When we think about mathematics, what comes to our mind are the numbers and figures. The study of numbers is called arithmetic and the study of figures is called geometry (in very crude sense!). In our high school (including olympiad level) and college curriculum we cover various aspects of arithmetic. I am very much satisfied with that treatment, and this is the primary reason for my research interests in arithmetic (a.k.a. number theory).
But, I was always unsatisfied with the treatment given to geometry in our high school curriculum. We were taught some plane Euclidean geometry (with the mention of the existence of non-euclidean geometries), ruler and compass constructions, plane trigonometry (luckily, law of cosines was taught), surface area & volume of 3D objects, 2D coordinate geometry, conic sections and 3D coordinate geometry. In the name of Euclidean geometry some simple theorems for triangles, quadrilaterals and circles are discussed, like triangle congruence criterias, triangle similarity criterias, Pythagoras theorem, Mid-Point Theorem, Basic Proportionality Theorem, Thales’ Theorem, Ptolemy’s theorem, Brahmagupta theorem etc. are discussed. Ruler-compass constructions are taught as “practical geometry”. Students are asked to cram the formulas of area (including Brahmagupta’s formula and Heron’s formula) and volume without giving any logic (though in earlier curriculum teacher used to give the reasoning). Once coordinate geometry is introduced, students are asked to forget the idea of Euclidean geometry or visualizing 3D space. And to emphasize this, conic sections are introduced only as equations of curves in two dimensional euclidean plane.
The interesting theorems from Euclidean geometry like Ceva’s theorem, Stewart’s Theorem, Butterfly theorem, Morley’s theorem (I discussed this last year with high school students), Menelaus’ theorem, Pappus’s theorem, etc. are never discussed in classroom (I came to know about them while preparing for olympiads). Ruler-compass constructions are taught without mentioning the three fundamental impossibilities of angle trisection, squaring a circle and doubling a cube. The conic sections are taught without discussing the classical treatment of the subject by Apollonius.
In the classic “Geometry and Imagination“, the first chapter on conic sections is followed by discussion of crystallographic groups (Character tables for point groups), projective geometry (recently I discussed an exciting theorem related to this) and differential geometry (currently I am doing an introductory course on it). So over the next few months I will be posting mostly about geometry (I don’t know how many posts in total…), in an attempt to fill the gap between high-school geometry and college geometry.
I agree with the belief that algebraic and analytic methods make the handling of geometry problems much easier, but in my opinion these methods suppress the visualization of geometric objects. I will end this introductory post with a way to classify geometry by counting the number of ideal points in projective plane:
- Hyperbolic Geometry (a.k.a. Lobachevsky-Bolyai-Gauss type non-euclidean geometry) which has two ideal points [angle-sum of a triangle is less than 180°].
- Elliptic Geometry (a.k.a. Riemann type non-euclidean geometry) which has no ideal points. [angle-sum of a triangle is more than 180°]
- Parabolic Geometry (a.k.a. euclidean geometry) which has one ideal point. [angle-sum of a triangle is 180°]