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Numbers: History, Mathematics, Philosophy

at Brooklyn Institute for Social Research - Brooklyn

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$315
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Location:
Brooklyn
68 Jay St
Btwn Water & Front Streets
Brooklyn, New York 11201
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No class on Nov 27
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Description
Class Level: All levels
Age Requirements: 21 and older
Average Class Size: 14
Teacher: Suman Ganguli

What you'll learn in this history lesson:

Numbers are so common, so seemingly intrinsic to human life, that it’s baffling to recall that, for millennia, many humans did not use them at all. How, then, did the use of numbers come to be? Were they, in some sense, discovered? Are they qualities of the natural world or truths outside of time and space? Or, are numbers human creations—concepts devised to help us analyze, organize, and manipulate the world. If numbers “work,” are they therefore, in some sense, “real”?

In this course, we will examine the concept of number from various points of view: mathematical, historical, cultural, philosophical. We will consider the history and evolution of numbers and numeric systems: the prehistoric origins of the “natural numbers” (i.e., the positive integers) in the fundamental human activity of counting; the development of tally systems and numerals as symbolic/syntactic representations of numbers; and the use of different base systems, such as the “sexagesimal” (base 60) system used by the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians, the decimal (base 10) place-value representation of numbers that we use today, and the binary (base 2) system fundamental to modern computation. Students will look at the foundations of arithmetic, algorithms, and the branch of mathematics called “number theory.”  And we’ll consider the expansion of the concept of number beyond the natural numbers: to negative numbers, rational numbers, irrational numbers, complex (or “imaginary”) numbers, and infinite numbers. As we proceed, we’ll constantly pose and repose the central question: what, really, are numbers?

Readings will include selections from Arithmetic by Paul Lockhart; Numbers and the Making of Us: Counting and the Course of Human Cultures by Caleb Everett; The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics by Stanislas Dehaene; The Universal History of Numbers by Georges Ifrah; Number Words and Number Symbols: A Cultural History of Numbers by Karl Menninger; and The Foundations of Arithmetic by Gottlob Frege.

There *is* no physical Brooklyn Institute. We hold our classes all over (thus far) Brooklyn and Manhattan, in alternative spaces ranging from the back rooms of bars to bookstores to spaces in cultural centers, including the Center for Jewish History, the Goethe-Institut, and the Barnard Center for Research on Women. We can (and do) turn any space into a classroom. You will be notified of the exact location when you register for a class.

Instructors will contact students approximately one week prior to the first class with reading assignments and details about the course location.

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Refund Policy
Upon request, we will refund the entire cost of a class up until 1 week before its start date. Students who withdraw after that point but before the first class are entitled to a 75% refund. After the first class: 50%. After the second: 25%. No refunds will be given after the third class.

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Reviews of Classes at Brooklyn Institute for Social Research (18)

School: Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research was established in 2011 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Its mission is to extend liberal arts education and research far beyond the borders of the traditional university, supporting community education needs and opening up new possibilities for scholarship in the...

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