The comforts of Euclid.

Without saying too much, some issues out in what we call “the real world” have sapped my creativity and left the well from which I draw inspiration for blogging rather dry. There are at least four posts I would try to write for this blog if I had the energy. But it’s gotten hard for me to focus Rorty or even on theology.

Who can I turn to? Euclid. The Elements.

The clean lines, the blank slate, the straightedge and the compass, the accrual of complexity, proof upon proof, the subtle structure, rhythm, and direction. Escapism that makes you feel smarter.

Euclid is even better if you know how later mathematicians grappled with his work. You can see where modern algebraic notation lets us express his proofs more cleanly — but you can also see how his proofs work without negative numbers. You can see why it took two thousand years and modern mathematics to figure out how to make a heptadecagon. In the first book alone, it’s neat to see how far Euclid goes without invoking the famous Fifth Postulate. (The Fifth Postulate, if you’re wondering, is the one that you can change in order to get non-Euclidean geometry.)

Really, I would love to get a small group of people to work through some part of the Elements as a discussion group. Not likely, I know, given the ham-handed presentation of geometry that everyone gets in high school. But it’s incredibly rare to come across a book in any genre that balances depth and accessibility as well as the Elements.

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One Response to “The comforts of Euclid.”

  1. William,

    I would love to work through Euclid. That being said, I am highly intimidated by mathematics (a part of my education I woefully neglected) so I am not sure that I would be a good discussion partner. However, if you get a group going I would happily read along, and listen, and contribute at the risk of making an ass out of myself. Please let me know if this group moves forward.

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