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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Chris Matthews Fails in History of Mathematics

Just saw Chris Matthews on MSNBC completely mangle the difference between the Roman numeral system and the Arabic system, which replaced it and we now use.

Matthews explained that the Arabic system makes it much easier to haggle in the marketplace.  "The guy says the item will cost you 9, you say 7, take it for 8."   Very true.  Except - you can do the exact same thing with Roman numerals - "The guy says the item will cost you IX, you say VII, take it for VIII."  This is because, when it comes to basic addition and subtraction, the Roman numeral system was pretty much as good as the Arabic system.

Where the Arabic numeral system excels, is that, enhanced with the brilliant Hindu concept of zero - a number literally representing nothing - you can multiply and divide easily, and work your way up to algebra.

Multiplication and division are likely what Matthews and his writers had in mind when they came up with their example from the history of mathematics to make the true point that the Democrats and Republicans shouldn't find it so hard to work up a budget.   Reduce this by 10%, increase that by 30% - that's what our politicians need to so, and what our Arabic numeral system in comparison to the Roman system makes possible.

Chris - learn a little about the history of mathematics or hire writers who know it.

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