Real Mathematics – Killer Numbers #1

Hippasus: First Victim of the Science Mob

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Pythagoras is a very well known historic figure. Even though most of the people know him through the geometry theorem attributed to him, he had accomplished more than just a theorem. He was also the head of the first known science mob in the history.

Pythagorean Theorem: In a right-angled triangle square of the perpendicular sides add up to the square of the third side of the triangle that is also known as the hypotenuse.

Pythagoras was born in the island of Samos. He had an enormous reputation as a mathematician throughout the ancient Greece. His followers (Pythagoreans) chose to live as their leader. They were a tight and closed group that ate neither meat nor beans and isolated themselves from having any kind of possession.

According to Pythagoras universe was built on the numbers. Every number had a character and everything that is happening around us could be explained with numbers. He believed that numbers have categories such as beautiful, ugly, masculine, feminine, perfect and such. For instance 10 was the best number because it contained the summation of the first four numbers: 1+2+3+4=10.

Pythagoreans also believe that every number is rational: Meaning that each number can be represented as a division of two other numbers. (E.g. 10/2 = 5)

Oath Breaker

One day one of Pythagoras’ followers broke his oath and asked the forbidden question: What is the length of the hypotenuse of an equilateral right-angled triangle?

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Geogebra shows that the hypotenuse is around 1,41 units. This is not the exact value of the length as this length can never be measured.

Hippasus was a devoted Pythagorean. One day he sailed away with his brothers. When he was in the open sea, he started thinking about the problem of the right-angled equilateral triangle. In the end he claimed that he found irrational numbers. This was an oath breaker as it was forbidden to question Pythagoras’ words. Hippasus never came back from that trip, and Pythagoreans continued to keep the existence of the irrational numbers as secret.

Incommensurables: Do they exist?

According to the Pythagorean Theorem: Length of hypotenuse on a right-angled equilateral triangle.

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If Hippasus was wrong, √2 was a rational number which means √2 can be written as the division of two other numbers. Let’s say that this is true and a/b is equal to √2.

Ps: a and b are relatively prime. This means that a/b can’t be simplified; they are the smallest numbers for that ratio.

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Let’s square both sides so that we are free from the square root.

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Now send the denominator to the left side of the equality.

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This actually means that two squares that have side b add up to another square that has side a.

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Hence, we just need to show that when we add two identical squares, we can get another square.

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Since the little squares add up to the large square, let’s try to put them inside the large one.

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As seen above, little squares intersect in the middle and leave gaps on the corners. If we stick to our initial assertion, this intersection must have same area as the gaps. But there is something absurd here, because this intersection is a square. Also the gaps are identical squares that add up to the intersection.

If I call sides of the little squares d, and the big square c:

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This result is the same as our starting point. We just found ourselves in a loop which means that our initial assertion was wrong. √2 can’t be shows as a ratio of a/b. Hence, √2 is not a rational number.

One Wonders…

  1. Try to prove that √2 is an irrational number, using Euclid’s tools which are compass and an unmarked ruler.
  2. How can we understand if √3 is rational or not? (Hint: Try to prove geometrically like I did in the article.)

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.

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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

Real Mathematics – Geometry #5

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I was wondering; if there was a list of hall of fame for famous ancient Greeks Pythagoras would find himself in the top ten for sure. What is striking about his fame is that it comes directly from a geometry property. Although mathematicians know that so called Pythagorean Theorem was known to other cultures at least 1000 years before he “discovered” it.

Pythagorean Theorem: In a right-angled triangle sum of the squares of the perpendicular sides gives the square of the hypotenuse that is the longest side of the triangle.

It is being told that there are 367 different proofs for this theorem. Some of them are so similar, even mathematicians have trouble seeing the difference among these proofs.

Let’s check a few of the proofs.

Proof 1

Elisha Loomis talks about a proof for the Pythagorean Theorem in his book “The Pythagorean Proposition”. This proof is special because it came from a high school student named Maurice Laisnez.

I decided to use cutting papers for the explanation. First of all I cut a random right-angled triangle and then made 3 more copies of it.

I lined these four triangles up such that it gave me a square inside a square:

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Since sides of the inner square are c, it has area c2.

Now let’s line the triangle as follows:

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Marked areas 1 and 2 are squares and their area is equal to the area of the inner square from the previous alignment. Now let’s find the areas of 1 and 2: They make a2 and b2.

Their addition will make c2. Hence:

a2 + b2 = c2

Proof 2

For the second proof I decided to go to the ancient China.

Zhoubi Suanjing is believed to be written around 500 BC to 200 BC. In the Loomis’ book you can find this proof in the page 253.

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Pythagorean Theorem’s proof in the Suanjing.

Again I will cut four right-angled triangles for the explanation of the proof. But this time I will cut the triangles such that their perpendicular sides will have length 3 and 4 units. Chinese mathematicians tried to find the third side of the triangle as follows.

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In order to start the proof I lined the triangles up like below and a tiny square formed in the middle:

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Tiny square A has sides that have 1 unit each. This is why area of A is 1 unit as well.

We know that the area of one triangle is (3*4)/2 = 6 units. There are four of such triangles and that gives us 6*4 = 24 units of area. When I add the area of A to this result, I can find area of the whole square as 25 units.

If area of a square is 25 units, its one side is square root of the area: √25 = 5 units.

From here we found length of the third side from the triangles:

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This proof shows us that 3-4-5 triangle and Pythagorean Theorem were both known in ancient China.

One wonders…

A farmer dad wants to retire. He would like to divide three of his lands to his two sons equally. But he wants to do that without dividing the lands from each other. What should he do?

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X-Y-Z are squares as DCG is a right triangle.

M. Serkan Kalaycıoğlu

Real Mathematics – Killer Numbers #5

Equilateral Triangle and Irrational Number

In the previous article I asked you to prove whether it is possible or not to draw and equilateral triangle on the system of lattice points. Here is one of the possible proofs for that.

Proof by Contradiction

Let’s assume that we have an equilateral triangle that has sides of length 2 units:

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Here, we will make a critical assumption: Corners of this triangle sits on the system of lattice points. Because of that the triangle must have an area that is rational. Why?

Because Pick’s theorem says that whenever we are inside the system of lattice points the numbers of points and area of the polygon are directly related with each other. And since we can’t count irrational number of points (eg. we can’t have √3 points, can we?!), area of the polygon must be rational too.

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We already know that we can find a triangle’s area: ½(height x base). Then let me draw the height of the base and find its length using Pythagoras’ theorem:

h2 + 12 = 22

h2 = 4 – 1

h2 = 3

h = √3.

We just found the height of our equilateral triangle an irrational number. From here we will find the area

1/2(2*√3) = √3 units.

CONTRADICTION

This result is a contradiction. Despite what Pick’s theorem says (polygons inside the system of lattice points must have rational areas) this result shows an irrational number. Then we can conclude that this or any equilateral triangle can never be drawn on the system of lattice points.

One wonders…

Can you find another polygon which you can’t draw on the system of lattice points?

M. Serkan Kalaycıoğlu