However, let's not go farther than is deserved in claiming mathematical breakthroughs to the medieval Muslims.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Magnificently sophisticated geometric patterns in medieval Islamic architecture indicate their designers achieved a mathematical breakthrough 500 years earlier than Western scholars, scientists said on Thursday.
By the 15th century, decorative tile patterns on these masterpieces of Islamic architecture reached such complexity that a small number boasted what seem to be "quasicrystalline" designs, Harvard University's Peter Lu and Princeton University's Paul Steinhardt wrote in the journal Science.
Only in the 1970s did British mathematician and cosmologist Roger Penrose become the first to describe these geometric designs in the West. Quasicrystalline patterns comprise a set of interlocking units whose pattern never repeats, even when extended infinitely in all directions, and possess a special form of symmetry.
"Oh, it's absolutely stunning," Lu said in an interview. "They made tilings that reflect mathematics that were so sophisticated that we didn't figure it out until the last 20 or 30 years."
Forgive me for dipping into the political, but among those of us who claim to be right of the American center, the source for the above news story is called al-Reuters. They support terrorists rather than our American fighting men and women, and seem to have some sort of stake in being pro-Arab and anti-American and anti-Israel.
But how does the story above, which has nothing to do with terrorism today, fit into that mold?
Joshua Socolar, a Duke university physicist, said it is unclear whether the medieval Islamic artisans fully understood the mathematical properties of the patterns they were making.
"It leads you to wonder whether they kind of got lucky," Socolar said in an interview. "But the fact remains that the patterns are tantalizingly close to having the structure that Penrose discovered in the mid-70s."
In other words, it's not at all clear that Muslim architects or artists of centuries ago knew anything about the mathematics that we (white Christians--that's the implication) didn't figure out until the 1970s. It seems far more likely that the tile patterns in question are just creative, beautiful examples of Islamic art dating from a time when artists in the West didn't even understand perspective drawing. Instead, al-Reuters has to create the headline "Medieval Muslims made stunning math breakthrough", even though there's no indication at all that any so-called breakthrough ever took place. The Arab world made enough contributions to Western math that it doesn't need a cheerleader to hype something that didn't take place.
It's difficult not to see this type of reporting as more of al-Reuters' support for all things Islamic. Shame.