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MERSENNE  October 2012

MERSENNE October 2012

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Subject:

Note on a mathematical problem in a 14th-century Chinese treatise on river conservancy

From:

"Donald B. Wagner" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Donald B. Wagner

Date:

Tue, 30 Oct 2012 12:01:20 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (1 lines)

International Society for the History of East Asian Science 
Mersenne 
Friends and acquaintances 
 
Dear all, 
 
I have now added a new article to my web-site: 
 
"Another ignorant editor? Note on a mathematical problem in a 14th-century Chinese treatise on river conservancy". 
http://staff.hum.ku.dk/dbwagner/another.htm 
 
Regards 
Don Wagner 
 
The first and last paragraphs are: 
 
In an earlier article, ‘Shen Gua and an ignorant editor on the length of an arc’ (http://staff.hum.ku.dk/dbwagner/Shen-Gua-arc.htm), I analyzed a text by Shen Gua 沈括 (1031–1095) and concluded that it had been tampered with by an editor who did not understand it. I was roundly criticized by friends and others for claiming that a certain part of the text was ‘nonsense’. It seems to be a general assumption among historians of Chinese mathematics that an ancient text always makes correct mathematical sense or, if it does not, the problem is the result of scribal errors rather than an initial error by the author or intentional tampering by a later editor. In the present article I consider another mathematical text which clearly is ‘confused’ (hunluan 混乱) according to the eminent historian of mathematics Guo Shuchun 郭书春. 
... 
... 
... 
In dealing with editor-introduced textual errors the proper procedure would seem to be: (1) propose a hypothesis as to the intention of the original text, and argue for its historical plausibility; (2) propose a hypothetical course of events which produced, from this, the text as it now appears, suggest how the editor may have interpreted it, and argue for the historical plausibility of the hypothesis. Both requirements are difficult, and will often be impossible. In the present article I believe I have been moderately successful in satisfying these requirements. On the other hand, my hypothetical reconstruction of Shen Gua’s calculation of the length of an arc, while at the moment it seems (in my judgement) to be the best so far proposed, is less sure. 
 
 
 
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
dr.phil. Donald B. Wagner 
Jernbanegade 9B 
DK-3600 Frederikssund 
Denmark 
Tel. +45-3331 2581 
http://staff.hum.ku.dk/dbwagner 
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
 
 
 

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