Past Features

May 4, 2009 (Vol. 9, No. 8)

Professor Dauben to Discuss Math in the Ancient World

Joseph W. Dauben
Professor Joseph W. Dauben
Distinguished Professor of History Joseph W. Dauben—one of the world's leading scholars of the history of mathematics—will compare two great mathematicians from ancient Greece and China in the annual lecture of the College's Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society, which will be held on May 6 at 7 p.m. in the Faculty Dining Room. The community is invited to this free event.

In his talk, titled "Mathematics in Ancient Greece and China: Archimedes versus Liu Hui on Circles and Spheres," Professor Dauben will address both similarities and differences between their achievements and suggest some significant aspects that may distinguish the character of mathematics in oriental and occidental contexts.

Archimedes applied the so-called method of exhaustion to approximate the value of π. Similar interest in the mathematics of circles and spheres inspired mathematicians in ancient China to consider the same problems of determining the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle, and the volume of a sphere. Liu Hui's commentary on the third-century classic text Jiuzhang Suanshu (Nine Chapters on Mathematical Procedure) addresses these problems in ways that invite comparison with Archimedes' results and methods.

Professor Dauben is only the eighth scholar—and third Westerner—to be elected an Honorary Professor of the Institute for the History of Natural Science, a part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. His studies on the history of Chinese mathematics have demonstrated the extent to which the structure of language and writing can influence the methods of mathematical proof. Two of his books are considered classics—biographies of controversial nineteenth-century German mathematician Georg Cantor and Abraham Robinson, one of the most prominent mathematicians of the twentieth century.

A graduate of Claremont McKenna College, Professor Dauben received both his A.M. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University. He joined the Lehman faculty in 1972.