Saturday, April 30, 2016

Zero

When I was taught numbers I was instructed to starts with, Zero, One, Two ... Whereas many of my contemporaries from other schools were informed that counting begins with "One". It was probably a thing that my kindergarten did irrespective of what other schools in the area were doing. I think it was rather thoughtful of my School to teach us numbers beginning with zero. However, zero was not always a number, but just in recent history.



Today we use Zero in two main ways. Firstly it is a number that signifies a lack of  value and allows us to create larger number without the need to create new digits. Secondly, it serves as a middle value between the negative and the positive number line. Zero has most of the characteristic that other numbers have in the context of arithmetic operations, but not all.

In fact, zero is an intricate "number". I mean, can you divide a number by zero. Say we have three kittens, how do we divide them among zero? What do we get as an answer? Is the answer zero kittens because, well no one got any or is it three kittens because, there were no takers? Some say the answer to it is undefined or infinity. However, Infinity is not a number! it is a concept. The debate of division with zero is the classic mathematical paradox. Dividing by zero has the power to destroy the entire foundation of logic and mathematics.



In modern maths, we have many domains that are bolstered on the idea of zero. Our modern digital technology is possible because of Zero, the digital coding of 0 and 1. Everything, linked to the computer age depends on the existence of zero. When we use Zero in everyday language strikes as a number to us instantly. However, historically, this was not the case. Ancient human started counting to keep track of things and people, (primarily animals (sheep, hens) and their children). They counted using fingers and toes and Zero was irrelevant to their use.




The early civilizations developed simple number systems. The Babylonian used two symbols to arranged in different ways to indicate numbers up to sixty (shown above from around 2000 BC). Mayans and Greek also had their own number system. Moreover, all these civilizations had a rudimentary concept of zero as a placeholder, but it was often considered controversial. Basically, the concept of nothing landed the ancient greeks into existential crises. They struggled with the Idea of "How could nothing be something?" Moreover, The idea of zero and its arithmetic operations lead to a political crisis. In the fifth century, the Greeks Pythagorean brotherhood was threatened by the concept, as it proved that the Golden Ratio was, in fact, a fraction. The fraternity was sworn to secrecy. When Hippasus of Metapontum, a member of the same, said he would tell the truth about the ratio, the brotherhood killed him. (Well, too sentimental for our Maths, aren't we, bros? Those were the true nerds! #Passion. Links for full story here)


While the Western world was rejecting the idea, the Eastern world was embracing it. The early number system of India included nine numbers and a small dot (to represent the absence of number). In the seventh century, a mathematician called Brahmagupta developed conditions for zero in arithmetic operations, though he struggled with the division as we still do. As the trade amongst continents increased the maths of India found its way to the Middle East. It influenced the Arabic cultures and was used in traded by them. However, it was resisted in Europe because of an already established Roman numeral system. In thirteen century European system embraced the Zero-based numeric system, as the mathematicians were "killing it" with the new number system, referred Arabic Numerals System. (Ouch!)




By seventeen century mathematics started including in more abstract concepts such as calculus. Zero acts as the foundation to calculus. Calculus breaks down dynamic systems into smaller units approaching zero but never reaching the value. Zero is now the celebrity of numbers and most crucial one.


Let me know:
How were you taught to count, was zero included or was "One" the first number you were taught? How do you think division by zero should be treated? Do you think Zero was invented or discovered? 

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6 comments:

  1. I know a lot more about zero than when I started your post. I knew about 1 before 0.

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    1. Hope you liked it.
      Thanks for visiting
      Best Wishes!

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  2. Congratulations on completing the challenge!
    @ScarlettBraden from
    Frankly Scarlett

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Thank you, glad to see you visiting! 😊
      Best Wishes!

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  3. Very interesting history about "zero". Congratulations on making it to the end of the 2016 A to Z Challenge.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

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    Replies
    1. Glad you liked it! I am so happy to make it to the end!
      Best Wishes!

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