Me­dieval Mus­lims made stun­ning maths break­through

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES TRENDS - REUTERS

Wash­ing­ton: Mag­nif­i­cently so­phis­ti­cated geo­met­ric pat­terns in me­dieval Is­lamic ar­chi­tec­ture in­di­cate their de­sign­ers achieved a math­e­mat­i­cal break­through 500 years ear­lier than West­ern schol­ars, sci­en­tists said on Thurs­day.

By the 15th cen­tury, dec­o­ra­tive tile pat­terns on th­ese mas­ter­pieces of Is­lamic ar­chi­tec­ture reached such com­plex­ity that a small num­ber boasted what seem to be “qua­sicrys­talline” de­signs, Har­vard Univer­sity’s Peter Lu and Prince­ton Univer­sity’s Paul Stein­hardt wrote in the jour­nal Science.

Only in the 1970s did Bri­tish math­e­ma­ti­cian and cos­mol­o­gist Roger Pen­rose be­come the first to de­scribe th­ese geo­met­ric de­signs in the West. Qua­sicrys­talline pat­terns com­prise a set of in­ter­lock­ing units whose pat­tern never re­peats, even when ex­tended in­fin­itely in all di­rec­tions, and pos­sess a spe­cial form of sym­me­try.

“ Oh, it’s ab­so­lutely stun­ning,” Lu said in an in­ter­view. “They made tilings that re­flect math­e­mat­ics that were so so­phis­ti­cated that we didn’t fig­ure it out un­til the last 20 or 30 years.”

Lu and Stein­hardt in par­tic­u­lar cite de­signs on the Darb-i Imam shrine in Is­fa­han, Iran, built in 1453. Is­lamic tra­di­tion has frowned upon pic­to­rial rep­re­sen­ta­tions in art­work. Mosques and other grand build­ings erected by Is­lamic ar­chi­tects through­out the Mid­dle East, Cen­tral Asia and else­where of­ten are wrapped in rich, in­tri­cate tile de­signs set­ting out elab­o­rate geo­met­ric pat­terns.

The walls of many me­dieval Is­lamic struc­tures dis­play sump­tu­ous geo­met­ric star-and-poly­gon pat­terns. The re­search in­di­cated that by 1200 an im- por­tant break­through had oc­curred in Is­lamic math­e­mat­ics and de­sign, as il­lus­trated by th­ese geo­met­ric de­signs.

“You can go through and see the evo­lu­tion of in­creas­ing geo­met­ric so­phis­ti­ca­tion. So they start out with sim­ple pat­terns, and they get more com­plex” over time, Lu added.

While Europe was mired in the Dark Ages, Is­lamic cul­ture flour­ished be­gin­ning in the 7th cen­tury, with achieve­ments over nu­mer­ous cen­turies in math­e­mat­ics, medicine, en­gi­neer­ing, ce­ram­ics, art, ar­chi­tec­ture and other ar­eas.


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