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Did Pi Ruin Socrates' Career?

From: Anonymous
Date: Thu, 03 Nov 94 16:49:38 EST
Subject: Ask Dr. Math

          Dear Dr. Math,
          This is a math history question.  Is it true that Socrates 
          is believed to have been imprisoned for teaching the 
          existence of pi?  I understand that the belief in, or the 
          teaching of, the existence of pi was considered heresy in 
          his day.

Date: Fri, 4 Nov 1994 01:45:28 -0500
Subject: Re: Ask Dr. Math

Off the top of my head, I don't know the specific reason why Socrates 
was imprisoned, but I do remember reading that the Greeks had a very 
hard time with irrational numbers.  It didn't fit with their model of a 
"beautiful" universe which could be described by simple geometrical 
shapes.  For example, the right triangle with unit legs threw them through 
a loop, for the hypotenuse had a length measure of square root of two, the 
existence of which the Greeks would not recognize.  As for Socrates, I'll 
try to findthe exact incident which led to his arrest, although I recall that 
he was arrested for allegedly "misleading" the Athens youth with ideas 
which did not appeal to the Athens government.

Hope this helped.  I'll try to get more info shortly...

Gabe, Math doc

Date: Fri, 4 Nov 1994 10:32:01 -0500
Subject: Re: Ask Dr. Math

Tom, as far as we can tell the irrational numbers as such had no
mathematical status in Classical Greece although there were certainly
fractional approximations by Pythagoreans and others for the square root 
of two and other numbers they ran into.

Socrates had no real interest in math, but Plato did.  As far as we know,
he was not arrested for his beliefs in irrational numbers.

-- steve

Date: Sun, 6 Nov 1994 17:09:53 +0000

     If you're interested in the history of p, there's a book, "The History
of p" by Petr Beckman, which makes for entertaining reading.
                       Elizabeth, a very new math doctor
Associated Topics:
High School History/Biography

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