D is for Double-Entry

Cosmic balance sheet, drawn by Ledger Light.

We are bipedal creatures. We are symmetrical by nature. Two eyes, two hands, back and front, left and right. Our fundamental concepts reflect this: good and evil, dark and light, the Jedi and the Sith. It should be no surprise that multiple cultures–the Chinese, Indian, and Renaissance Italians–created counting systems built around two entries.

One of my favorite authors wrote a series where the people on another planet organize everything around threes instead. Two is infelicitous; you need three to balance. The eighth birthday is unlucky, the ninth harmonious. Scientists have to build models factoring in three. Dinner parties are a nightmare. It is possible to conceive thinking systems not built around two.

Or, imagine, if sentient creatures had five limbs like starfish. Instead of left and right, you’d build your counting around pentagons.

Continue reading “D is for Double-Entry”