It is amazing to think of a time when math was done in Roman numerals, when zero was a novel concept, and our base 10 numeric system was the new math. How long ago was this? I never thought of it as being as recent as William Shakespeare. That he would have been among the first generation of Europeans to learn of the power of zero.
But William’s mind returns ceaselessly to the zero. He thinks of ten and how it differs from his father’s ten. To his father, ten (X) is twice five (v): he counts, whenever possible, in fives and tens. To his son, ten (10) is a one (1) displaced, accompanied by a nought. To his father, ten (X) and one (i) have hardly anything in common: they are two values on opposite ends of a scale. But for the boy, ten and one are intimately linked: there is nothing between them.
This reminded me of a discussion I had with my dad one evening about a class I was taking that was having us add and subtract numbers in base 2, base 16, etc. I knew my dad to be a math wizard. Math had been his best subject in school. Yet he had no idea what I was talking about and could not see the utility of it either.
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