22 March 2108 ISAA-ACT CHAPTER Lunch Meeting ­ Events ­ ISAA

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22 March 2108 ISAA-ACT CHAPTER Lunch Meeting

Professor Rodney Nillsen will speak on ‘Contested ideas of knowledge in the seventeenth century’ at noon for 12.30 on 22 March in the room above the sports pavilion, Canberra Grammar School. This room is easily found from the Flinders Way entrance to the School. 


Professor Nillsen promises to put non-mathematicians at their ease as he discusses infinitesimals and the Jesuits’ response to the ‘deceptively simple proposition that a continuous line is composed of distinct and infinitely tiny parts’ (Amir Alexander); the paradox of the composition of a continuum; and the close relationship between the ideas of Aristotle and Euclid.

As much an examination of changes to philosophy over time as of shifts in mathematical thinking, Rodney's presentation has grown out of his review of historian Amir Alexander’s work Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World. The theory of infinitesimals became prominent in the seventeenth century. Despite what seems to have been a deceptively simple proposition, the Jesuits banned the doctrine of infinitesimals, announcing that it could never be taught or even mentioned. The concept was deemed to be dangerous, subversive and a challenge to the prevailing belief system of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the concept persisted out of necessity and was for a long period the foundation of calculus and much of mathematics and technology. Despite the Jesuits’ opposition to the theory of infinitesimals, they were not closed to the reception of new thinking, as seen in the work of Christopher Clavius, the German Jesuit mathematician and to the establishment of the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1551, the first university founded by the Jesuits.

Rodney Nillsen is Honorary Professorial Fellow, School of Mathematics and Applied Statistics, University of Wollongong.

Visitors are welcome. Enquiries to Alan Roberts. alanrobe3@gmail.com

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