Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Saturday, January 9, 2016
Thanks to Arvind Gupta for sending this paper.
A SCHOLAR IN HIS TIME: CONTEMPORARY VIEWS OF KOSAMBI THE MATHEMATICIAN
University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, TS 500 034
“Kosambi introduced a new method into historical scholarship, essentially by application of modern mathematics.” J. D. Bernal , who shared some of his interests and much of his politics, summarized the unique talents of DDK  in an obituary that appeared in the journal Nature, adding, “Indians were not themselves historians: they left few documents and never gave dates. One thing the Indians of all periods did leave behind, however, were hoards of coins. [...] By statistical study of the weights of the coins, Kosambi was able to establish the amount of time that had elapsed while they were in circulation . . . ”
The facts of DDK’s academic life, in brief are as follows. He attended high–school in the US, in Cambridge, MA, and undergraduate college at Harvard, graduating in 1929. Returning to India, he then worked as a mathematician at Banaras Hindu University (1930-31), Aligarh Muslim University (1931-33), Fergusson College, Pune (1933-45), and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (1945-62), after which he held an emeritus fellowship of the CSIR until his death at the age of 59, in 1966.
Today the significance of D. D. Kosambi’s mathematical contributions [3–71] tends to be underplayed, given the impact of his scholarship as historian, and Indologist. His work in the latter areas has been collected in several volumes  and critical commentaries have appeared over the years [73, 74], but his work in mathematics has not been compiled and reviewed to the same extent [75, 76, 77, 78]. Indeed, a complete bibliography is not available in the public domain so far . This asymmetry is unfortunate since, as commented elsewhere , an understanding of Kosambi the historian can only be enhanced by an appreciation of Kosambi the mathematician .
DDK is known for several contributions, some of which like the Kosambi-Cartan-Chern (KCC) theory , carry his name, and some like the Karhunen–Loève expansion [37, 39, 82], that do not. The Kosambi mapping function in genetics  continues to be used to this day , but the path geometry that he studied for much of his life  has not found further application. DDK’s final years were mired in controversies, both personal and professional. His papers on the Riemann hypothesis (RH) [65, 66] brought him a great deal of criticism and not a little ridicule, while his personal politics put him in direct conflict with Homi Bhabha and the Department of Atomic Energy. This contributed to his eventual and somewhat ignominious ouster from employment at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. His early and passionate advocacy of solar energy was practical and based on sound scientific common sense. In some of his arguments, he seems even somewhat Gandhian, and although this was a contrary position to hold in the TIFR at that time, the essential validity of his argument remains to this day .