Monday, March 25, 2013

Making maths popular

Enjoyed a very pleasant dinner in the company of someone who has been called a pop idol of the science-writing world, Amir Aczel. A lecturer in mathematics and the history of maths and science, Amir has written a series of popular books on the same subjects and he's in Cambodia to track down information for his next book. I won't spoil it but it involves an ancient 7th century Khmer inscription from a little-known temple ruin near Kratie and a remarkable theory that Amir is working on. It's not a novel, it's a mathematical detective story and it simply confirmed the great lengths that some authors will go to check their facts and investigate their sources. My thanks to Amir for a most enjoyable dinner discussion. I look forward to reading the results of his worldwide sleuthing that features Cambodia so prominently.
Footnote. As I often do, a little bit of digging and I see Amir has already explained his discovery on a Q&A for retv television. So I'm not exactly letting the cat out of the bag on this one. He is talking about the number zero. 
"Zero. And the notion of nothing, but a nothing that really exists, it means something very important. It really is an idea that dominates the world as we know it. And zero, according to the research I'm doing now, appeared for the first time in history in the year 683 and was found in Cambodia, a Cambodian temple. This is the first demonstration of zero in history that we have discovered. Of course, it probably existed before but its the oldest ever found. The archaeologist who discovered it is a Frenchman named George Coedes." So there you have it. Amir has conducted research all over the planet and this is his conclusion, the number zero appeared for the first time in a Khmer temple inscription. Mind-boggling.



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