Lemniscate


The lemniscate, or infinity symbol, represents the concept of an eternal or never ending nature. It is thought to have been first introduced into western mathematics by John Wallis, an English cryptographer and mathematician who among other things is also credited with helping to conceive calculus, much to the chagrin of students everywhere.

Although the symbol first appeared in Wallis's works around 1655, the name lemniscate, which means necklace or pendant ribbon, was conferred upon the symbol in 1694 by Jacques Bernoulli. While the origins of the symbol are sometimes disputed, the prevailing theory is that it represents what came to be known as a Möbius strip, this being a paper or ribbon twisted and connected at the ends so that for all intensive purposes it has but one side.

It has been pointed out that the Möbius strip was officially discovered in 1858, by not one but two mathematicians independently but apparently at the exact same time, and therefore, as the argument goes, the symbol could not possibly be based on the concept. I however simply must disagree with this argument. Setting aside the fact that the Ouroboros can be found in several earlier manuscripts twisted into an infinity symbol. The physical creation of the device, though clever, is extremely simple in its creation; and it is not unlikely that it would have been known by John Wallis, a man who was well known for his cunning.

And for those of you that ask "Well yes, but where is the proof?" To you I would reply that it is merely a theory. But one however that I think has more credence than the other leading suggestions such as:

  That it was the roman numeral for 1000, which for those of you with an aversion to mathematical history is actually a capital "M".

 
  That it is the pictogram of an hourglass on its side. (Now this is reaching.)

 
  That printers simply used a number eight on its side because it was convenient. I am not even going to guess at the justification of this argument.

 
  Then there is my favorite often repeated but never substantiated myth, that the symbol is actually an ancient, albeit completely unknown, pagan symbol adopted into mathematical theory.  
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