Monday, March 14, 2016

A Very Brief History of Zero

This post is in honor of Pi Day and Albert Einstein's birthday, both which we celebrate today. Although Pi is known to more than a million digits past the famous 3.14159, my post will be about zero, likely our most important number. 

The number zero is included in the sets of whole and complex numbers but not in the
set of natural numbers. Zero is a number placed in the neutral space between the positive and negative numbers on the number line, extending to negative and positive infinite, and thus is neither positive nor negative. Zero has no value and is considered null digit. Mathematicians consider zero an even number based on the premises that if even numbers, when divided by 2 leave no remainder, as odd number do, then is clear that zero is even (1). Moreover, others have stated that it is because if an integer “N” is called even if there exists an integer “M” such that N= 2M. From this, they infer that zeros evenness is clear because zero= 2 multiplied by 0. See (1) and (2) below.

The concept of zero was recognized before the existence of the negative integers was ever considered. Babylonian and Indian mathematicians first thought of the zero around the second to the fourth millennium before the birth of Christ (4000-2000 b. C). However, its real development occurred around 36 b. C. in Mesoamerica. Archeologists hypothesize that other Mesoamerican civilizations like the Olmec may have had some knowledge of the zero much before the Mayans because of number-like hieroglyphs found in their stone calendars, and the values they are supposed to represent. Mayans used mathematics for astronomy and counting. They used their calculations to measure time and to track the stars (2). The use of zero was important because the numeric system depended on the position of the symbol for value; each symbol or glyph represented a level. Zero represented the beginning or no value from where all values originated. The values had additive properties. Precise knowledge of the previous value was crucial to get to the next (4). 

The number zero does not equal emptiness or nothingness. It is the midpoint of our number line and is commonly used to indicate magnitudes or sizes. Think of how we use zeroes every day, in our money, measurements, etc. In fact, the text you are reading now is based on a binary code of ones and zeroes. Mathematics surround us with the number zero playing a central role. 

Cited bibliography

(1)Penner, Robert C. (1999). Discrete Mathematics: Proof Techniques and Mathematical Structures. World Scientific: pg. 34.

(2) “NumeraciĆ³n Maya” retrieved on 2/13/09 from Maya.

(3) Barrow, John D. (2001). The Book of Nothing. Vintage.

(4) Dichl, Richard A. (2004). The Olmecs: America’s First Civilization. Thames & Hudson.

No comments:

Post a Comment