lyef & thymes

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Aforementioned series on important Math

Sarah Gazaneo is an awesome person, and this series on important mathematical Theories is in no way a slight on her comment on how math never helped anyone.

In this, the first post of Mathematics, I thought we would start in INDIA with the advent of the Zero. Here is a clipping from an article about ZERO:

In Sanskrit (the scholarly language of the Hindus), the word for the zero is "sunya", meaning "void", and there is little doubt that the zero concept originated as the written symbol for the empty column of the abacus. The abacus had been used around the world since antiquity to provide a facile means of accumulating progressive products of multiplication by moving those products ever further leftward, column by column, as the operator filled the available bead spaces one by one and moved the excess over ten into the successive right-to-left-ward columns.

Number products in even tens (such as the number 20 or 30) leave the first right hand column empty (void). When expert abacus users had no abacus available to them, they could remember and visualize the operation of the abacus so clearly that all they needed to know was the content of each column in order to develop any multiplication or division.

They then invented symbols for the content of each column to replace drawing a picture of the number of beads. Having developed symbols to express the content of each column, they had to invent a symbol for the numberless content of the empty column -- that symbol came to be known to the Hindus as "sunya", and sunya later became "sifr" in Arabic; "cifra" in Roman; and finally "cipher" in English.

Why would this cipher be so important, you may ask? Well, try to solve this addition problem, will you:


Were you able to come up with the answer? It's pretty tough, in fact almost impossible to perform addition. Imagine multiplication without first converting it into Hindu-Arabic Numerals.


The answer is MMMDCCCV, or 3805

This is almost impossible for the human mind to do, in the system of Roman Numerals, represented by letters. Only the supremely academic elete could perform mathematical functions, and they liked it that way. The Roman socio-political atmosphere protected those in power, so it was advantageous to keep knowledge down. I am not making this up, the number Zero, perceived by Aristotle, distributed to the masses first in India by any merchant who owned an abacus (there were lots), was responsible for the advance of Eastern thought, Science, and progress. The idea of Zero, the numerical understanding of nothing, and the position on the Abacus column with no beads, changed the world, and made possible the advance of civilization as we know it.

In fact, this knowledge was long supressed. Imagine the power you would hold if ONLY YOU could perform mathematical functions in your town. Only you could tell the workers how much money they had earned that day, or how much things should cost.

Zero changed the world.


At 6:27 p.m., Blogger Michael said...

You're far too clever for me Jake.

I'm going to the mothership tomorrow night to check out Bob Jones - maybe seeya?!

In other news - I'm moving to Guelph.

At 12:26 a.m., Blogger snoopy said...


At 12:05 p.m., Blogger Michael said...

What - you're moving to Guelph?! :-D

At 7:16 p.m., Blogger Sgt Steve said...

well, you didn't use big werds like andrew, but I still didn't get what you were saying. oh well.

What, who's moving to Guelph??

At 12:42 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have no time for your mass-produced pedagogy on the depths of nothingness. There is no point to your pointless pointing out that the unpointed number caused the amount of limitation on the expansion of civilisation to tread toward zero.

Oh, and I can read Roman Numerals Mr. MMMCVI. Why you're #3106 I have no idea, except for the fact that it's just what came to mind.

Anyways enjoy yourself you civilisation-expander....

At 10:53 p.m., Blogger Jake-M said...

Matt, you insist on making my point for me. I was trying to say that the only way to understand mathematics with Roman Numerals is to convert them to Arabic.

At 6:24 p.m., Blogger mark said...

I've just spent a good few days reading Roman numerals on the side of pretty much every building I came across. That's correct, I've been in Rome. Great place; silly number system.
Jacob, it gives me enormous pleasure to tell you that I am well aware of the origin and importance of the arabic number system and particularly the zero within it. Why do I know about all this stuff? Because I took a course on it, that's why...

At 11:09 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

well Jake-o I could make a comment on your sense of humour, but I'm too elite for that....

At 11:35 p.m., Blogger Jonathan said...

I think this series needs to continue.

Not to say that your blog has lacked direction so far, but this could be a good "story arc" as they say in the television bidniss.

At 9:11 a.m., Blogger Jake-M said...


At 5:17 p.m., Blogger Andrew G said...

touchee, like bum?

At 3:00 p.m., Blogger Michael said...

From Math to Buttocks in 11 easy steps!


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