Proposal: History of Science And Mathematics

Users are only allowed 5 questions, but may have more in mind. I suggest we pool them here, for people with available questions but no ideas to take inspiration from.

Obviously I'm not advocating dishonestly posting questions you don't really think are that great, but it's like being asked to tell a joke - you might have had a great history of science question six months ago, but can't think of it when put on the spot.

Feel free to post question ideas that you're not entirely happy with - someone else might think of a way to improve them.



  • Are there any examples of mathematicians getting the rules of negative arithmetic wrong, before they were well-established?

  • Why were conic sections originally investigated?

  • Who were some strong opponents to the introduction of complex numbers? That is, we often hear the tale that negative and complex numbers had a controversial birth, but what are some concrete references?

  • What kind of math was used to deduce the shape of a planet's orbit from it's apparant trajectory as seen from earth? Sort of a follow-up to my Kepler question. I've always been fascinated by this, because it seems like an incredibly difficult math problem.

  • Was the introduction of higher-dimensional spaces controversial, like the introduction of complex numbers?

  • What did the decimal number system replace? Actually, I think "What did X replace" questions are interesting in general.

  • Why did mathematicians struggle to understand multiplying more than three numbers? You often hear that it was considered meaningless, e.g. by Cardano, but for goodness' sake, surely not everyone thought like this, did they?

  • What exactly were Viete's concepts of Zetetic, Poristic, and Exegetic? These are concepts brought up by Viete in his New Algebra, an extremely hard to read book. They seem to be a sort of process for solving mathematical problems, but it's hard to tell.


  • Are there any examples of pure math suddenly and unexpectedly becoming useful in physics?

  • Who was the first person to connect the proportionality of falling distance and time-squared to a uniform acceleration?

  • How did the Greeks know that lunar eclipses are caused by the Earth's shadow on the moon?


  • Why was the church such a strong defender of Aristotle's physics?
  • I've added the last 5 math questions to the proposal. – Brian Rushton Feb 19 '14 at 17:15
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    I recommend someone institute a single line strike thorough or some similar indicator (gray font, explicit word indicator ... whatever is available) for questions that have already been asked from this pool so as to keep the post relevant and useful for new posters. – J. W. Perry Feb 24 '14 at 4:14

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