Saturday, November 02, 2013

From My Journals: Understanding

From entry on 10/18/2013

I was recently reading an ancient book called "Euclid's elements"  written by Euclid a greek mathematician. He is known as the father of Euclidean geometry who famously  quoted "The laws of nature are the mathematical thoughts of God". A neat quote indeed irrespective of what your beliefs in God are. Euclid is also know as the father of Geometry even when there were other famous greek mathematicians like Pythagoras who preceded him. I think its mainly because of his 13 volume treatise he wrote explaining the measurement of "Geo"(earth) and hence the term "Geometry".  His volumes were in the original greek, later on shepherded by the Arabs, translated to Latin and then finally made its translation into English around 1570's. Euclid's Elements was the second most published book after the Bible. In fact there was a time when one was not considered educated if he or she hadn't read Euclid's Elements.

Anyway this post is about "Understanding" I will try to correlate. As I was reading Euclid's elements
I also came across an amazing quote by Abraham Lincoln who seem to have studied Euclid's Elements. He said:

'In the course of my law reading I constantly came upon the word "demonstrate". I thought at first that I understood its meaning but soon became satisfied I did not. I said to myself What do I do when I demonstrate more than when I reason or prove? How does demonstration differ from any other proof? I consulted Webster's dictionary. They told of a certain proof "a proof beyond the possibility of doubt.'; but I had no idea of what sort of proof that was. I thought great many things were proved beyond the possibility of doubt without recourse to any such extraordinary process of reasoning as I understand demonstration to be. I consulted all the documents, dictionaries and books of reference I could find but with no better results. You might well defined the color blue to a blind man.  At last I sad - Lincoln, you never will make a good lawyer if you do not understand what demonstrate means and I left my situation in springfield, went home to my father's house and stayed there till I could give any proposition in the six books of Euclid at sight. I then found out what demonstrated means and went back to my law studies.'
When I read this I thought to myself the men of old had little access to all the information and knowledge we have today but differ from us that they had a deep yearning for understanding.

Proverbs 2:2-6  comes to my mind which aptly gives us insights on the importance of 'understanding':

"Listening closely to wisdom and directing your heart to understanding. Furthermore if you call out to insight and lift your voice to understanding
If you seek it like silver and search for it like hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God.
 For the Lord gives wisdom, from His mouth come knowledge and understanding
I am also reminded of the root word of demonstrate is also linked with dunamis as in the writings of Paul when he says "When we entered a city we came in demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit and then we preached" (Paraphrase mine).  An understanding that helps in demonstration and demonstrating beyond the possibility of any doubt.

Interestingly Raphael's painting of Euclid is a poignant reminder of the same as an effective teacher he was demonstrating to his students and not merely teaching. Fascinating!!

Blessings and Shalom,

Sam Kurien

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