The

Pythagoreans’ most profound discovery was a link between

numbers and the

real world: things could be described by numbers, and numbers described by things. Unfortunately, they made the

mistake of believing in something a little more extreme: that

numbers are things and that

things are numbers. And while this seemed to make sense in most cases, they eventually found that some numbers simply didn’t

add up.

Making use of their ever-so-famous

Pythagorean Theorem, the Pythagoreans found that if the two

legs of a

right triangle were both 1, then the

hypotenuse must be the

square-root of two.

“

What the hell?” they said.

The square-root of two is 1.41421356… It continues indefinitely. It

cannot be defined outside of the statement “the square-root of two” and is completely and utterly

irrational. This was a

problem, because if such a number did exist, then something in the real world must exist that is

equivalent to it. And if the basis of

human reason,

rationality, is broken (or, if

something in the world is irrational), then there must be some

irrationality to man in correspondence with

irrationality in nature.

In other words, who are

*we* when

*we* cannot be defined? And what can something

*undefined* really know about itself, or

anything for that matter?

Well, even though the Pythagoreans suspected the numbers

might not exist in the real world, they feared where the numbers

*did* exist. What if these irrational numbers were maybe some door into

chaos and

oblivion, or

signs of some malevolent god? In essence,

it scared the shit out of them, and so they simply stopped thinking about them. They didn’t

deny irrational numbers, but they wouldn’t touch them with a

ten foot pole.

This

check in knowledge has been commonplace throughout history. We constantly come to

lines that we aren’t sure whether to cross or not. The reason for this?

Pandorra’s Box. When you discover something, it doesn’t just go away. This happened in the early

20th century with nuclear weaponry, and it’s happening now with the human

genome and

nanotechnology. Will we become genetically selective, conditioning our children and oblitering the less-perfect humans? Will

nanodust be released and destroy

life on earth?

What the

future holds is hard to predict. What we

stare in the face now is not so different from what the Pythagoreans faced 25

centuries ago. The difference is: they drew a line. And though we no longer fear irrational numbers, some wonder: should we worry about this

Brave New World, or these

little robots of death?