Zero and concept of nothingness: a gift from India

Non-mathematicians, such as myself (and maybe you), may have thought that zero was a logical extension of any numerical system, but that isn’t so. Mathematics is an all-too-human construct. And the concept of zero — that is, nothing — had to be constructed.

It turns out that this construction comes from India, according to Mariellen Ward, writing for the travel section of the BBC website.

The invention of zero was a hugely significant mathematical development, one that is fundamental to calculus, which made physics, engineering and much of modern technology possible. Source: BBC – Travel – India’s impressive concept about nothing

If you enjoy thinking about things you’ve never thought about — things you didn’t even know you could think about — this is a highly interesting and readable article. Like this bit:

But equally interesting are the reasons as to why the zero wasn’t developed elsewhere [other than India]. One theory is that some cultures had a negative view of the concept of nothingness. For example, there was a time in the early days of Christianity in Europe when religious leaders banned the use of zero because they felt that, since God is in everything, a symbol that represented nothing must be satanic.

Like some of our math teachers, as friends of mine might claim.

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.
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