Losing one's nose for mathematics

Allan S. Galang, the contributor, is taking up BS Education Major in Mathematics at the University of the East, Manila, Philippines.(You, too, can have your articles published here. Send them through e-mail to OurHappySchool@yahoo.com)

TYCHO BRAHE, THE DANISH ASTRONOMER who made comprehensive astronomical measurements of the solar system and whose data were used by his assistant, Johannes Kepler, to formulate his (Kepler) laws of planetary motion, lost his nose in a duel with one of his students over a mathematical computation. Scholar Noel Botham in his book The Book of Useless Information (New York, NY: Penguin Group [USA] Inc., 2006) reports that Brahe wore a silver replacement nose for the rest of his life.

Ironically, the French emperor Napoleon—one of the greatest military commanders of all time who repeatedly defeated military forces superior in size to his own—favored mathematicians but excluded humanists from his circle. He believed that humanists, not mathematicians, are troublemakers (Ibid.).

And if the stories about the Pythagoreans are true, science writer K. C. Cole relates, “people actually lost their lives as a result of the discovery of irrational numbers—like pi—that cannot be expressed as fractions.” (The Universe and the Tea Cup: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty, Harcourt Brace & Company, Orlando, Florida, 1997.)

Same with science, the study of mathematics has brought about remarkable inventions we now enjoy: “The fiber-optic network carrying our telephone conversations was designed with the help of mathematics. Our computers are the result of millions of hours of mathematical analysis. Weather prediction, the design of fuel-efficient automobiles and airplanes, traffic control, and medical imaging all depend upon mathematical analysis… the phenomenal advances in technology over the last 100 years parallel the rise of mathematics…” (Pilant, Michael S. "Mathematics." Microsoft® Encarta® 2006 [CD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2005.)

So after all, it’s not completely irrational to lose one’s nose over a mathematical computation. If national heroes would fight and die for freedom, some mathematicians would do the same for numbers.

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