Essays on The Universal History of Number Assignment

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The paper 'The Universal History of Number' is a great example of a Management Assignment. Before getting into the history and significance of the invention of the numeral Zero, there is a need to make clear some concepts involved, whose understanding is very crucial in this subject - the concept of invention vs. discovery, the place value concept, and the concept of numbers vs. numerals. The invention is different from discovery, though most people think that these two terms can be used interchangeably. The invention involves the fabrication of something that was not in existence before.

Discovery, on the other hand, is finding out the existence of something before any other person finds it out. Fossils are discovered by archaeologists, but we cannot say they invented them. Therefore, the numeral zero was invented and the number zero, which is an abstract noun, was discovered. Place value is the concept in which numbers are placed in different positions to come up with different degrees of quantification. For instance, the number three has a different meaning and quantity when it is in the “ ones” position that when it is in the “ tens” position. A number can basically be described as a quantity that is used to quantify things.

However, quantification is not helpful to human beings and machines if there is no symbol to represent the different degrees of quantities. The symbols that make numbers meaningful are called numerals, and they are basically an invention by human beings, just as universal road signs are used to make road safety tips useful. Different countries and cultures have different numeric symbols for different quantities, but there are those symbols that are universal.

Zero is one such symbol, and it carries more significance than any other numeral. Zero is more useful as a numeral than when it is a number. For instance, it is easier to use zero in the number ten, say by dividing ten with two. However, it does not make sense to use zero as a number, say zero divided by one. A scientific calculator will tell you that this is a “ syntax error” when you try to calculate such problems using zero independently as a number.

Therefore, zero was invented to help more as a numeral and in place value notation than as an independent additional number. It may be hard to believe a world without the numeral zero, but that is what used to be the scenario back in the 3rd century. Even when it was first invented in the Arab world, Europe knew nothing about this number. It is said that the main inventors of this number are the Babylonians, way back in the third century, at around 300 BC.

Before this invention, they used other symbols to show different place values in their quantities. The main symbol they used was the wedge. The wedge was used to show a one. When a ten needed to be indicated, a crescent symbol was used. Therefore, when a number like forty-five needed to be written, four crescents and five wedges were drawn. The sailing was smooth until there was a need to represent bigger numbers like 1604. The number could only be written in simplified form, which is by writing it as one “ forty squared” and four wedges.

However, most of the time, this would be confused for forty-two instead of 1604. This is when a separator was invented, and this is how zero came into being. However, this separator was only used in between numbers, and not at the beginning of the end of such numbers. Therefore, a better numeral had to be invented that could be used without any restrictions.

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Smeloff, Ed and Asmus, Peter. Reinventing electric utilities: competition, citizen action, and clean power. Washington, DC: Island Press, 1997.

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