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Pythagoras: The Real Story

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About this Course

About the Course

In this course, Dr Piers Bursill-Hall (University of Cambridge) debunks the myths of Pythagoras and the Pythagorean theorem. In the first mini-lecture, we learn about the Pythagoreans, a religious cult supposedly following the teachings and beliefs of Pythagoras, a man who might not have existed. In the second mini-lecture, we continue to discuss the beliefs of the Pythagoreans, particularly their views on numerology. In the third mini-lecture, we consider ancient Babylonian tablets that depict use of the Pythagorean theorem as a way to debunk the myth that Pythagoras discovered and proved this theorem. The fourth mini-lecture presents a visual, geometric proof of the Pythagorean theorem that was first presented in the 7th century by Brahmagupta, an Indian mathematician. In the fifth mini-lecture, we explore the Tunnel of Eupalinos, which was dug under Mt. Kastro on the island of Samos, Greece around 600 BC and is an excellent example of the use of geometries related to the Pythagorean theorem long before Pythagoras. In the sixth mini-lecture, we learn that the ancient Greeks thought about numbers as ratios, not as numbers on a number line, and that this thinking would not have allowed them to discover rational numbers in the 5th century BC. In the seventh mini-lecture, we summarise what we have learned in this course and learn why we are still told the wrong story about Pythagoras.

About the Lecturer

Piers Bursill-Hall is a Lecturer in the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics (DPMMS) at the University of Cambridge. He has taught undergraduate courses in history of mathematics and most aspects of history of science at Cambridge and elsewhere, including for the Mercantile Library of Cincinnati. His research and teaching has concentrated on history of Ancient, Renaissance, and Enlightenment science, mathematics and mathematical arts, the history of medicine, and more recently on early Islamic mathematics and science.

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