Monday, June 30, 2014

The Role of The House of Wisdom (Exemplar)

The Role of The House of Wisdom

When examining the role of The House of Wisdom in mathematics I have found it to be very important to consider what the role of this place was in relation to anything.  First, The House of Wisdom was founded by a man by the name of Caliph Harun al-Rashid.  Now this is a guy who was pretty darn powerful in his day.  He was intellectually, politically, and militarily resourceful, which is the exact way that many modern liberals would describe the late "Dubblya Bush." Further his surname translates to "the just," "the upright" or "the rightly-guided," which just further demonstrates the correlation made above.  To get more to the point, and the value of the actual situation, this was a man who valued intellectuality and the discoveries that came along with it.  He founded The House of Wisdom to be a place where intellectuals of many different disciplines could come together to research, explore, and translate ideas in the areas of science, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, alchemy and chemistry, zoology, geography and cartography.  A good way to look at this place would be to think of it as a room where all of the best and brightest could come together to share their wisdom, learn from one another, and put their ideas into text of many languages, sort of like a coffee shop where people discuss the novels they are writing, but actually doing it. 

Exemplar Additive:

In order to better understand the importance of The House of Wisdom, it proves valuable to look at the history of it.  Though there is an incredible history behind and involving the house of wisdom, the point of this blog is mostly to give a brief history of it, not the full story (which can be found online and in several different books).  So what was The House of Wisdom exactly?  It was a library and a translation institute established somewhere later in the 8th century, which would continue to grow and receive information and translation for many, many years after its founding.  In terms of translation, what essentially was taking place, was the translation of pertinent texts from many different languages including Farsi, Aramaic, Syriac, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Sankrit, and Devnagari into Arabic.  These translated texts were then circulated and distributed throughout the empire to enrich and further the knowledge from all over the world in Arabic speaking countries.  In light of this, contrary to the belief of many, The House Of Wisdom was not a place where people went and became wise by entering but rather, much like the libraries of today, housed information which could be accessed by different people. Further, The House of Wisdom was located in the city of Baghdad.  Was this just by chance? Certainly not. At that time, Baghdad was the center of the Islamic Empire and actually housed one of the world's first paper mills.  It makes sense then why a library was able to flourish the way it did.  When books and manuscripts can be made right there, why would you put the library elsewhere? Just food for thought. This fact really gave me a foundation for understanding how all of this knowledge was displayed and distributed, it didn't just happen by chance.  Lastly, The House of Wisdom was in Baghdad because of the power held by the residents.  This was not so much wealth and power that came from oil like we know today, but was due to the incredible intellectual presence located in the region.  So just like it made sense to make a library in the vicinity of a paper mill, it made sense to place an intellectual power house, among intellectual powerhouses, if you will.  

So where is The House of Wisdom today?  Unfortunately it was destroyed in 1258 when a Mongol invasion left the entire region almost completely decimated.  Books were destroyed, intellectuals were killed, and with them a wealth of knowledge passed away. The good news is that many of the texts were recovered in later years and of course, the spread of knowledge cannot necessarily be thwarted by an invasion.  It had already spread to many other places in the empire and eventually around the world. 
Anyhow, how does this apply to the current state of mathematics?  Given that the best and brightest were all gathered in this place, ideas could truly be explored and either proved or put to rest.  This was a place where mathematicians could collaborate with other mathematicians and intellectuals to discuss problem points with whatever it was that they were exploring.  I think that some of the greatest strides in mathematics came from collaboration and still do.  How many people did it take to prove or disprove any point of discrete mathematics?  Five line geometry? Any of Euclid's theorems?  It takes often takes many people to work through a given math problem and The House of Wisdom was a place where people could do that.  Not only did the work through the mathematics to come up with something that was valid and trustworthy, they translated those works into other languages so that the ideas could spread.  Without this type of translation, many modern math strategies and formulas and theorems would not have been used, or maybe not discovered in certain cultures until years later.  Maybe never.  The sharing of ideas is incredibly important to the spreading of knowledge.  The House of Wisdom is the hub of knowledge spread-ation, if you will.  Like a raptor chases down its prey, displays every aspect of predation and devours that prey, so the spread-ation of mathematics hunts down the minds of skeptics and devours them into parabola shaped smile of discovery.

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