The world is full of great people who do things that influence the lives of all humanity. There are some who come up with medications to cure illnesses, others who invent instruments that facilitate the struggle through life.
Yet, some come up with things that not only improve, but also burden some lives. These few people are responsible for the current education required for all students. Rene Descartes is one of these people in particular. High school students of our time would have appreciated it if Descartes and his friends had kept quiet and never found a way to do geometry. This would have made their lives easier since they did not have to learn as much math. However, Descartes would disagree with these children. He lived during a time when he had to use math to prove his discoveries. It was a time when the truth about the nature of the world had to be learned and all old theories had to be discarded. Descartes saw a time when the only truth was the truth of the Church. Since this had to be reformed, people needed tangible ways to prove their theories. The tangible proofs came from math.
When asked: "Mr. Descartes, what do you say to those kids who regret your existence due to the discoveries you made?"
He replied, " The kids of our time take everything for granted, when I was young we had to prove that the world was round and not the center of the universe and no one would believe us. Today no one can, or should, believe vice versa."
The best way to become friendly with a person who is the cause of one's burdens is to speak to him one on one.
Q.: A person's early life affects the way he or she reacts to situations in older age. We want to know where you were born and what type of family you had.
A.: I was born La Haye, Touraine which was a province of France. My father was a minor nobleman, hence I was born into a family of high status, and a line of learned men.
Q.: Mr. Descartes, you were exposed to a variety of subjects, but as far as I know you chose math to be the one you worked on out of school.
A.: I am sorry, I do not mean to insult you, but I have not only worked on math but I have also worked on philosophy. You see, the philosophy that I came up with is very similar to the idea used in a geometry proof. Start with a fact and build up on it.
Q.: Other than inventing an easier way of writing algebraic expressions, what have you done with your knowledge of math?
A.: I have done one thing of significance out of the many. I was summoned by Queen Christina of Sweden to her court to tutor her at five o'clock in the record cold winter mornings of Sweden. I most certainly did not appreciate it. This brought on my death and now you have summoned me from death to answer your questions.
Q.: Can you please explain how this brought your collapse?
A.: Well, you must understand that it is hard to work in a freezing place for any normal person. Secondly, I personally do not work well under the cold, whereas my predecessor philosopher, Socrates worked right in the snow. The most prominent reason was that I was born with a physical weakness. Due to this, I was allowed to miss lectures at school when I felt sick, and I was allowed to stay in bed and arrive to school late. Therefore I attained a habit of getting up late, but when this queen forced me to do something, I was not physically fit to, it brought my downfall. I had to get out of bed and go in the cold just to please "her majesty".
Q.: Before other questions about your life, can you explain your "reform" of algebraic expressions?
A.: Before my work, different mathematicians had different ways of writing the same thing. Many of these ways were confusing. For example, using my method I can say that x is being multiplied three times by writing; x3. Older ways of writing this were Cx where c would indicate the power to which x was raised to, in this case, 3. In addition, I write x3 + 2 when I want to add two to the previous equation, but my old contemporaries had to write; Cx2. I also devised the plan of using the last letters of the alphabet for unknown variables and the first letters for the constants.
Q.: Can you explain to us any of your discoveries?
figured out the early axis system of the graph. A point (1,4) is
one to the right along the x-axis and four up along the y-axis.
Q.: It was nice talking to you, but is there anything you would like to say?
A.: Yes, I would like the people to know that if you truly like your train of work you will be able to do it under the harshest of the conditions. In addition, I would just like to leave you with my philosophy, "I think, therefore I am." Good luck puzzling over it!
Burton, David M. The History of Mathematics. McGraw-Hill, Burr-Ridge: 1995
Rating: 5 Stars
Included much needed information in an organized and easy to attain fashion.Very interesting style of writing. It even offered practice problems using the mathematicians discoveries. (Death date attained)
Gaukroger, Stephen. Descartes: An Intellectual Biography. Clarendon Press, Oxford: 1995.
Rating: 3 Stars
Wide range of information of all aspects of his life not just math. Hard to attain much of necessary information without first reading other sources.
Gullberg, Jan. Mathematics From The Birth of Numbers. W.W. Norton & Company, New York: 1997
Contains solid amount of information in an inconvenient and spread out manner. Concepts explained in precise fashion.
Hollingdale, Stuart. Makers of Mathematics. Penguin Books: 1989.
Enough information provided in an easily accessible and organized fashion. Interesting writing style. Lacks thorough explanations for problems.