The mathematics of ancient Egypt can look very strange to us today. For example, although they did not have many fractions, they did know about the number 2/3. Strangely, however, it took a page of computation for an ancient mathematician to work out that 2/3 times 3 was equal to 2! (For a quick overview of ancient Egyptian mathematics click here or read Gillings' great book "Mathematics in the Time of the Pharoahs".)
In this story, a young mathematician in the early part of the 20th century is asked to help an Egyptologist rederive the method of multiplication that they used. The young man is shocked by the inneffective method and gives the Egyptologist a lecture on "progress in mathematics", only to regret his words when he himself later encounters the same algorithm, now considered the height of cutting edge technology when it is incorporated into computer architecture.
The mathematical facts in the story, including the remarkable coincidence that computers today multiply using the method previously used by ancient Egyptians, are correct as far as I know. However, I know nothing about who may actually have been responsible for rediscovering the algorithm used in the ancient texts, and do not know whether anyone other than me has previously noted its similarities to the algorithm utilized by computers. If anyone can help to clarify either of these points, I would be most grateful!
Of course, I'd also appreciate any comments you may have -- positive or negative -- about this story which appears in the book Reality Conditions. |