When Numeracy Superseded Literacy—and Created the Modern World

The Renaissance's Embrace of Numbers Revolutionized Commerce, Science, and Art

In 1025, two learned monks, Radolph of Liége and Ragimbold of Cologne, exchanged several letters on mathematical topics they had encountered while reading a manuscript of the sixth-century Roman philosopher, Boethius, whose writings supplied one of the few mathematics sources in the Middle Ages. These monks were not mathematicians, but they were inquisitive and keen to further their learning. They pondered Boethius’ words. They struggled. In particular, they puzzled over the theorem that the interior angles of a triangle were equal to two right angles. “Interior angles” of a triangle? …

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My Love Affair with Pi, the World’s Greatest Irrational Number

As a Scientist, Baker, and Nerd, I Couldn't Be More Excited About 3.14.15

3.14159265. Nine digits of pi is all I can remember. My older daughter left me in the dust back when she was in fourth grade and inspired to memorize as …

Why Won’t America Go Metric?

Our Centuries-Long Ambivalence About Meters and Liters Mirrors Our Ambivalence About Our Place in the World

We Americans measure things our own way. Our yardsticks are marked in feet and inches (and eighths of inches), measures that are unfathomable to foreigners, nearly all of whom have …