Mathematic Remix?

“And we called our new language ‘remix’. Funny things. Political things. New things. All uploaded back to the net. The creative process became more important than the product because consumers were the new creators of the folk art of the future.”

RIP: A Remix Manifesto

The development of the musical remix, itself based so deeply and so incredibly within the infrastructures of networks and software is a hot button issue. Ownership of ideas and media and the sanctity of the author are still deeply important to society and I’m sure to most readers of this post. Yet as I’ve argued in class the creation of works of art, be they music or film or book or beyond, and the rights to that creation don’t usually stay in the hands of the artists themselves—they instead are given to the publishing companies who then market these cultural artifacts. To associate ownership with creation is problematic, but it is a relationships that has a historical precedent.

For the rest of this post I want to expand on a comment I made in an earlier class: that Greek mathematics are a remix of Egyptian mathematics. Yeah. I know it sounds stupid. Let me explain.

One of the earliest example of Grecian mathematics, at least as far as Wikipedia is concerned, is Thales’ theorem and as de Laet writes the ideas attributed to Thales weren’t exactly ‘new’. Indian and Babylonian mathematicians had already conceptualized that there was a right angle within any semicircle. We can presume, then, that ultimate attribution of the theorem to Thales is a lot of sociopolitical elements. He might have been the first to ‘prove’ the theorem with an example, or it was a simple case of idea theft, or it was the repackaging of ideas from another part of the world and ‘civilized’ (read: westernized) for European audiences.

Pythagoras, a far more identifiable name, also traveled around the world including Babylon and of course Egypt (where multiplication had been developed). The discoveries Pythagoras made not just in his own work but in his travels were then attributed to the commons of an intellectual order he formed. In the examples of both Thales and Pythagoras their ideas didn’t come from a vacuum or a single ‘Eureka’ moment—they instead came from the ideas of other cultures who thanks to the bias of history didn’t receive credit for these intellectual contributions until much later.

“But that makes sense” you might think, “nothing is made in a vacuum”.

This is the argument of the defenders of remix. In the example of Thales we could never say it was just that he was the first to prove his theory or that he simply stole other peoples’ work. The only difference between the remix artist and the ancient mathematician is that the remix artist doesn’t try to masquerade their work as entirely their own. It is a recognition of Habitus and inspiration.


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