When I was a child, I remember that the first number I learned was the number 1. I never knew there was a number before that those days. I was always curious to learn more about numbers. And so, at the age of 8, I realised that the number “0” existed. From that day on, I always started counting numbers starting from 0.
The first evidence we have of zero is from the Sumerian culture in Mesopotamia, some 5000 years ago. There, a slanted double wedge was inserted between cuneiform symbols for numbers, written positionally, to indicate the absence of a number in a place.
The symbol changed over time as positional notation (for which zero was crucial), made its way to the Babylonian empire and from there to India via the Greeks (in whose own culture zero made a late and only occasional appearance; the Romans had no trace of it at all). Arab merchants brought the zero they found in India to the West. After many adventures and much opposition, the symbol we use was accepted, and the concept flourished, as zero took on much more than a positional meaning. Since then, it has played a vital role in mathematics.
The mathematical zero and the philosophical notion of nothingness are related but are not the same. Nothingness plays a central role very early on in Indian thought (there called Sunya). There is speculation in virtually all cosmogonical myths about what must have preceded the world's creation. So in the Bible's book of Genesis (1:2): "And the earth was without form, and void." But our inability to conceive of such a void is well captured in the book of Job, who cannot reply when God asks him (Job 38:4): "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare if thou hast understanding." Today we cannot conceive many physical theories about the big bang that cannot quite reach back to an ultimate beginning from nothing.
In mathematics, we can generate all numbers from the empty set. Nothingness as the state out of which alone we can freely make our own natures lies at the heart of existentialism, which has been popular since the mid-20th century.
Mushaash was born in Male', Maldives, in 2009 and belongs to a family of four. He has two favourite hobbies. One of them is playing football - he loved football since he started playing it, and he never stopped playing it after that. His other hobby is writing and reading books. He started writing books, essays and articles just before turning 8. He loves reading comedy and action-packed mysteries. He also likes trying out new things and doing fun and interesting experiments.
Cite this article as:
Mohamed Mushaash Muaviz, Zero, theCircle Composition, Volume 2, (2022). https://thecirclecomposition.org/zero/