Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Hi, I'm Dan the Goose, and I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Where da math posts at?"

Very well. Here's what's been irking me: the invention of the number zero. I think I read somewhere that the concept of zero was developed by the ancient Chinese, or Mayans, or possibly Republicans. Beyond that, I have only questions.

For instance: Did the inventors know what they were looking for? If not, they probably missed it the first few times. "Guys! I've got something here," one mathematician would say to the others. "Wait, nevermind, it was nothing."

But more likely they did know what to look for, and zero was an elusive dream for them. In that case, I can't help but wonder how that research proposal went over at Primitive University (PU):

"You want a 25 cow grant for what now?"

"Well sir, we'd like to put the 25 cows in a field, then take 25 away, and see if we get any interesting symbols."

"What, like a cross? It's only the year 455 B.C."

"Actually, we're hoping for something round, hollow, and bite-size."

I don't know how it really happened. I just deal with the consequences. For one thing, we're never allowed to divide by zero. This has never been explained to my satisfaction. What happens if you successfully divide by zero? Is it a guarded secret? Would oil prices plummet? Would Napster become free again? I've seen the error messages my computer gives me; they're not pretty.

The very need for a zero is dubious to me in the first place. If you've got nothing, I say don't write it down. So it's the opposite of blogging.

I suppose some good has indeed come from zero. Like, thanks to zero, there are more phone numbers possible. But even that's a mixed blessing, for with more phone numbers come zillions of area codes.

Don't even get me started on negative integers. In the words of Beavis and Butthead, "I hate numbers." "Yeah, there's, like, too many of 'em, and stuff."