Friday, February 27, 2009
The story of numbers
One of India’s greatest contributions to the world is the number system that everyone uses today. What the world knows today as Arabic numerals are really Indian numerals – including the controversial Zero. In the first millennium AD, they traveled from the Indian subcontinent westward to Baghdad, where the mathematician Musa Al Khwarizmi – who also initiated the field of algebra (al jabr) – wrote a treatise on them. At the time, Europe was using the cumbersome Roman numeral system. Watch this playful video that describes this history; watch how Indians used zeroes and ones to create stupendously large numbers.
(I should mention also that ancient Mexico also had its own sophisticated number system, and this system also included zero. Their inventions however are not always acknowledged in the history of mathematics - partly because history is not just Eurocentric, it is "Old-World centric".)
Video via Atanu. Also: An earlier post on the same topic; and the mysterious Ishango Bone of Africa.