The Invention of Zero


Zero.
By which nothing is divided.
No zero
no negative
no opposite
no hope
no Adam, no apple, no marriage, no morning.
No mirror
no knowledge
no God, no soul, no ear lobe, no Iliad, no Odyssey.
No universe
no black hole
no zodiac
no hero
no mission, no omission, no fission, no fusion.
No beanstalk
no tractor
no yellow
no 7:30, no wind, no window, no owl, no one.

In 773, at Al-Mansur’s behest, translations were made of the Siddhantas, Indian astronomical treatises dating as far back as 425 B.C.; these versions may have been the vehicles through which the “Arabic” numerals and the zero were brought from India into China and then to the Islamic countries. In 813 the Persian mathematician Khwarizmi used the Hindu numerals in his astronomical tables; about 825 he issued a treatise known in its Latin form as Algoritmi de numero Indorum, Khwarizmi on Numerals of the Indians. After him, in 976, Muhammed ibn Ahmad in his “Keys to the Sciences,” remarked that if in a calculation no number appears in the place of tens, a little circle should be used “to keep the rows.” This circle the Arabs called sifr. That was the earliest mention of the name sifr that eventually became zero. Italian zefiro already meant “west wind” from Latin and Greek zephyrus. This may have influenced the spelling when transcribing Arabic sifr. The Italian mathematician Fibonacci (c. 1170-1250), who grew up in North Africa and is credited with introducing the decimal system in Europe, used the term zephyrum. This became zefiro in Italian, which was contracted to zero in Venetian.
                                                                                                     –Wikipedia

After my father’s appointment by his homeland as a state official in the customs house of Bugia for the Pisan merchants who thronged to it, he took charge; and in view of its future usefulness and convenience, had me in my boyhood come to him and there wanted me to devote myself to and be instructed in the study of calculation for some days. There, following my introduction, as a consequence of marvelous instruction in the art, to the nine digits of the Hindus, the knowledge of the art very much appealed to me before all others, and for it I realized that all its aspects were studied in Egypt, Syria, Greece, Sicily, and Provence, with their varying methods; and at these places thereafter, while on business, I pursued my study in depth and learned the give-and-take of disputation. But all this even, and the algorism, as well as the art of Pythagoras, I considered as almost a mistake in respect to the method of the Hindus (Modus Indorum). Therefore, embracing more stringently that method of the Hindus, and taking stricter pains in its study, while adding certain things from my own understanding and inserting also certain things from the niceties of Euclid’s geometric art, I have striven to compose this book in its entirety as understandably as I could, dividing it into fifteen chapters. Almost everything which I have introduced I have displayed with exact proof, in order that those further seeking this knowledge, with it pre-eminent method, might be instructed, and further, in order that the Latin people might not be discovered to be without it, as they have been up to now. If I have perchance omitted anything more or less proper or necessary, I beg indulgence, since there is no one who is blameless and utterly provident in all things. The nine Indian figures are: 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1. With these nine figures, and with the sign 0 . . . any number may be written.
                                                                             –Fibonacci, Leonardo of Pisa


Copyright 2012 by Robert Ronnow. Acknowledgements.