A visit to the Indian temple where "0" was invented


FYI, there is a BBC documentary hosted by Monty Python’s Terry Jones that explores this topic extensively, and you can watch the whole thing on YouTube here: http://youtu.be/KoSWtEWTvWE

Also, it is my 8-year-old daughter’s favorite documentary ever.

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At first I thought that it was some Tantric thing where the orgasm was invented, then I noticed that a lower-case “o” was used…

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It is so profound to think of a world without “Zero” as a concept. This quote from the article really sums (pun intended) it up.

“Zero denotes nothing. But in India it was derived from the concept of shunya. Shunya means a sort of salvation,” she said. “When all our desires are nullified, then we go to nirvana or shunya or total salvation.”
In the modern world it is common to see religion and science as always in conflict. Yet in ancient India, one cannot untangle mathematics and mysticism."

so the way I see it -9 -8 -7 -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 (nirvana) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 it seems almost too perfect.

That’s not a lower case letter, that the pseudo-digit zero.

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This is not the whole picture. This is just the first time it appears in inscription. The first zero in literature dates back another 300 years, and it appeared in different forms going back to the Babylonians. Pointing to one instance in an inscription and making up some mystical mumbo jumbo is too simplistic a treatment of it.

I explored this a couple of years back: http://mobilisinmobili.net/2011/11/10/value-nothing/


Wow that wa a really well written article thank you. You are right the above article does seem a bit to simplistic, as many cultures were using the Zero, but as your article and the above one have in common is the Indians acceptance of the concept, albeit because of theological/philosophical leanings of that same concept.

Thanks. I guess my problem with the article is that they’re falling into the oriental mysticism trap - everything Indian should have 1x snake charmers and 2x rope tricksters.

There’s always a bit of theological significance to any study in India - at the very least, every single book on whatever subject starts with a dedication to some god or other. But you’d be hard-pressed to find any medieval book from Europe or the Middle East that didn’t also begin with a dedication to god. Also, the people who wrote these books were Brahmins - by definition, priests and philosophers combined, who had to learn the rituals and the philosophy as a base before specializing in some science or other.

To me, the equivalent would be something like taking Occam’s Razor and embellishing it with a whole lot of Catholic theology on the basis that William of Ockham was a Franciscan friar. While that’s true, and his faith and studies in his faith probably had much to do with his work, that should not be the focus of a discussion on the philosophical concept. At most, it can add context. And thus with the mystical significance being attached in this article to the zero.

Most days I invent zero a couple times before lunch. Then, back from lunch, a couple more times before heading home for the day.

At home it’s inventing z I am working on. Almost got it.

“The mathematical concept of zero emerged in India about one and a half thousand years ago,”

Wait, what? So there was no concept of Zero in the time of Christ?

I’m not understanding something crucial here me thinks…

That the Julian and Gregorian calendars go directly from 1 B.C. to 1 A.D?

There is a zero there. Right between them. zero, nada, nothing, of no length.

Of course I know all that. What, do you think I am unreaded?


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