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2. Topics: History of Science & Education [Dr. Lawrence, UK]

Start Date:
22. June 2015, 09:45
Finish date:
22. June 2015, 10:30
MESHS - Espace Baïetto



Historical Epistemology of Mathematics. The History of the Fourth Dimension and its Place in Education


Abstract Course

The fourth dimension, whilst contemplated from as far back as antiquity, was only studied in mathematics from the nineteenth century. Here we trace the history of these investigations, and place them in the context of their development, showing how the topic was part of educational landscape for a short while. As we take a look at the social milieu within which the study of the fourth dimension flourished, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, we investigate the biographies and works of the protagonists, and note that the study of the fourth dimension, and dimensionality itself, was strongly coloured by considerations of ethics and even religiosity. Whilst we look at a few examples of architecture which offer different interpretations of the fourth dimension, we also think of the ways that the fourth dimension contributed to the development of mathematics and mathematics education.

    In this talk I will show how the fourth dimension is indeed one of the ‘big questions’ from the history of mathematics and how it could be used in mathematics education today in varied settings and schools, as well as in the teacher training. The history of the fourth dimension offers opportunities to develop certain investigations and learn lessons that indeed transcend the more usual confines of the mathematics curriculum.



  • Lawrence S (2015) Life, Architecture, Mathematics, and the Fourth Dimension. Nexus Network Journal, Springer 19: 1-18.
  • Lawrence S (2015 – forthcoming) Capital G for Geometry. In Mathematicians and Their Gods, Oxford University Press 167-190.
  • Bayley M (2015 – forthcoming) Faith and Flatland. In Mathematicians and Their Gods, Oxford University Press 249-278.
  • Lawrence S (2015) The History of Dimensionality and the New Geometry Curriculum in England. CERME9, Prague 2-8 February 2015.
  • Lawrence S (2014) Life, Mathematics and Living in a Flat World. Mathematics Today, December 2014.
  • Lawrence S (2015) Kepler and His Worlds. Mathematics Today, April 2015.