# Lit2Go

## Philosophy and Fun of Algebra

### by Mary Everest Boole

#### Chapter 6: "The First Hebrew Algebra"

• Year Published: 1909
• Language: English
• Country of Origin: England
• Source: Boole, M. E. (1909). Philosophy and Fun of Algebra.London, England:.
• Flesch–Kincaid Level: 6.0
• Word Count: 1,490
• Genre: Informational
• Keywords: math history, mathematics

The first Hebrew algebra is called Mosaism, from the name of Moses the Liberator, who was its great Incarnation, or Singular Solution. It ought hardly to be called an algebra: it is the master-key of all algebras, the great central director for all who wish to learn how to get into right relations to the unknown, so that they can make algebras for themselves. Its great keynotes are these:—

When you do not know something, and wish to know it, state that you do not know it, and keep that fact well in front of you.

When you make a provisional hypothesis, state that it is so, and keep that fact well in front of you.

While you are trying out that provisional hypothesis, do not allow yourself to think, or other people to talk to you, about any other hypothesis.

Always remember that the use of algebra is to free people from bondage. For instance, in the case of number: Children do their numeration, their “carrying,” in tens, because primitive man had nothing to do sums with but his ten fingers.

Many children grow superstitious, and think that you cannot carry except in tens; or that it is wrong to carry in anything but tens. The use of algebra is to free them from bondage to all this superstitious nonsense, and help them to see that the numbers would come just as right if we carried in eights or twelves or twenties. It is a little difficult to do this at first, because we are not accustomed to it; but algebra helps to get over our stiffness and set habits and to do numeration on any basis that suits the matter we are dealing with. Of course, we have to be careful not to mix two numerations. If we are working a sum in tens, we must go on working in tens to the end of that sum. Never let yourself get fixed ideas that numbers (or anything else that you are working at) will not come right unless your sum is set or shaped in a particular way. Have a way in which you usually do a particular kind of sum, but do not let it haunt you.

You may some day become a teacher. If ever you are teaching a class how to set down a sum or an equation, say “This is my way,” or “This is the way which I think you will find most convenient,” or “This is the way in which the Government Inspector requires you to do the sums at present, and therefore you must learn it.” But do not take in vain the names of great unseen powers to back up either your own limitations, or your own authority, or the Inspector’s authority. Never say, or imply, “Arithmetic requires you to do this; your sum will come wrong if you do it differently.” Remember that arithmetic requires nothing from you except absolute honesty and patient work. You get no blessing from the Unseen Powers of Number by slipshod statements used to make your own path easy.

Be very accurate and plodding during your hours of work, but take care not to go on too long at a time doing mere drudgery. At certain times give yourself a full stretch of body and mind by going to the boundless fairyland of your sub ject. Think how the great mathematicians can weigh the earth and measure the stars, and reveal the laws of the universe; and tell yourself that it is all one science, and that you are one of the servants of it, quite as much as ever Pythagoras or Newton were.