A fitting response to racist censorship: “Pythagoras”, earth’s radius, and navigation
My article first published and then censored by Conversation (but remained on the Wire), has now been published in full as part of another article “Black thoughts matter: decolonized math, academic censorship and the ‘Pythagorean’ proposition”, in the Journal of Black Studies. Click the link to download from the journal site, as an Online First article.
Apartheid did not disappear overnight with a change in the political system in South Africa. Black students are still the victims of covert apartheid which persists in academics, and thereby perpetuates inequity. Hence their protests and demand for decolonising the university.
Macaulay argued that colonial education was needed for science, an argument still used today. Therefore, math and science must first be decolonised to be able to decolonise the education system. Colonially indoctrinated people wrongly believe Western formal math and science are universal, so there is no choice but to imitate the West. My Conversation article explained in brief why this belief is false, and how math can be and has been decolonised, and through it science. This struck a major blow against colonial/Western/White power; hence that article was censored with a silly excuse lacking credibility, as another article in Wire noticed.
Now, colonial education was instituted with the help of a false history of science—that science is Western in origin. This colonial history built on an earlier false racist history arising from ultra-chauvinistic Crusading history. George James resisted racist history arguing that the achievements of Egypt were falsely credited to Greeks. More recently James was attacked by Lefokowitz, an attack applauded by covert racists all over the world. My JBS article explains in passing the error in Lefkowitz’s response to James about Aristotle’s plagiarism. (Of course, she was wrong, and, in fact, incoherent, about Archimedes too, as I explained in my recent lectures at UNISA, but that is another story.)
The JBS article also expands an earlier brief remark on the myth of Pythagoras and its connection to navigation. Not only is there (1) nil historical evidence for the existence of Pythagoras, but there is (2) nil historical evidence to connect a proof of the ‘Pythagorean’ proposition to him AND (3) nil evidence that ANY pure deductive proof of the proposition existed prior to the 20th c. AND (4) nil reason to believe that deductive proofs have any special philosophical value; in fact, they are MORE fallible than empirical proofs as the Lokayata in India have argued for millennia.
Laughably, the fools who have argued against my horned rabbit example implicitly admit their belief that empirical proofs are stronger than deductive proof, for they are unable to contest my argument without appealing to empirical facts.
In any case, the “Pythagorean” proposition is only approximate knowledge, on the surface of the curved earth, or anywhere in the real world. If approximate knowledge is all we eventually have, why do we need the long-drawn Western route of purportedly exact knowledge in an intermediate imaginary world? Or the claim that that indirect route is “superior” since it gives exact knowledge (of something imaginary)? Obviously, we don’t need it, only the West does, to press its false claim of superiority.
The West has just been piling lies upon lies to create an impenetrable layer, like piles of pigeon dung. Of course, the lack of evidence does not deter superstitious colonised minds from believing implicitly in these myths. For example, the controversy over the “Pythagorean” proposition in the sulba sutra, re-surfaced a couple of years ago. Then, the science science spokesperson of the mainstream Marxist party in India, CPM, defended the myth of “Pythagoras”, on the grounds that “Pythagoras had a proof”, on the tertiary “evidence” of Wikipedia! Politics makes strange bedfellows, but it is still strange to see colonially-indoctrinated Marxists spouting faith in unverified church propaganda about science.
Even more ironically, as my JBS article explains, these oft-repeated false claims about Western superiority (or infallibility of deductive proof) were the very reason which led the West to a distinctly INFERIOR understanding of the “Pythagorean” proposition compared to Egyptians, Iraqis and Indians. All these latter used the “Pythagorean” proposition, correctly understood, to calculate the radius of the earth. (The 5th c. Indian figure for the radius of the earth is known to be very accurate.) Indeed, measuring the earth’s radius is an easy matter, for those who understand the “Pythagorean” proposition, as I have demonstrated with the students of my decolonised course on history and philosophy of science. (See this earlier blog.)
But the West did not know how to correctly calculate the radius of the earth, just because it had an INFERIOR understanding of the “Pythagorean” proposition. The West could not do it, even after Jesuits stole precise trigonometric values from India (accurate to 10 decimal places), and the Jesuit general, Clavius, shamelessly published an interpolated table in his own name in 1608.
As the 7th c. Indian mathematician Brahmagupta remarked, “ignorance of the earth’s radius makes longitude calculations futile”. The West HENCE had the problem of determining longitude at sea, a navigational problem which persisted at least until the mid-18th c., as even British government agencies were compelled to acknowledge.
The bottom line is clear: Western claims about the superiority of deductive proofs in math are as false as claims about Euclid or claims about deductive proofs in the Elements. Western geometry was inferior, and its teaching must be abandoned in favour of Egyptian cord geometry or Indian string geometry.