Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Play Audio

You might not think there would be any use
Knowing the square of the hypotenuse
(Which is the sum, Pythagoras confides,
Of the squares of the opposite two sides.)

This theorem which comes from geometry,
Combined with bits of trigonometry,
Is useful when we calculate how far
It is to something distant, like a star.

He traveled much, and probably had learned
This theorem, which he proved when he returned.
He did invent mathematical abstraction,
And useful concepts, like that of the fraction.

But numbers, even fractions, wouldn’t do
For representing the square root of two.
He formed a cult of number-based fanatics
That practically invented mathematics.

Another of Pythagoras’s strengths
Was working out how strings of different lengths
When plucked made different pitches to the ear. He
Could have called this notion his string theory.


Anonymous said...

Fabulous! I love it. :)


Unknown said...

Thanks! I had fun with it.


Ruth McNally Barshaw said...

One of my favorite displays of Pythagoras is when the Scarecrow defines hypotenuse when he suddenly gets a brain.

I like how you think, Peter.
It's all brilliant.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Ruth. Unfortunately, I just saw "Wizard of Oz" again for the first time in a long time, and I'm sorry to report that the Scarecrow gets it wrong. He recites some gibberish that sounds almost like the Pythagorean theorem, but isn't:"The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side." The real theorem is: "The square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides."

Sorry, Scarecrow.