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Good Math by Mark C. Chu-Carroll

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The History of Zero

In our pursuit of the meaning of zero, let’s start with a bit of history. Yes, there’s an actual history to zero!

If we were to go back in time and look at when people started working with numbers, we’d find that they had no concept of zero. Numbers really started out as very practical tools, primarily for measuring quantity. They were used to answer questions like “How much grain do we have stored away?” and “If we eat this much now, will we have enough to plant crops next season?” When you think about using numbers in a context like that, a measurement of zero doesn’t really mean much. A measurement can only make sense if there’s something to measure.

Even when math is applied to measurements in modern math, leading ...

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