Zero is one of the elements of math which is just taken for granted by everyone. But have you ever even for a moment stopped to wonder what math would have been like had there been no zero? Or what led to coining of the term ‘zero’ in the first place? What renders zero truly confusing is its dual nature – on one hand it symbolizes nothing, a vacuum or an emptiness, all of which are the exact opposites of infinity or unlimited. On the other hand it is treated as the starting point of all numbers and a pivot which defines other numbers placed around it. So zero in math is not just a number, it is also a concept and a key that leads to other concepts and solutions in this vast subject.
Studying Zero from a Historical Perspective
There is a theory that rather than being invented, zero actually existed from before and was eventually discovered by several civilizations at different points in time. As per the archives, credit for having found zero goes to the Sumerians who assigned to it a value of nothing. This was as way back as 5000 years previously when any inventory or receipt in the Sumerian era was marked with a pair of diagonal lines to indicate zero. In addition to acting as a placeholder, this usage of zero proved to be a boon because it simplified calculations and also allowed for wider representation of numbers.
Application of zero as a number is believed to have originated in India and in the Arab world sometime during the 5th century A.D. and it was circa that time when it was introduced to the western world by Leonardo, popularly known as Fibonacci, who happened to be a native of Pisa. Even the Mayan calendars bear testimony to the usage of zero as the first number in sequential counting. The only exceptions who refused to acknowledge the concept of zero were the Romans and followers of Christianity because they associated it with void, which is akin to hell and chaos.
Properties of Zero
One of the unique attributes of zero is that it cannot be classified as being negative or positive, although it is classified as being an integer. Likewise, as per the addition property of zero, if you add or subtract zero from any quantity, the result will same as the quantity itself. For example, 5 + 0 = 5 and 5 – 0 will also be 5.
If you multiply or divide any number with zero, the result will always be zero and strange though this property might be, it is inherent to the study and practice of math. Zero also serves as the fulcrum between positive and negative integers wherein numbers to the right of zero are positive and those to the left are negative. When used as an exponent, anything to the power of zero is equal to 1 and is treated as such in mathematical calculations.
So next time when you ask a clever parrot to count rods and he answers ‘none’, you can assume that what he actually means is zero. This in itself is quite an achievement since even human beings took a long time to understand the concept and may be are still trying to figure out more of its hitherto undiscovered properties.
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