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The Number Zero

Asked by Estelle Shields, Sophomore, Rivier College on November 8, 1996:
Research material needed on the number "zero". I am doing paper on this subject and am having a terrible time finding documentation.

Any help you can give me is MOST appreciated!

There's not much one can say specifically about the number zero. It's just like any other whole number: it's an abstract concept measuring the size of a set. The number zero measures the size of the set with no elements in it, just like the number one measures the size of the set with a unique element in it, and so on.

Some concept of the number zero was probably in use as early as human beings first began to do arithmetic, so it's impossible to trace its origin. However, there was no notation for the number zero until probably somewhere between 500 and 800 A.D., and this lack of notation made it impossible for ancient mathematicians and philosophers to work with it in the same way that a modern person would.

The origin of our current notation for the number zero is also unknown, though it is presumed to have originated in India with Hindu mathematicians, somewhere between 500 and 800 A.D. Later the Hindu numerals were employed by the Arabs (and became called "Arabic numerals"), and from them spread into European mathematics.

I hope this is of some help.

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