While there were seven wonders in the ancient world, only one of them still exists - the Great Pyramid. Its construction required doing the impossible; there are other stone structures which may not have been impossible to build but whose design required impossible knowledge. Pyramids, tombs, cathedrals, tunnels, locating positions at sea, becoming immortal, knowing a truth for sure, to list a few, have all required "doing the impossible." They all looked to the same learning for direction. On this seminar, curiosity is the only prerequisite.
There are mysteries and wonders in this world that are hard to explain. How could humans 2000 years before Christ be so aware of variable periodic eclipses of the moon and sun that they could build a stone monument to predict them? How could people hundreds of years ago devise a method to locate their exact position at sea when all they see are sky and rolling water? We witness some of the greatest human feats on this seminar. They all have a "common denominator."
Pass between the towering pylons leading to the greatest temple complex of all times - the Karnak Temple - and change your idea of mathematics. Located on the Nile river in ancient Thebes and originally forbidden to all but priest and pharaoh, the temple speaks of a glory and a knowledge long lost. Where did that knowledge come from? Why is it now lost? Did mathematics really play a sacred role?
Cross the Nile and enter the Valley of the Kings. Descend into tombs dating from over 1500 BC and move along passageways decorated with art intended to be appreciated only in the afterlife. Here geometry and strange numbers are evident. Why does it seem that Egyptian religion and art thousands of years ago depended upon mathematics for their expression? Is there a simple truth in mathematics that is essential to religious expression?
Bend over and make your way along openings hewn in solid stone by grave robbers. Then enter the "grand gallery" in the Great Pyramid leading to a chamber whose dimensions imply an appreciation for a very mysterious number. Were the dimensions in this wonder of the ancient world located near Cairo used for the sake of beauty, or because certain ratios have religious significance? Could men over 4500 years ago have appreciated the same strange quantity that geneticists currently are researching as being a key to understanding the development of plants and animals?
Marvel at the simple beauty of Greek art of the classical period as you visit the Athenian Acropolis and temples. All of them reflect the clear logic of their philosophy. Does mathematics tie it all together? At a site like Delphi, one speculates on how Greek mythology could well have prepared the way for mathematical deductive reasoning.
Early Christianity, as one considers when visiting St. Peter's Cathedral in the Vatican, and early Roman technology, as exemplified in locations such as the Roman Forum in Rome, all had their influences. One might begin to agree with the Pythagorean Greeks who long before the time of Christ concluded "Numbers Rule the Universe." The magnificent cathedral, Hagia Sophia, built in Istanbul 1500 years ago required geometers to design.
The main purpose of this seminar is to witness the interplay of mathematics and Western culture, to see how each influences the other. For example, as we encounter different modern-day cultures, we hope to learn some of their assumptions on which these cultures are founded, and then to become aware of some of our assumptions when we react to the different cultures. This "axiomatic" type of approach is precisely the way in which mathematics has challenged every major division of learning. We experience a great deal of several civilizations of man--Ancient Egyptian, Classical Greek, Roman and Byzantine--as well as the Renaissance. If this seminar does no more than cause the participants to raise questions, it will still be a success.
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