Thursday, January 19, 2012

Square root of 2, and more!

I started to tag this posting "trivia" but thought better of it. But I was interested to learn from John Baez, a mathematician of some renown, that the Babylonians had pretty much worked out the square root of 2, an irrational number not the ratio of anything, and they did it using a number system with base 60.

Here's the proof, according to mathematician Baez. A tablet, written by a beginner because of the large lettering, has sides of length 1/2 (30 in base 60) and writing that shows the calculation of the diagonal to an excellent approximation of Sqrt(2)*1/2, or 1/Sqrt(2).

Baez explains:

Well, actually, there's no evidence that the Babylonians (now, Iraqis) ever knew about irrational numbers. They expressed everything in fractions and used approximations.

And that by the way is the lesson for project managers: we live in the one-sigma world where a decent approximation is "good enough". A lot of really good project management gets along fine on approximations. We can leave to Dr Baez to give us the theoretical underpinnings!


  1. You missed linking to Dr. Baez's page on the topic for people who want to get more details.


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