# Z is for Zero

Zero has fascinated me for-practically-ever. I saw this article in BoingBoing, which led to this piece in the Guardian:

“Only [India] introduced a symbol, 0, and treated it as if it was a normal digit just like all the others from 1 to 9. Invention of the number zero was possibly the greatest conceptual leap in the history of mathematics.

“But why did the Indians make this leap and not China or Babylon? …

“India made another contribution to world culture as well as zero: the idea of nirvana, the transcendent state of “nothingness”, when you are liberated from suffering and desires.

“In fact, the word used in philosophical texts to mean nothing, or the void, is “shunya”, the same word later used to mean zero.

“For George Gheverghese Joseph, a maths historian at the University of Manchester, the invention of zero happened when an unknown Indian mathematician about two thousand years realized that “this philosophical and cultural concept would also be useful in a mathematical sense.” …

“In the modern world it is common to see religion and science as always in conflict. Yet in ancient India, one cannot untangle mathematics and mysticism.”

I read Thinking in Numbers, On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math by Daniel Tammet this autumn. He wrote about Shakespeare’s Zero, how the Bard wrote a lot about nothingness, and was “one of the first generation of English schoolboys to learn about the figure zero.”

For zero means nothing, but, combined with other numbers, can represent incredible size, e.g., a one, followed by a zero (10), or two zeroes (100), or many more. Helping to working on my daughter’s homework, I get to rediscover the relationship of centimeters to meters (100), milliliters to liters (1,000), and grams to kilograms (1,000).

Of course, we often make a big deal about a birthday or anniversary when it contains a zero in the ones place, and more so when it’s in both the ones and tens place. Read the Wikipedia piece about zero.
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The Myth of ‘I’m Bad at Math’

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## 25 thoughts on “Z is for Zero”

1. Zero is magical. I like the article on hard work helping mathematical skill. I believe a major component of becoming great in math isn’t “intelligence,” it’s the ability of the individual to deal with frustration, including the willingness to admit he’s wrong and the resiliency to try again.

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2. Roger says:

“including the willingness to admit he’s wrong” – that requires a certain amount of intelligence, or at least experience, that lots of people don’t seem to possess.

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3. twenty years ago, in New Zealand, they say OH for 0. Now, they changed it to zero , because migrants mistake OH for four. You just gave me this idea for my post this week.

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4. Fascinating background on such a little number! And if that quote is true, I may be the smartest woman on the planet.

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1. Roger says:

Lisa- undoubtedly true!

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5. There’s a great kids’ book “Zero Hero”….helps kids appreciate the power of Zero.

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6. I have a new outlook on Zero. Math is not my best subject but I find it fascinating as it relates to so many other activities I love – music, weaving…

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7. And your post has nothing to do with the weather?
Just a wee bit nippy out there today!
Yikes!!!

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1. Roger says:

Martha – it IS nippy. But I wrote the piece three or four weeks ago, when it wasn’t near zero!

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8. Oh my, the Zero in my age really makes me old.
Very interesting information on nothing…

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9. leslie says:

Now, do you know if zero is a prime or composite number? Trick question – lol

Leslie
abcw team

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1. Roger says:

Leslie – actually, my daughter CAN answer that question!

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10. Aryabhatta (476-550 A.D.), one of the world’s greatest mathematician-astronomer introduced ZERO among many other things.

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11. Very interesting post, zero is actually a lot!!

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12. Very interesting information about the zero. The most hated by students!

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13. Zero means nothing yet it is so important! Nice take on ‘Z’.

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14. Great choice and narrative. Wish our temperature would creep closer to zero! Kate, ABC Team

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15. As my team was beaten six – nil at the weekend, its a number that has been talked about a lot by the fans this week.

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16. I know three math teachers, and after reading your article, I think I better not bring up this subject of zero:)

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17. I also once wrote about 0, and came to the conclusion that I only like zero with a few numbers before the 0 !

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18. That was so interesting. I knew it was Aryabhatt who discovered the zero. It’s amazing how maths and philosophy come together.

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19. Hi Rog,