Z is for Zero

The Hindu concept of zero, the void, the circle. Graphic from pparihar.com.

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.

Graphic from Pparihar.com.
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