A Slow Motion Trainwreck that Ends in the Dark Ages

Aristotle tutoring Alexander of Macedon.  Image from Wikipedia

Aristotle tutoring Alexander of Macedon.  Image from Wikipedia

Yesterday, I wrote that Aristotle set a trainwreck in motion by ignoring zero; instead of just humbly adopting the baggage-laden number and letting his philosophy-chips fall where they may, he laid out a series of arguments "proving" that Greek mathematicians didn't need zero or the idea of infinitity.  The train got pirated by the earliest Christians who were looking for a systematic way of organizing their "theology" and explaining it to their pagan neighbors who had never heard of a religion with only one god before.  Being in the awkward position of not quite being a philosophy, nor a typical religion with rituals and sacrifices, Christians needed a systematic way of organizing their "beliefs" in order to win converts(Karen Armstrong, 1993, pg. 93), and so they chose Aristotilieanism to help them prove the existence of God.

Alexander the Great's massive empire, in purple.  Click to expand.  Image from Wikipedia.

But before we get into the scene of the accident in the Dark Ages- ground zero if you like- where science and math were relegated to the offices of monks in charge of figuring out when the church was to celebrate Easter, we must first take into account the man who made the proliferation of the Aristotilean way of thinking all over Asia and north east Africa possible.  The Western world would not be, and would certainly not be what it is today without a young man named Alexander of Macedon, better known as Alexander the Great.  From his tiny Greek homebase, after being tutored by Aristotle himself, and once he succeeded his Father Philip, extended his kingdom far and wide by ravaging much of his continent with back-to-back military campaigns, submitting civilization after civilization under Hellenistic rule between 323-30 BC.  According to Wikipedia, this size of his empire measured "5.2 million square kilometers, the largest state of its time".  (By comparison, the USA is just under 10 million square kilometers- STILL.  This guy was under 30.).  What he accomplished in his short career as one of history's most impressive military commanders is either truly gruesome or truly great, depending on whose side you're taking. 

But first we take a look at India, whose Hindus were quite comfortable with the zero, and whose north-west corner was briefly a point of contact between the East and West- The Greeks and the Hindus.

To be continued...