While Euclidean geometry, named after the Greek mathematician Euclid, includes some of the oldest known mathematics, non-Euclidean geometries were not widely accepted as legitimate until the 19th century.
The debate that eventually led to the discovery of the non-Euclidean geometries began almost as soon as Euclid's work Elements was written. In the Elements, Euclid began with a limited number of assumptions (23 definitions, five common notions, and five postulates) and sought to prove all the other results (propositions) in the work. The most notorious of the postulates is often referred to as "Euclid's Fifth Postulate," or simply the "parallel postulate", which in Euclid's original formulation is:
If a straight line falls on two straight lines in such a manner that the interior angles on the same side are together less than two right angles, then the straight lines, if produced indefinitely, meet on that side on which are the angles less than the two right angles.
Other mathematicians have devised simpler forms of this property (see parallel postulate for equivalent statements). Regardless of the form of the postulate, however, it consistently appears to be more complicated than Euclid's other postulates (which include, for example, "Between any two points a straight line may be drawn").
For at least a thousand years, geometers were troubled by the disparate complexity of the fifth postulate, and believed it could be proved as a theorem from the other four. Many attempted to find a proof by contradiction, including Persian mathematicians Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen, 11th century), Omar Khayyám (12th century) and Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī (13th century), and the Italian mathematician Giovanni Girolamo Saccheri (18th century).
The theorems of Ibn al-Haytham, Khayyam and al-Tusi on quadrilaterals, including the Lambert quadrilateral and Saccheri quadrilateral, were "the first few theorems of the hyperbolic and the elliptic geometries." These theorems along with their alternative postulates, such as Playfair's axiom, played an important role in the later development of non-Euclidean geometry. These early attempts at challenging the fifth postulate had a considerable influence on its development among later European geometers, including Witelo, Levi ben Gerson, Alfonso, John Wallis and Saccheri. All of these early attempts made at trying to formulate non-Euclidean geometry however provided flawed proofs of the parallel postulate, containing assumptions that were essentially equivalent to the parallel postulate. These early attempts did, however, provide some early properties of the hyperbolic and elliptic geometries.
Khayyam, for example, tried to derive it from an equivalent postulate he formulated from "the principles of the Philosopher" (Aristotle): "Two convergent straight lines intersect and it is impossible for two convergent straight lines to diverge in the direction in which they converge." Khayyam then considered the three cases right, obtuse, and acute that the summit angles of a Saccheri quadrilateral can take and after proving a number of theorems about them, he correctly refuted the obtuse and acute cases based on his postulate and hence derived the classic postulate of Euclid which he didn't realize was equivalent to his own postulate. Another example is al-Tusi's son, Sadr al-Din (sometimes known as "Pseudo-Tusi"), who wrote a book on the subject in 1298, based on al-Tusi's later thoughts, which presented another hypothesis equivalent to the parallel postulate. "He essentially revised both the Euclidean system of axioms and postulates and the proofs of many propositions from the Elements." His work was published in Rome in 1594 and was studied by European geometers, including Saccheri who criticised this work as well as that of Wallis.
Giordano Vitale, in his book Euclide restituo (1680, 1686), used the Saccheri quadrilateral to prove that if three points are equidistant on the base AB and the summit CD, then AB and CD are everywhere equidistant.
In a work titled Euclides ab Omni Naevo Vindicatus (Euclid Freed from All Flaws), published in 1733, Saccheri quickly discarded elliptic geometry as a possibility (some others of Euclid's axioms must be modified for elliptic geometry to work) and set to work proving a great number of results in hyperbolic geometry. He finally reached a point where he believed that his results demonstrated the impossibility of hyperbolic geometry. His claim seems to have been based on Euclidean presuppositions, because no logical contradiction was present. In this attempt to prove Euclidean geometry he instead unintentionally discovered a new viable geometry, but did not realize it.
In 1766 Johann Lambert wrote, but did not publish, Theorie der Parallellinien in which he attempted, as Saccheri did, to prove the fifth postulate. He worked with a figure that today we call a Lambert quadrilateral, a quadrilateral with three right angles (can be considered half of a Saccheri quadrilateral). He quickly eliminated the possibility that the fourth angle is obtuse, as had Saccheri and Khayyam, and then proceeded to prove many theorems under the assumption of an acute angle. Unlike Saccheri, he never felt that he had reached a contradiction with this assumption. He had proved the non-Euclidean result that the sum of the angles in a triangle increases as the area of the triangle decreases, and this led him to speculate on the possibility of a model of the acute case on a sphere of imaginary radius. He did not carry this idea any further.
At this time it was widely believed that the universe worked according to the principles of Euclidean geometry.
Other articles related to "early history, history, early":
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