Profile image
By CoyotePrime (Reporter)
Contributor profile | More stories
Story Views

Last Hour:
Last 24 Hours:

Chet Raymo, “Squaring The Circle”

Thursday, March 2, 2017 19:24
% of readers think this story is Fact. Add your two cents.
 “Squaring The Circle”
by Chet Raymo

“Here is a little story about the best and worst of Western civilization. It can be summarized in one word: square. Yep, that’s right. Square. The ninety degree corner, the plumb-bobbed line. Forget the squiggle, the wiggle, the curlicue, the arc. We’re talking orthogonality here. We’re talking perpendicularity.

I was flying across the country the other day at 37,000 feet. From the Mississippi to the Rockies, for a thousand miles, as far as the eye could see, the land was ruled into one-mile squares, as neat as the tiles on your kitchen floor. 

It’s the Western way, begun by Greek geographers and perfected by the philosopher-scientist Rene Descartes in the 17th century. Cartesian coordinates: that’s what we call his method of plotting the world on a rectangular grid.

In 1785 the young Congress in Washington, at Thomas Jefferson’s request, decreed that public lands west of the Appalachians would be surveyed and sold in squares. Six-mile squares called townships. Each township divided into 36 one-mile squares called sections (usually bordered by roads). Sections divided into four quarters. Bingo! The checkerboard grid I observed from 37,000 feet. The 1785 survey plan ignored natural contours of the land, the sinuosity of shorelines and watercourses. Congress had one thing in mind: the efficient distribution of land. Esthetics didn’t enter into it. The goal was not to embellish nature, but to subdue it.

What I saw from the airplane is a classic example of Cartesian efficiency. One million square miles of geometric utility. A geographic straightjacket of mathematical lines. The rule of the square. We are richer and more powerful for it, of course, richer and more powerful than those cultures that are still “bogged down” in squiggles and curlicues. The squaring of the circle is the secret of our presumed success- the best and the worst of Western civilization.”


We encourage you to Share our Reports, Analyses, Breaking News and Videos. Simply Click your Favorite Social Media Button and Share.

Report abuse


Your Comments
Question   Razz  Sad   Evil  Exclaim  Smile  Redface  Biggrin  Surprised  Eek   Confused   Cool  LOL   Mad   Twisted  Rolleyes   Wink  Idea  Arrow  Neutral  Cry   Mr. Green

Top Stories
Recent Stories



Top Global

Top Alternative



Email this story
Email this story

If you really want to ban this commenter, please write down the reason:

If you really want to disable all recommended stories, click on OK button. After that, you will be redirect to your options page.