|MadSci Network: Science History|
I don't know of any date or place when elegant ad hoc number juggling suddenly gave way to formal rote instruction. Classical aesthetics are invariably displaced by efficency. Verbal problems from ancient Egypt are incredibly hard to understand because they didn't have efficient symbology to squeeze the goo and dribble out of literary exposition. Poor Isaac Newton and his "Principia" were mired in continued fractions. English mathematician Henry Briggs first introduced decimal notation, the decimal-based system of logarithms, and long division in 1617. They were radical and dangerous ideas. If you think doing long division by hand is nasty, look at the alteratives! Who has to know arithmetic? As civilizations became more technological their participants and geater fractions of their participants needed more real time arithmetic skills to be productive. Personal gain is a powerful incentive, more so if you get to keep it. If there are surpluses, somebody had to keep track of inventory (soon followed by auditors to watch the watchers). Convenience is important, especially if your number system doesn't have a zero (Roman numerals). If *you* have a calculator, do *you* need to memorize anything? The understanding required to use a slide rule is non-trivial. One imagines a chimp could be trained symbolically use a calculator. 1) Did you punch the wrong numbers? Approximation is a useful skill. 2) How many significant figures are justified in your answer? 3) What do you do when the batteries go dead? If you use money and can't do arithmetic in your head, you will be cheated until the lessons are driven home. Welcome to technological civilization. Uncle Al!
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