Saturday, May 22, 2010

Was it an apple or a mango ??

Last week was a wonderful one. I was too busy at my work … but still my mind wandered away from it. Had so many questions in my mind.. so many possibilities..

it was explosive.

As usual .. I had difficulties in discussing them … but still .. am taking time to write it down.

So here goes the story …..

Brahmagupta .. as everyone knows was a great ancient mathematician. But the most interesting aspect of his work was his criticism of critics. He was so pre-occupied in proving them wrong that .. he sometimes exceeded his field of expertise.

He did so in the field of astronomy. Many may consider this piece of information as obvious but we need to consider the equipments and technology at his time for the mind bending philosophies and concepts that we eat with.

It was through the Brahmasphutasiddhanta that the Arabs learned of Indian astronomy. The famous Abbasid caliph Al- Mansur (712–775) founded Baghdad, which is situated on the banks of the Tigris and made it a center of learning. The caliph invited a scholar of Ujjain by the name of Kankah in 770 A.D. Kankah used the Brahmasphutasiddhanta to explain the Hindu system of arithmetic astronomy.Muhammad Zafari translated Brahmugupta's work into Arabic upon the request of the caliph.

In chapter seven of his Brahmasphutasiddhanta, entitled Lunar Crescent, Brahmagupta rebuts the idea that the Moon is farther from the Earth than the Sun, an idea which is maintained in scriptures. He does this by explaining the illumination of the Moon by the Sun.

7.1. If the moon were above the sun, how would the power of waxing and waning, etc., be produced from calculation of the [longitude of the] moon? the near half [would be] always bright.
7.2. In the same way that the half seen by the sun of a pot standing in sunlight is bright, and the unseen half dark, so is [the illumination] of the moon [if it is] beneath the sun.
7.3. The brightness is increased in the direction of the sun. At the end of a bright [i.e. waxing] half-month, the near half is bright and the far half dark. Hence, the elevation of the horns [of the crescent can be derived] from calculation.

He explains that since the Moon is closer to the Earth than the Sun, the degree of the illuminated part of the Moon depends on the relative positions of the Sun and the Moon, and this can be computed from the size of the angle between the two bodies.

Some of the important contributions made by Brahmagupta in astronomy are: methods for calculating the position of heavenly bodies over time , their rising and setting, , and the calculation of solar and lunar eclipses. Brahmagupta criticized the popular belief that the Earth was flat or hollow. Instead, he observed that the Earth and heaven were spherical and that the Earth is moving. In 1030, the Arab astronomer Abu al Rayhan , in his Ta'rikh al-Hind, later translated into Latin as Indica, commented on Brahmagupta's work and wrote that critics argued:

"If such were the case, stones would and trees would fall from the earth."

According to al-Biruni, Brahmagupta responded to these criticisms with the following argument on gravity:

"On the contrary, if that were the case, the earth would not vie in keeping an even and uniform pace with the minutes of heaven, the "pranas" of the times. [...] All heavy things are attracted towards the center of the earth. [...] The earth on all its sides is the same; all people on earth stand upright, and all heavy things fall down to the earth by a law of nature, for it is the nature of the earth to attract and to keep things, as it is the nature of water to flow, that of fire to burn, and that of wind to set in motion… The earth is the only low thing, and seeds always return to it, in whatever direction you may throw them away, and never rise upwards from the earth."

About the Earth's gravity he said: "Bodies fall towards the earth as it is in the nature of the earth to attract bodies, just as it is in the nature of water to flow."

These words have stirred me. Was it really Newton who first used "gravity" to explain his theories. What if it was a mango .. :) .. that really fell on Brahmagupta's head before an apple fell on Newton.