The invention of zero

We use numbers in our lives more than we ever consciously think. Our phones, laptops, and watches would be nothing without numbers, and we wouldn’t be able to pay for anything or be able to use the internet. But there is one number that stands above them all: zero. Used in everything from binary code through to being a mathematical placeholder, we would be nowhere without it. So where did this game-changing number come from?

History of numbers

Numbers are now a part of everyday life. From telling the time to programming computers, many aspects of our lives would be dramatically different if we didn’t have numbers. So where do they come from? Well, back in 4000 BCE the Sumerians carved a set amount of marks into bones or sticks and would use them to measure things out – this is the first example of numbers being used to count. This civilization would also use numbers to keep track of their herd animals. As the centuries passed, the ancient Egyptians and Greeks developed numbers and counting into methods that are still practiced today.

Where did it come from?

Although numbers were being used by the Sumerians, they never had anything to represent zero. Instead, civilizations would leave the column blank when writing the numbers. However, this all changed thanks to those trusty Mayans. This civilization developed the number to help in their complex calendar systems, but there was a problem. Zero still didn’t mean anything and couldn’t be used in calculations. Although zero was now an idea, they had no way to use it in mathematics.

Trip to Asia

We have to travel all the way to India to find ourselves at the first use of zero as an official number. For the first time, this number had a purpose and a meaning. It is thought that zero first arrived in the country in 458 CE. Here, zero began to take a philosophical meaning. Now, the number stood for “emptiness” and “void” and was written as a small dot under the other numbers. Over the years the concept slowly made its way to Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi, a Persian mathematician. Now it was suggested that zero should be written as a circle.

Travelling the world

Algebra was first invented in the ninth century and would have been impossible without the invention of zero. Although this new number began to travel around the world, western civilizations, especially Europe, weren’t open to welcoming in the zero. People living across the continent believed that the number went against their religious beliefs, and must have bad connotations. It wasn’t until the 1600s that using zero became popular across Europe where it became the basis for so many aspects of modern life.

Modern use

Nowadays zero has such a variety of meanings. The number stands for emptiness or having nothing, while also holding great value in maths. As well as helping to solve mathematical equations, the number zero has also been critical in many aspects of daily life including temperature, periodic elements, distance, size, time, and phone numbers. Most recently, zeros have been the basis for many computer engineers and programmers.

So there we have it. For a number that can mean so little, it has a huge effect on our daily lives in ways we never thought possible. Even if it was late to the numbers game, zero is now worth a lot more than we may give it credit. Perhaps it’s time we started showing this number a bit more respect?