John Napier – The man of black magic and algorithm

The supervisor of an estate in Scotland, John Napier was very much interested in trigonometry, apart from black magic and astronomy. He believed that it’s possible to communicate with deceased souls. For this purpose he conducted many strange experiments at home. He used to carry a black spider in his bottle while he is set for a journey. He grew a black cock at home for the purpose of black magic. It’s quite strange to know that, algorithm which gives the simplest form of all types of arithmetic calculations, was born in the brain of John Napier.

Story behind John Napier’s algorithm

He desired to find a simple method to reduce the complexity of arithmetic calculations. He had some weird thoughts such as ‘Why not use addition instead of multiplication? Why can’t complex division calculations be substituted by multiplication?’ Though he attempted several times to find a solution, it remained successful for many years. Once John Craig, his close friend told him a story.

In 1590, one day the King of Scotland decided to visit his fiancée Annie. While he set off his journey to Denmark, Craig who served as royal physician also accompanied him. On their way, the king accepted the invitation of Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. In their lengthy conversation, Craig understood a few facts – For his calculations Brahe used equations of Trigonometry. For the same reason, he was able to convert multiplication to addition, and division to subtraction. This theory was discovered by Ibn Yunus five centuries ago.

When Craig told this story to Napier, he became very happy. He determined to find a suitable and easy method to simplify multiplication process, and started once again with his experiments. In 1614, he finally succeeded to publish his work – A description of the marvelous rule of logarithms, which changed the course of Mathematical science. That’s how the theory of logarithms originated around 350 years ago. Since its invention, Logarithm had a glorious journey till 1950s till calculators were invented.

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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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