B with a straight line. Then I draw two perpendiculars from the endpoints of the line AB:

çember3

I connect the point E to the point F and end up with the ABEF square which has side lengths r:

Biggest circle that can be drawn into ABEF will have diameter r and touch the square at exactly four points:

çember6

Area

In order to find the area of a square one can take the square of one side that gives r2.

To find a circle’s area one should multiply the square of the radius with π. In our inscribed circle we calculate the area as πr2/4.

Ratio of these areas would give π/4.

Weight

Now let’s make an experiment. For that all you need is some kind of cardboard cut as a square and a precision scale. Using the scale find the weight of the square-shaped cardboard.

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Then draw the biggest possible circle inside this square. Cut that circle out and find its weight with the scale.

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Since we are using the same material ratio of the weights should be equal to the ratio of the areas. From here one can easily find an approximation for the number π:

0,76/0,97 = π/4

3,1340… = π

One of the main reasons why we only found an approximation is that the cardboard might not be homogeneous. In other words the cardboard might not have equal amount of material on every point of itself.

Another reason for finding an approximation is that I didn’t cut the square and the circle perfectly.

One wonders…

Draw a circle and then draw the biggest-possible square inside that circle. Find their areas and measure their weights. See if you found an approximation.

M. Serkan Kalaycıoğlu

Real Mathematics – Life vs. Maths #2

Matches

For thousands of years people tried find a precise value for the number π (3,1415192…). At first this special number was thought to be seen only when there is a circle around. Within time π started to appear in places where scientist didn’t expect it to be. One of them was an 18th century scientist Georges Buffon.

Buffon came up with a probability problem named “Buffon’s needle problem” in 1777 when he came across with the number π. As I didn’t possess that many needles, I modified the problem as “Serkan’s matches problem”.

Buffon’s Needle Problem: Take a piece of paper and draw perpendicular lines on it with specific amount of space between them. Buffon wondered if one can calculate the probability of a needle that will land on one of the lines.

To start Serkan’s matches problem you need at least 100 matches, a piece of empty paper, a ruler, pen/pencil and a calculator.

First of all, draw perpendicular lines with 2 matches-length spaces between them.

Then just throw the matches on the paper randomly.

img_4648

Start collecting the matches which land on a line. At last you should use your calculator to divide the total number of matches to the number of matches landed on a line.

In my experiment out of 100 matches, 32 of them landed on a line. That gave me 3,125 which is close to the magical number π.

img_4651

In fact, 100 matches are not enough for this experiment. In my second try 34 matches landed on one of the lines which gave 100/34=2,9411… Obviously this is not close to π. More matches we use, closer we will get to π.

In an experiment back in 1980 2000 needles were used to analyze Buffon’s needle problem. Result was 3,1430… which is seriously close to the number π.

pi1000-e1536927416822

You could go to https://mste.illinois.edu/activity/buffon/ and use this simulator which uses 1000 needle. In my first try I got 3,1496… You should try and see the result yourself.

In the future I will be talking about why a needle (or a match) is connected to the number π.

One wonders…

Try to do your own experiment and repeat Buffon’s needle problem for five times. Take the arithmetic average of your solutions and see how close you are to π?

M. Serkan Kalaycıoğlu

Real Mathematics – Killer Numbers#6

Socrates’ Lesson

In the previous articles I have talked about Plato and his effect on science; particularly geometry. Thanks to his book named Meno, we know about one of the most influential philosophers of all times: Socrates.

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Meno was another book of Plato that was written as dialogues. In this book there were two main characters: Meno and Socrates.

In the beginning of the book Meno asks Socrates if virtue is teachable or not. Even though Meno is crucial for understanding Socrates’ philosophy, there is one part of the book that interests me the most.

Problem

The book gets interesting when Socrates starts asking “the boy” who was raised near Meno. At first, Socrates is asking the boy to describe shape of a square and its properties. After a series of questions Socrates asks his main problem: How can one double the area of a given square?

This is an ancient problem that is also known as “doubling the square”. The boy answers Socrates’ questions and eventually finds the area of a square with side length of 2 units. The boy also concludes that since this area has 4 units, double of such square should have 8 units. But when asked to find one side of such square, the boy gives the answer of 4 units. However after his answer the boy realizes that a square with sides of 4 units has 16 units of area, not 8.

Classical Greek Mathematics

After this point the boy follows Socrates’ descriptions in order to draw a square that has 8 units of area. At first Socrates commands the boy to draw a square that has sides 2:

1kare

This square’s area is 4 units. Then Socrates tells him to draw three identical squares:

4kare

Now Socrates tells the boy to unite these squares as follows:

tekkare

Socrates asks the boy to draw the diagonals in each square. They both know the fact that a diagonal divides a square into two equal areas:

kosekare

It is easy to see that the inner square has a total area of 8 units:

kosekare2

One side of the inner square is the diagonal from small squares. In order to find that diagonal the boy uses Pythagorean Theorem:

karepis

Conclusion

Even though he only uses a compass and an unmarked ruler, the boy found a length that is irrational thanks to Socrates’ instructions. Back in ancient Greece numbers were imagined as lengths/magnitudes. This is why as long as they constructed it neither Socrates nor the boy cared about irrationality of a length.

Pythagoras and his cult claimed that all numbers are rational and they tried to hide the facts that irrational numbers exist. But in the end philosophers like Socrates won the debate and helped mathematics to flourish into many branches.

M. Serkan Kalaycıoğlu

Real Mathematics – Geometry #6

Mathematics was crucial for mankind before ancient Greeks came along. Humans needed mathematics to solve their everyday problems and that is why they were learning it. But ancient Greeks changed that as they developed mathematics for joy. This is one of the reasons why they didn’t limit themselves to the daily problems.

One of the problems ancient Greeks considered is today known as the Delos Problem, or Doubling the Cube. Even the brightest philosophers were helpless against this specific problem. Now I will tell you two common told stories about how Greeks started dealing with this problem.

Surviving the Plague

According to Theon of İzmir (a city in modern Turkey), this story was inside one of the books of Eratosthenes that were lost.

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Around 430 BC a devastating plague had arisen in ancient Athens. Leaders of the city were desperate against the plague and they had no idea how to save the people of Athens. During the plague God speaks to the people through an oracle: In order to stop the plague they had to build a new altar. But this altar should have twice the volume of the previous altar.

plague-of-athens
Plague of Athens

It was seemingly an easy task for the engineers of the Athens. Although they were unable to build the altar as God wanted them to. According to Plato, Greeks were in illusion as they claimed to know everything about geometry. And with this task God was teaching them a lesson. Plato thought God didn’t want people to build the altar. He only wanted to show people how ignorant they are.

Grave of Glaucus

Second story is being told in one of Archimedes’ books. Apparently Eratosthenes wrote a letter to the King of Greece and mentioned this story.

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King Minos

Zeus and Europa had a son named Minos. King Minos is one of the leading characters in the Greek mythology. In the story it is being told that King Minos’ son Glaucus died at an early age. King wanted his engineers to build a massive grave for his late son. Eventually King thought the grave that was built was rubbish and wasn’t suitable for a royal. He ordered his engineers to double the volume of the cube-shaped grave. In order to do that Minos told the engineers to double the sizes of the grave.

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This caused a huge problem as new volume turned out to be eight times the old volume when the sides of the cube-shaped grave were doubled. Neither Minos nor his men were unable to solve this problem.

Three Impossible Problems

I have to remind you that these men had only a compass and an unmarked ruler when they were dealing with this problem. But little they knew was that doubling the cube was one of the three problems that can’t be solved with a compass and an unmarked ruler. (I’ll be talking about the other two in the upcoming articles.) Gauss was the first person who claimed this but he didn’t back his claims with a proof. The first proof came from Pierre Wantzel in 1837! It means at least 2250 years after the problem first came out.

Let’s try to solve the problem with modern mathematics notations:

Assume that we have a cube that has 1 unit sides. Its volume is 1*1*1=1 unit. Doubling the volume of a cube makes 2 units of volume. Then we must find the cube that has volume 2. If such cube has sides a, volume of that cube become a*a*a = a3.

Thus,

a3 = 2

a = 3√2.

We solved the unsolvable… or did we?

Obviously we managed the solve it. But ancient Greeks didn’t have our modern mathematics notations. Actually they didn’t even have numbers. They had to find 3√2 length with an unmarked ruler and a compass. Even with our marked rulers, it is impossible to find how long 3√2 is.

How Long?

In order to find how long 3√2 is, we can use a method called Neusis Drawing. But I will use the power of origami and show you how to find that irrational length.

First of all I took a square paper and using origami techniques to divide the square into three equal parts.

Then I folded the paper such that point A touches the left side of the square as point B touches the line that is in the height of point C.

I called the point A touched on the left side as D. Distance from D to F is 3√2 times the distance from D to E.

Here is how Peter Messer showed this origami technique:

One wonders…

A question that was keeping even the most brilliant minds busy for more than 2000 years can be solved in the matter of seconds using origami. How can this happen? What is the missing sides of compass and ruler?

M. Serkan Kalaycıoğlu