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Enlightening SymbolsA Short History of Mathematical Notation and Its Hidden Powers$
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Joseph Mazur

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780691173375

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691173375.001.0001

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The Great Art

The Great Art

(p.109) Chapter 11 The Great Art
Enlightening Symbols

Joseph Mazur

Princeton University Press

This chapter discusses the origins of the art of algebra, beginning with the possibility that it may have come from the Greeks or from the Hindus. However, the Brahmins of northern India had some idea of algebra long before the Arabians learned it, contributed to it and brought that art to Spain in the late eleventh century. The Brahmasphutasiddhanta, written by the Indian mathematician Brahmagupta in 628, not only advanced the mathematical role of zero but also introduced rules for manipulating negative and positive numbers, methods for computing square roots, and systematic methods of solving linear and limited types of quadratic equations. The chapter also considers the contriburions of Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwārizmī and suggests that negative numbers originated in China, where they had been used since the beginning of the first millennium.

Keywords:   algebra, India, Brahmagupta, Brahmasphutasiddhanta, positive numbers, square roots, quadratic equations, Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwārizmī, negative numbers, China

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