I just finished reading the book, Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett. One of my eagerly anticipated summer book reads, it was even better than I had hoped.
I particularly enjoyed reading Follett’s description of the structure and geometries inherent in the building of a large medieval cathedral. Here’s a brief excerpt:
All Jack’s designs were based on simple geometrical shapes and some not-so-simple proportions, such as the ration of the square root of two to the square root of three. … They knew that if a circle was drawn around the four corners of a square, the diameter of the circle was bigger than the side of the square in the ratio of the square root of two to one. That ratio, root-two to one, was the most ancient of the masons’ formulas, for in a simple building it was the ratio of the outside width to the inside width, and therefore gave the thickness of the wall.
Who knew that medieval masons were aware of the square root of two? Who knew that ratios were understood and integrated into the construction of grand stone buildings? I certainly did not!
Many times, we as students, as workers, even as consumers, fail to appreciate how much mathematics and geometry affect our lives. Some of us declare emphatically that we hate math! While I can understand others’ antipathy towards it, I like math and always have. Do we really have to consider whether or not mathematics makes our lives better? I hope not.
Reading this book makes me want to delve into more applications of mathematics … like building a cathedral. Stay tuned.