Monday, October 13, 2008

The Story of Maths Part 2

On BBC 4 this evening - the second part of The Story of Maths".

Oh dear! In which we are told:

- The Indians discovered that if you take four bags of cloth from three bags of cloth you get (-1) bags of cloth. No you don't, you can't do the operation. (Inappropriate physical model of abstract mathematical operation).

- That the discovery of negative numbers (by the Indians) allowed all quadratic equations to be solved with two solutions (er ... no: try x2 + 1 = 0). The Indians did NOT discover complex numbers.

There is so very much that is wrong with this programme.

- Ludicrous political correctness - it appears that our histories never gave any credit to the ancient civilizations of China, India and the Islamic empire ... but the programme then explains that their maths was as advanced as that which today we teach to bright 15 year olds. All the stuff afterwards was developed in the West.

- Utterly inappropriate visual content for the script. No matter what presenter Marcus du Sautoy is talking about, we see the same amusing and completely irrelevant pictures: poor ethnic people trying to get their quotidian work done while Marcus presents foreground on something completely unrelated. Oh yes, lots of boats aimlessly sailing around too.

- Complete capitulation to TV-land's belief that you cannot explain anything coherently or even a bit formally for fear the audience will switch off (or the epithet "Open University" will be hurled at you). This leads to such absurdities as when, after explaining the power of algebraic notation and arabic numerals, the presenter tries to explain the Fibonacci sequence without using either. Instead an opaque narrative is backed up by hundreds of CGI bunny pictures superimposed over the leaning tower of Pisa. What was that about?

Honestly guys, this is a series about how not to communicate anything at all of the beauty, power, essence or even interest of maths. In this programme there IS no maths. Surely it can get no worse?