12 March 2012

René Descartes and I


René Descartes was a famous french philosopher and mathematician who invented the Cartesian Plane among many other things. I recollect hearing a story in school of how he discovered / invented the Cartesian Plane, although I did not find any mention of it on the internet now. René Descartes was in a hospital, wounded and immobile and all he could see was the ceiling for many days. He saw a spider crawling on the ceiling and spin its web. In his ennui he tried to determine the movement of the spider, and in the process made up the two - coordinate system which later on became the founding principle of the Cartesian Plane. I tried to dig this story on the internet but could not find it and today I do not even recollect who told me, perhaps my mathematics teacher?

I look above and there is the bright white false ceiling above me, where there is a play of lights from the (non functional) french windows ... but, no, no spiders here in this room. Why spider, no other insects either, to invigorate my mind with their mysterious movements. Even the play of lights is also dulled by the bright artificial lights inside that forever seem to be switched on having an as yet undetermined deleterious effect on my convoluted circadian rhythm. But I do remember this story clearly about René Descartes and wonder if it was just a figment of my imagination from a muddled up childhood memories?

But then as Descartes said: "Cogito ergo sum" ... I think therefore I am ... since I remember this anecdote it must have been  ...

2 comments:

Anupam Choudhury said...

First stop, Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartesian_coordinate_system). The first line of the third para gives credit to Descartes for Cartesian coordinates. Even the term "Cartesian" is somewhat of a giveaway. All in all, what we now feel is a figment of childhood imagination is actually the truth that we witnessed. Nice post.. :)

Rohit said...

Hi Anupam,
I was talking about the story of how Descartes did come about the Coordinate System ... in the hospital watching the spider weave its web ... rather serendipitous like Kekule and his snake and the Benzene ring ... This story of the spider and the coordinates is never mentioned anywhere ... I wonder how it came in my consciuousness ...