Computer Science Illuminated, Third Edition


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Contributions made by Pythagoras

If you took geometry in high school, then you’ve been introduced to Pythagoras’s Theorem: a² + b² = c². This theorem has fundamental geometric significance; using right angle triangles, it provides a basis for the definition of the distance between two points. While the name of the theorem suggests Pythagoras was the man behind its genius, it is actually unclear as to whether he or someone else from his school developed the equation. The theorem was discovered on a Babylonian tablet dated approximately 1900-1600 BCE.

Pythagoras himself led an interesting life as a philosopher and mathematician. He was born in Samos, a small island in the Aegean Sea of the coast of Greece in circa 560 BCE. In the early part of his life, Pythagoras is believed to have traveled to Egypt, where he acquired a great foundation of knowledge. An observer and critical thinker, Pythagoras not only absorbed a vast deal of mathematical knowledge, but he also gained new religious insight through his interactions with priests and his exposure to Egyptian tradition.

When Pythagoras returned from his travels, he became actively engaged in the political sphere of Samos, which was then ruled by Polycrates. Eventually, Pythagoras was banished from Samos because of his differing beliefs. He found a new home in Croton in Southern Italy where he soon founded a school. This institute had a religious basis as well as a strong dedication to the study of numbers and mathematics. With cult-like attributes, the school dictated the way of life of its members and was a peaceful community within itself. Members integrated mathematics into their studied of astronomy, philosophy, and music. They worked closely together, making their individual contributions indistinguishable from others’ efforts. Eventually, members of Cronton society who disagreed with Pythagoras and his philosophy forced Pythagoras and his followers out of Cronton. Pythagoras died in circa 490 BCE in Metaponteum, a Greek city north of the Gulf of Tarentum.

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As you can see, Pythagoras led an interesting life, and you can read more about it! Begin your research by visiting this Pythagoras web page.

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