Looking into the Dark Ages may be the key to seeing that there is still hope in the midst of this year

In 2020, America has seen fires, war scares, a global pandemic, civil unrest and political pandemonium, which has made it feel like the worst year in history. However, looking to the past might be the key to seeing that there is still hope in the midst of this year. 

The year 536 AD was completely dark. It launched the world into the ‘Dark Ages,’ where there was economic hardship, starvation, environmental issues and a plague. This is not unlike the current world we live in. However, new discoveries then and now remind us that it could be worse. 

“For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year,” said the Byzantine historian Procopius. This must have been an eerily sad year to experience, as the sun is so often tied to our happiness. 

536 AD lives in infamy as Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia lived in total darkness for 18 months. Harvard researchers discovered that the cause of these dark times was a violent volcanic eruption in Iceland that sent thick black ash across the northern hemisphere in 536 AD. Two other massive explosions followed, in 540 AD and 547 AD, adding to the already poor environmental conditions. 

The California and Oregon wildfires of 2020 spit ash out covering the majority of the West Coast in a hazy fog. The air quality left many people struggling to do daily activities, but the eruption in 536 AD left the Northern hemisphere devastated. People had no ability to do many jobs as the darkness shut down life as they knew it.

The ash-filled black skies caused an economic depression until 640 AD. That’s over a hundred years of dark times even after the black ash disappeared. This is similar to the economic perils of 2020 as people could not return to their jobs because of COVID-19 restrictions. In 536 AD, people’s livelihoods were hit hard, especially farming.

“Temperatures in the summer of 536 fell 1.5°C to 2.5°C, initiating the coldest decade in the past 2300 years,” Ann Gibbons, a writer for Science Magazine, explains. These cold summer months and lack of sunlight killed their crops. No food meant that there was mass starvation in the years that followed. 

As if it couldn’t get worse, the “Dark Ages” continued to live out its name with darkness, famine and the plague spreading throughout the northern world. 

“Then in 541, the Bubonic Plague struck wiping out one-third to one-half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire and hastening its collapse,” stated Medieval historian Michael McCormick. 

Although these dark times did result in much hardship for many,  Brahmagupta, a mathematician and astronomer from India, brought hope and progress to these Dark Ages. 

Contrary to popular belief, the “Dark Ages” was an era of many technological and mathematical innovations, and Brahmagupta was a key part of these advancements. He was born in 598, right in the middle of these unprecedented times. Despite the dire circumstances, Brahmagupta was able to block out the noise of a global catastrophe and commit his time to the development of mathematics and astronomy. Instead of playing a victim, Brahmagupta persevered and fought to break the cycle of the circumstances in his current age.   

Brahmagupta authored the theoretical treatise Brāhmasphuṭasiddhānta’ (correctly established doctrine of Brahma), which was an impactful contribution to the development of astronomy and math in India and the rest of the world. The book mentions zero as a number and gives rules for using zero with negative and positive numbers

Brahmagupta alsoappears to be the first to articulate the result that the product of two negative numbers is a positive number. He also gave the much easier result that the product of a positive number and a negative number is a negative number,” said Professor Thayer Watkins from San Jose State University

These discoveries by Brahmagupta in the “Dark Ages” shined a bright light onto the future of mathematics. Zero becoming a number may seem like a simple idea, but it was quite a foundational accomplishment in the sixth century.

Brahmagupta preserved discovery and innovation in a dark time and fought to affect it positively. His ability to not let the circumstances affect him is a testament to how great things can still be accomplished in this difficult time. 

Much like the discoveries of Brahmagupta in the Dark Ages, some incredible scientific advancements have happened in 2020. Negativity and hard times flood the media, but do not be fooled, 2020 has seen new breakthroughs in research for oncology and in the study and treatment of tumors. 

“The researchers utilized the technologies originated by Google DeepMind algorithm. By using its technological capabilities, medical experts invented a way to implement artificial intelligence in a way to surpass human experts in 2020,” said Ernest Hamilton, a writer for Science Times

The team at Google DeepMind has worked closely with breast cancer patients in 2020. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and the artificial intelligence created by Google DeepMind will “aid reducing incorrect results in the US and help alleviate the shortage of radiologists in the UK” as explained by Nicole Kobie, a writer for Wired. 

The human spirit has continued to shine in spite of the current circumstances. The year 2020 has not stopped the progress of those who are like Brahmagupta in the Dark Ages or the researchers at Google DeepMind in 2020. These people dare to make the world a better place and so should we.