Are Nothing and Zero the Same Thing?
Do you remember the ubiquitous number line that inhabited the walls of your math class in school?
It may have looked something like this:
Zero in the middle and 2 series of numbers going left and right from the center. I find it really interesting that as students we simply watched, listened, and learned about numbers from our teacher, parents, culture, and society. We were young, unaware of different ways of thinking that may have come before our generation. The concept of Zero was so simple: it exists between numbers on the left and numbers on the right.
That bliss of understanding helped me through the years of math classes, there seemed to be an unwritten agreement that this 'Line' was the ultimate presentation of numbers. We learned that any two numbers could be represented as a fraction, the top number was called the numerator, and the bottom number was the denominator.
As shown is the typical fraction.
But one day, a student asked a question to our teacher, "Why can't you represent a fraction with a Zero in the denominator (sometimes called 'dividing by zero')?"
The teacher's answer was a bit harsh, straight forward, and authoritative: "You can't divide by Zero because it is not defined!"
That was it, no explanation, no sympathy for an inquisitive student. Done!
Years later, this subject was reapproached from a different perspective and there is a much simpler and intuitive answer that the teacher could have provided:
"It's because Zero is NOT A NUMBER"
Little did the Math Teacher realize what a great opportunity for 'getting off task' this question provided.
The gradual acceptance of Zero and its subsequent use spanned the globe: Ancient Mayan, Eqyptian, China, India, Persia, Greco-Roman, and finally in the 12th century to European mathematics.
The mystery of Zero includes religion, history, practicality, positional numbering systems, and disputes and discussions of how to represent NOTHING, which in times past, had a god-like, invisible quality. (And when god was involved you had some very polarized opinions!)
So if you are not overloaded on math at this point, I suggest you continue with the audio podcast link below.
Enjoy the Podcast!
An ancient Chinese description of Zero as a blank, an empty or nothing, in their counting rods system.
Following are some internet links to articles on this topic of Zero.
Keep in mind that these scholars have perhaps not had the opportunity to listen to this podcast. It seems they quickly place Zero into the number system as a number without regard to its 'nothingness'. :)
The History of Zero, by the Yale Center
The Origin of Zero, by Scientific American
“Zero, The Biography of a Dangerous Idea”, by Charles Seife, Book Available at Amazon
Representations of Numbers, Encyclopedia of Mathematics
0 (Number), Wikipedia
"Numbers Song in French" Written and performed by A.J. Jenkins - Audio Segment used in Podcast
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