The simplest and universally known symbols are the integral numbers, represented in the Arabic notation by 0, 1, 2, …, 9, 10, 11, …, 98, 99, 100, 101, …

We are so used to these symbols that we think that they always existed. However, it wasn’t until the 11th century when an Indian mathematician, Bhaskara, created them.

We see these symbols as obvious and natural. And now we can’t imagine any other way of expressing numbers.

It’s interesting to ponder how a civilization on another planet symbolizes integral numbers. It’s highly unlikely that they use the same symbols. Perhaps they’ve created a symbology which makes things easier. Perhaps it has enabled them to progress their mathematics and technology at a faster rate. I wonder if their symbology uses base 10? I wonder if we humans will discover an even better symbology than the notation we currently use?

“The symbols for integers illustrate the enormous importance of a good notation. By relieving the brain of all unnecessary work, a good notation sets it free to concentrate on more advanced problems, and in effect increases the mental power of the race.” [Whitehead]

“Before the Arabic notation was introduced multiplication was difficult, and the division even of integers called into play the highest mathematical facilities.” [Whitehead]

I wonder if we are creating today any symbolism that will “increase the mental power of the race”, and will endure for centuries or millenium?

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This entry was posted on September 20, 2007 at 7:11 am and is filed under 11th Century, Alfred North Whitehead, Arabic Notation, Base 10, Bhaskara, ET, Mathematician, Notation, Symbol, symbolism, Symbols. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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