In The Wizard of Oz, the Scarecrow shows us how intelligent he has become by (mis)quoting Pythagoras’ theorem:
“The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side.”
Homer Simpson does a similar thing when he puts on a pair of glasses and tries to convince himself that he is smart.
It would seem that the lasting legacy of Pythagoras of Samos is the formula linking the sides of a right-angled triangle. It could, however, be argued that the actual legacy of Pythagoras is much greater—it’s more than the formula used in contrived situations of ladders being rested against walls or finding the answer to that most fundamental of questions: would the pencil stick out of the top of the pot? His legacy is around us every day…
Most initial thoughts when the name Fibonacci is mentioned centre around sequences, rabbits, nature and spirals. However, the Fibonacci legacy is much more fundamental to modern scientific studies, and without his influence, mathematics—as we know it—would not exist.
The famous Fibonacci spiral
Leonardo, of the family of Bonacci, was born in Pisa, Italy, in around 1170. It wouldn’t be until the French mathematician, Édouard Lucas, wrote extensively about the $1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, \ldots$ sequence in 1877 that the “Fibonacci sequence” would become more well-known. Leonardo’s father was a successful merchant and customs officer, travelling around the Mediterranean with his family in tow.
Imagine the scene: The year is 1557. Henry VIII’s eldest daughter, Mary, is on the English throne. It’ll be another year before her younger sister, Elizabeth, becomes queen. You’ve published a fair few mathematical texts, and you’re halfway through writing your latest book ‘The Whetstone of Witte‘, the second in a pair of books on Arithmetic (the title was a pun about sharpening your mathematical wits).
You’re determined to only use English language in the book but you are getting really frustrated with having to write ‘is equal to’ every time you note down an equation. Then it dawns on you! Why not use a symbol to represent ‘is equal to’? It’ll save time. It’ll save ink. After all, isn’t mathematics all about efficiency? But what symbol to use?