Mathematical theorems as spiritual practice

Alex Bellos in an Oct. 16, 2012 article for the UK’s Guardian newspaper discusses a unique practice combining spirituality and mathematics (Note: I have removed a link),

… one of the most intriguing practices in the history of mathematics.

Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, the Japanese used to hang up pictures of maths theorems at their shrines.

Called “sangaku”, the pictures were both religious offerings and public announcements of the latest discoveries.

It’s a little like as if Isaac Newton had decided to hang up his monographs at the local church instead of publishing them in books.

More than 700 sangaku are known to have survived, and the above shape is a detail from the oldest one that exists in its complete form.

Here’s a picture of a sangaku that Bellos took while in Japan to make a documentary on numeracy for BBC Radio 4,

Picture: Alex Bellos

The purpose of a sangaku was threefold: to show off mathematical accomplishment, to thank Buddha and to pray for more mathematical knowledge.

There are more images and details in Bellos article about this intriguing practice. I look forward to hearing more about Bellos’ documentary, Land of the Rising Sums, due to be broadcast Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 on BBC Radio 4 from 11 – 11:30 am GMT.

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