**Zero** is the number that comes before one, **the number that stands for “nothing”**. For example, if I had three books and gave you two, then I would have one book left. But if I gave you all three books, then I would have none left – that is, I would have zero books left.

It might seem strange to have a number for nothing. That might be why it took so long to be invented. But zero **makes arithmetic far easier**. For example, before zero came to the West, multiplying numbers was something only experts in the field could do. But with zero even an eight year old can do it.

Today in the West we write the numbers from **one to nine **this way: **1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9**. **Zero** is written this way: **0**. Those are **all the numbers we need.**

**But how, then, do you write ten or twelve or fifty-two** or six hundred? Like this: 10 (ten), 12 (twelve), 52 (fify-two), 600 (six hundred).

Six hundred and fifty-two looks like this: **652**. What does that mean? It **means:**

six (

6) hundreds andfive (

5) tens andtwo (

2).

The **position** of a number **matters:**

six: 6

sixty: 60

six hundred: 600

six thousand: 6000

six thousand and fifty-two: 6052

And that is **the power of zero: it holds a place where there is nothing.** 600 means six hundred and zero (0) tens and zero (0). Which might seem to be a strange way to think of it, but it makes the number much easier to handle.

**We think of inventions as building on what came before** and becoming more and more difficult to understand and make. Most are like that. **But every now and then a true genius comes along** and invents something that takes a hard thing – like arithmetic or reading – and **makes it easier**. The codex, the fork and letters are all examples of this.

Before zero people thought that multiplying numbers had to be hard – there was no way around it. Not so!

Zero was **invented at least two times: **first by the **Olmecs **in Mexico by **36 BC** and again 400 to 500 years later in **India**. The Babylonians had something close to zero but it did not take hold – unless, of course, that is where India got it from.

**The Greeks** had a sign for zero but it was just something added to their number system. For all their genius they never got farther than that. No one knows why, but it is probably because they thought in geometry not in numbers. Geometry and number were not united into one solid system till the 1600s by Descartes.

**The West got the zero and the new number system from the Arabs**. We know because the word “zero” comes from Arabic. It came **in the 1100s** but it took centuries to really take hold. Even today you still see the old Roman numbers here and there.

**See also:**

on Thu Nov 18th 2010 at 17:07:09Chi-ChiI’m teaching my son place value now and it’s so fascinating how important that little “0” is. Zero is my hero! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nvc2PPTlW7k

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on Mon Jun 18th 2012 at 13:09:00samWhy I think I remember that the sumerians had a mark which meant “nothing”, “empty”, “zero” in their calculations? Perhaps I am wrong here. And what about the greeks? Was there anything like it in their mathematics? Of the phoenicians? After all, it was Moscus the Phienician who was first to say that the world is based on tiny particles, invisible to human eye, and there are made out from smaller ones (atom and its structure). And this was few hundred yeasr before the greeks.

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on Mon Jun 18th 2012 at 16:16:45samThe more we know of history, the more we know how little we know.

This reminds me of aluminium. According to the official history of that metal, it was invented in the west in 1840’s BUT somehow they have found aluminium decoratives in belts from chinese graves dated in 170’s, some 1600 years earlier. So the chinese had aluminium in 170 AD and the official version is false. Question is: what else is false? Answer: plenty.

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on Mon Jun 18th 2012 at 17:57:15deedee7789@Bulanik

“History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?”

― Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code

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on Mon Jun 18th 2012 at 20:43:43deedee7789@Bulanik

Thanks…for making my brain explode D: . I just really liked the quote >< .

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