Post archive

The Value of Nothing

2011 November 10

It's been a while since I wrote about anything here, so what I'm going to do now is to write about nothing. Not just any old nothing that might be lying around, but THE nothing that is at the bottom of everything! No, I haven't suddenly decided to switch to Zen Buddhism; this is a continuation of the whole numbers thing from last time. What I talked about last time was the evolution of numbers, and how we ended up with the place-value system with a zero representing the concept of “nothing” in a particular location. I had left out was the use of a zero by itself, to represent nothing, as a real value. Because it is the most celebrated of Indian contributions to mathematics in pop culture, I want to try and find out where it actually comes from.