Thursday, September 14, 2017

when zero was 'invented'

[S]cientists have traced the origins of this conceptual leap to an ancient Indian text, known as the Bakhshali manuscript – a text which has been housed in the UK since 1902.
Radiocarbon dating reveals the fragmentary text, which is inscribed on 70 pieces of birch bark and contains hundreds of zeroes, dates to as early as the 3rd or 4th century – about 500 years older than scholars previously believed. This makes it the world’s oldest recorded origin of the zero symbol that we use today.
Marcus du Sautoy, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, said: “Today we take it for granted that the concept of zero is used across the globe and our whole digital world is based on nothing or something. But there was a moment when there wasn’t this number.”
The article linked above finds it understandable that zero should occur in a country that was culturally at peace with the void. Europe hadn't quite got there.

Why do I have this nagging feeling that this "discovery" is far from being the last word on the subject? Why -- if so -- was zero out of the equation earlier ... in other places?


  1. It probably wasn't, but any evidence is lost. Maybe growing up knowing about it colors my view, but having nothing seems a no brainer as so many have often possessed exactly nothing.

  2. But, Charlie, what was the "nothing" they possessed?

  3. The lack of all the cool stuff the TV says you need!

  4. Tsk! Tsk!

    I bet every one of our Cavemen ancestors understood the idea of not having anything. Probably took a while to generalize the idea from no food to no thing. A little longer for the symbolic representation of a simple symbol for zero.

    Gotta look the Indian culture, tho'.