An Exploration of Ideas Across CulturesBook - 2002
Mathematics Elsewhere is a fascinating and important contribution to a global view of mathematics. Presenting mathematical ideas of peoples from a variety of small-scale and traditional cultures, it humanizes our view of mathematics and expands our conception of what is mathematical.
Through engaging examples of how particular societies structure time, reach decisions about the future, make models and maps, systematize relationships, and create intriguing figures, Marcia Ascher demonstrates that traditional cultures have mathematical ideas that are far more substantial and sophisticated than is generally acknowledged. Malagasy divination rituals, for example, rely on complex algebraic algorithms. And some cultures use calendars far more abstract and elegant than our own. Ascher also shows that certain concepts assumed to be universal--that time is a single progression, for instance, or that equality is a static relationship--are not. The Basque notion of equivalence, for example, is a dynamic and temporal one not adequately captured by the familiar equal sign. Other ideas taken to be the exclusive province of professionally trained Western mathematicians are, in fact, shared by people in many societies.
The ideas discussed come from geographically varied cultures, including the Borana and Malagasy of Africa, the Tongans and Marshall Islanders of Oceania, the Tamil of South India, the Basques of Western Europe, and the Balinese and Kodi of Indonesia.
This book belongs on the shelves of mathematicians, math students, and math educators, and in the hands of anyone interested in traditional societies or how people think. Illustrating how mathematical ideas play a vital role in diverse human endeavors from navigation to social interaction to religion, it offers--through the vehicle of mathematics--unique cultural encounters to any reader.