Bivector - History

History

The bivector was first defined in 1844 by German mathematician Hermann Grassmann in exterior algebra as the result of the exterior product of two vectors. Around the same time in 1843 in Ireland William Rowan Hamilton discovered quaternions. It was not until English mathematician William Kingdon Clifford in 1888 added the geometric product to Grassmann's algebra, incorporating the ideas of both Hamilton and Grassmann, and founded Clifford algebra, that the bivector as it is known today was fully understood.

Around this time Josiah Willard Gibbs and Oliver Heaviside developed vector calculus, which included separate cross product and dot products that were derived from quaternion multiplication. The success of vector calculus, and of the book Vector Analysis by Gibbs and Wilson, had the effect that the insights of Hamilton and Clifford were overlooked for a long time, since much of 20th century mathematics and physics was formulated in vector terms. Gibbs instead described bivectors as vectors, and used "bivector" to describe an unrelated quantity, a use that has sometimes been copied.

Today the bivector is largely studied as a topic in geometric algebra, a Clifford algebra over real or complex vector spaces with a nondegenerate quadratic form. Its resurgence was led by David Hestenes who, along with others, applied geometric algebra to a range of new applications in physics.

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