Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A world without a 0?

Can you imagine project management without the help and usefulness of the number 0?
Indeed, could we do modern project management without 0?

On the other hand, the Romans, and the Greeks and Egyptians before them, did pretty well in project management, and they had no 0; they didn't even have the concept of a number 0.

Recall your Roman numerals: 10 = X; 20 = XX; 50 = L, and so forth. No need for a zero in any of that!

Good grief! the pyramids, the Greek Parthenon, the highways and aqua ducts of ancient times, all managed without a 0! Boggles the mind to think of it.

On the other hand, engineering and project problems could be solved in the ancient world.
They had Euclidean methods that were quite effective.(*)

And before there was 0?
And so what preceded the zero? Apparently some civilizations understood "void" or "null", but the Greeks thought the concept challenging to the teachings of Aristotle, and so they passed on developing 0.  These are "place holder zeros" and they predate the numerical zero by several millennia

At last, a 0
Yea! for India. Apparently, India is in the lead to be credited with the invention of 0.
A National Geographic essay on this very subject sheds some light:
Researchers at the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library recently conducted carbon dating on an ancient Indian text known as the Bakshali manuscript.

They found that some pages in the manuscript date to the third or fourth century, five hundred years older than previously thought. That pushes back the origin of what would eventually become the zero symbol, 0, we use today.

The manuscript shows a series of Sanskrit numerals. In it, zero is represented by a small dot.

Some doubt
Ooops! There are some doubters about the Indian origin of 0. ZerOrigIndia, or Project Zero, in the Netherlands, partners with researchers in Mumbai to pinpoint the origin of zero.

Nonetheless, I think we can all agree with this statement:

" .... zero was crucial to the zero-to-nine decimal system upon which algebra developed in 9th century Persia and was essential for physics principles documented by scientist Blaise Pascal in the 17th century."

(*) The Greek mathematician Euclid put down his theories (**) of a system of proofs which came to be known as geometry. His books of "Elements", circa 300 BCE, actually went as far as showing how to solve equations (early algebra) and define irrational numbers, all with geometry. So, no need for 0, though there was a centuries-long fuss over "what is a 'point', and how is it measured?"

(**) There were many earlier mathematicians that contributed to a body of knowledge that gave Euclid a foundation to work from

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