A circle is an infinite number of points all equally distant from a single center. That definition came from Euclid, a Greek, although the Greek’s didn’t use zero. Aristotle was afraid to divide by the void because it wasn’t descriptive of the real world.
The Chinese and the Sumerians used placeholders in their counting, adopting different marks for the tens and the 60s digit, since Babylonians used base 60. But they didn’t have a zero.
The Mayans had a zero–they used base 20–which allowed them to produce large astronomical calculations that generated accurate solar and lunar calendars using only sticks. But their isolation prevented trade, which limited their civilization.
The Romans had zero, of course! Nulla. The Romans had sophisticated plumbing and developed roads that lasted for millenia. But Romans disdained to use nulla in their numbering systems, so even though their business records were hierarchical and detailed, they were limited. Growth is limited if a number like 397,654 is CCCXCVMMDCLIV.
The Arabs developed zero; they developed algebra. But the Arabs learned it from the Hindus.
There is something in me that loves a good chart. I can’t help it. Some people are stopped short by a pair of soulful eyes or a kitten sleeping, but give me a good table of figures, and I am hooked.
Josiah Wedgwood, manufacturer of pottery to English royalty, must have felt the same way because he was a pioneer in cost accounting. Not only that, but he designed beautiful dishes.
Bad Knee, Big Brain
Wedgwood was born in 1730, the 11th child of a potter who transformed his father’s small, midland English artisan studio into a manufacturing empire. He survived smallpox, though it left him with a knee too weak to run a potter’s wheel. As a result, he concentrated on design and gravitated towards glazes. He stumbled on to the latest science–chemistry–and that allowed him to transform the cheap, black bowls of the family shop into multi-colored, sophisticated figurines and dinnerware for aristocrats. He married someone who had money and found business partners with connections into high society. It paid off.
Luca Pacioli wrote the book on accounting. He also wrote the book on algebra, geometry, mathematics, and arithmetic. It’s a musty old book by now, fragrant with the smell of parchment, dust, museum purifiers, and centuries passing. But Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita contains the world.
Da Vinci’s Buddy, Della Francesca’s “Admirer”
Pacioli was born in Tuscany, studied in Venice, taught in Rome, Croatia, Naples, and eventually settled in Milan under the patronage of Ludovico Sforza. Sforza supported another famous scholar: Leonardo.