Maths

The great charm of the “zero”

Infinity is a floorless room without walls or ceiling.

Numbers are “infinity”, but I think that only one is the most fascinating: the zero. In fact each figure from one to nine has a value, whether alone or with other numbers, but if the zero is alone it hasn’t got any value while if it changes its place, even a little bit, it can create important numbers.
Numbers were born with people: they had to count objects, their animals, so numbers were essential. For example, they counted one cow, two cows…and so on. But nobody ever said zero: in fact it was a paradox to say “zero cow”!

The ancient Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans didn’t know this number; only Babylonians indicated the lack of figures with two oblique lines:

//

Perhaps the Mayas were the first people who used the zero, which had the shape of a shell. They used this number because of their religion and because they made a very precise calendar, which will last until the year 2012!

However, the “true” zero was invented by the Indians; I wrote “true” because Indians used it for the first time to make calculations. Some Indians also used this number in their poems, too; for example, one poet wrote that a point on his beloved girl’s forehead increased her beauty like a zero increases a number by ten times.

According to Indians, the zero represented the emptiness or the absence, the “nothing”, the universe, the space, the insignificant element.

In fact this figure is sometimes insignificant, for example if we add zero to a number, the number doesn’t change, so the zero is a neutral element;  zero is sometimes “nothing”, in fact it’s impossible to divide a number by zero: there isn’t a result; but if we divide zero by zero the result is infinity!

The zero indicates the absence of elements, indeed an empty set is a set where there are zero elements, so there aren’t any. The “Big Bang “, the most widely accepted theory about the origin of the universe, is considered to be the “zero time”, so the zero is the origin of the universe, the beginning of infinity. I’ve given these examples to prove that Indian theories were exact.

Think that this great number stands between two opposite concepts: the “nothing” and the infinity.

It ‘s fantastic, isn’t it?

We can’t say or imagine what nothing or infinity is: for example, the universe is an insulated system, and as a result it will “finish” and there will be “nothing”, so the absence of time, space and matter. But our mind isn’t able to conceive, to imagine this theoretical concept!

This theme is very interesting and we could further “investigate” it..but for the moment we mustn’t forget our main topic, the 0 🙂

The zero is everywhere: in Biology, Philosophy, History, Physics, Music, Geography and obviously in Maths.

I’ve already given one example: the Big Bang or zero time;, the event that led to the birth of the universe (according to modern scientists).

In Biology I studied a syndrome called Turner’s syndrome or “X0 “,where the zero indicates the absence of an entire sex chromosome, resulting in short stature, reproductive sterility, obesity and so on.

In Geography we call the Greenwich meridian “Zero meridian“, because the longitude is 0°.

John Cage, an American musician, tried to represent the zero writing a composition called “4’33”” (four minutes, thirty-three seconds); actually, there aren’t any words, but only 273 seconds of silence : they represent the “absolute 0” K (Kelvin) temperature, so -273.15° C.

Finally, I’d like to remember what Ian Nicholas Stewart, an English mathematician, wrote:

nothing is more interesting than NOTHING, nothing is more intriguing than NOTHING and nothing is more important than NOTHING.

The zero is one of the mathematicians’ favourite topics, a Pandora’s box because of its curiosity and paradoxes. I think this quotation holds most of the things I wrote.

What do you think about this weird, strange number?

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3 thoughts on “The great charm of the “zero”

  1. It’s a very fascinating number… and also strange as poleyn said. Who knows if someday we’ll discover if there is a limit to everything that we now consider undetermined, like the universe for example…

  2. A really original theme Poleyn! I agree with Maryssa…It’s incredible how a little circle can include two opposite meanings: the universe and the nothing…wow:)

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