Saturday, August 21, 2010

International Congress of Mathematicians: Prof Kim Plofker on "Yavana" rules in mathematics

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 20: Indian mathematics had influenced the West hundreds of years before European scholars decoded the ancient scientific texts written in Sanskrit.
According to Prof Kim Plofker, an eminent mathematician from the USA, numerous ideas and methods derived from Indian mathematics became familiar in Europe long before Western scholars began systematically studying Sanskrit scientific texts.
Prof Kim is attending the ongoing International Congress of Mathematicians in the city. She has prepared a paper on "Indian rules, Yavana rules and the transmission of mathematical ideas", highlighting the Indian contribution to mathematics.
The name "Indian" was attached to many mathematical concepts and techniques in West Asia/North Africa and Europe starting at the beginning of the medieval period, from the "Indian numbers" and "Indian calculation" adopted by Arab mathematicians to the "Hindoo method" for solving quadratic equations in 19th century algebra textbooks, she said.
According to Prof Kim, the Sanskrit term "Yavana", originally a transliteration of "Ionian (Greek)" but later used for other foreigners as well, was applied by Indian scholars to various foreign importation in sciences
including mathematics. Prof Kim has already authored a book, "Mathematics in India".
Her presentation explores the historical process of adoption and assimilation of "foreign mathematics" both in and from India. She has studied a number of Indian texts, as old as 3000 years and as recent as 18th century, to support her ideas on Indian mathematics.
The famous theorem postulated by Pythagoras was practically applied in the construction of temple pillars in India much before the birth of the Greek philosopher in 5th century BC. She also dwelt on the origin of the concept of cipher or zero in Indian mathematics and how it was propagated to the outside world through Arab mathematicians.

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