The Mathematical Priestess, part V

June 19, 2015

The Renaissance brought a rebellion against the knowledge-strangling restrictions imposed by Christian dogma and scholasticism. This was the time when Western Europe rediscovered Greek philosophy and free thinkers such as Galileo became emboldened to seek empirical knowledge. It was rediscovery of higher math, more than anything, which made the Renaissance possible. Interestingly, it was in art that the value of mathematical rediscoveries first became apparent, as painters reveled in a newfound ability to convey perspective.

In science Renaissance thinkers did not reject God (as far as we know; atheism was not a safe or respectable position to espouse), but they did reject the notion that individual received knowledge – whether from Church leaders or Aristotle – was immune to scrutiny. As the Age of Enlightenment progressed, rejection of the inviolability of scripture, then rejection of God and religion, became the norm. At the same time, many Christian prejudices remained unexamined. Astrology, psychic activity, magic, and many of the healing arts continued to be shunned by the new high priests. Empiricism was reaffirmed, but only in designated areas and only when dominated by men.

A physicist friend of mine once told me, as I tried to explain the aura to him, that the problem with adherents of metaphysics is that they try to use science in their explanations when they should avoid scientific language altogether, because science and metaphysics are two different things. He laid out his ideas in that imperious I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong voice (acquired already, at such a young age) that so terrifies women from pursuing the hard sciences. I tried to follow his advice for years, but I now believe that by putting a firewall between science and the occult what we have is bad science and bad magic, including flaws in the predictive sciences.

The study of numeric symbology, indispensable to the study of predictive signs, occasionally wanders into territory claimed by the high priests of math and science. Because we have been banished from mathematical frontiers for so long, we will doubtless make mistakes at times, which will be pounced upon with reprobation by those eager to see us fail. But the godless Christians of the modern era cannot defend their boundaries indefinitely against the heathen hordes. Math is Pagan. Numbers originate in the womb. Priestesses hold the keys to understanding the laws of the universe.

The Mathematical Priestess, part IV

June 12, 2015

This is actually going to be a five, not a four, part series.

Photo: Abdelrhman1990
Photo: Abdelrhman1990

The most fertile and revolutionary place for math and science in the West was the city of Alexandria in the first centuries of the Common Era. This is where the demanding theoretical philosophy of the Greeks met the more practically minded math of the Egyptians. Scholars took the leap into theorems based on what would become the discipline of algebra, trusting in what had validity in solving problems in the real world. People enjoy the Fran Lebowitz joke that children are right to sleep through algebra because “In the real world, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra,” but constructs are necessary for us to understand much of the real world.

Alexandria meant the breakdown of limitations imposed by Greek philosophy. The erasure of lines between pure and practical mathematics, pure and practical science, allowed both areas to flourish. Knowledge is furthered most by collaboration between cultures. Scholars who came together at Alexandria did, however, share a motivation to become closer to the gods through their understanding of math and science. With the tolerance characteristic of polytheistic religions, they were not bothered by the fact that they worshiped different gods, or they saw themselves as worshiping the same gods despite differences in ritual and mythology. By the end of the fourth century, scholars were probably on the cusp of discovering how the earth travels around the sun, an idea that had been proposed many centuries earlier yet had been rejected, despite its attractive simplicity, due to gaps in knowledge.

And then the Christians came. The destruction of the Library of Alexandria, the murder of the scholar Hypatia, and other atrocities against learning were a systematic attempt, ultimately unsuccessful, to destroy “heathen knowledge.” Science and mathematical philosophy were seen as pagan disciplines. The “heathen temples” which the Christians were so bent on eradicating were centers of education much like the monasteries of the Middle Ages, except the pagan temples were not constrained to make knowledge fit a highly developed dogma as the monasteries were.

Learned refugees from Alexandria escaped to the coast of Anatolia. Mathematical scholarship resumed in the Arab world, continued along the Indus River, and was tolerated to some degree by the Eastern Orthodox Church, but religious and political barriers discouraged widespread cultural exchange.

The Mathematical Priestess, part II

May 29, 2015
Uruk Temple. Drawing Lamassu Design.
Uruk Temple. Drawing Lamassu Design.

In Mesopotamia the first accounting systems arose out of the need to record and disperse temple commodities. Many of these early accounting scribes were women. As societies became more complex, arithmetical systems developed to accommodate trade, architecture, irrigation, and land division. Math and record-keeping were also necessary for the development of Mesopotamian astrology, which was the genesis for the Greek astrological system we use today. We’re not talking about grade school arithmetic at this point either: Mesopotamians had a base 60 counting system (it eased division), utilized square and cube root tables, calculated compound interest, and (by the later period) could calculate the time of an eclipse to within a few minutes. Both Mesopotamians and Egyptians understood triangular relationships long before Pythagoras, although the Greeks did provide the theorems.

The Mathematical Priestess, part I

May 22, 2015
Hypatia, by Julia Margaret Cameron.
Hypatia, by Julia Margaret Cameron.

Note: This is the first of a four part series

I must admit that I approach this subject with trepidation. I’m concerned that some of my readers may be those for whom the keys to the numerical kingdoms have been denied, those who have bumped against that iron door and convinced themselves that beyond lies a sterile uninteresting yet unfathomable realm, filled with errors and yielding nothing of significance. I feel like I should sing a song and do a dance, maybe bring out a colorful Muppet cast for a chorus routine brought to you by the number nine, all to convince you that numbers have something relevant to say, something even you can understand.

Women have long been shut out of mathematical worlds. I can identify nine of these worlds, which should be intersecting but which are in some cases hermetically sealed. These nine worlds are those of arithmetical computation (including accounting and finance), applied mathematics (engineering, statistics, economics, physics), number theory, statistics, music, puzzles or riddles, philosophy, geometry, and symbolism. I do not say that there are only nine worlds; I like the number nine because it is the number for human gestation.

What makes nine the number for human gestation? That comes from a basic division of time based on the moon cycle, which at one time ruled the menstrual cycle. The first mathematicians were women, inventing numerical systems for calculating their menstrual cycles and the course of their pregnancies. Mathematics is, literally, in the blood.