Zero

Have you ever considered the zero?  (0)

The zero is a unique digit.  It indicates nothing, that is, that nothing exists.  It’s the starting point for counting, or to put it differently, before the counting has begun, and even though the first element in the counting process is one, zero is where we begin.  “One” is the first of the counting, true, but we have to start at the zero in order for everything to come out correctly.  It’s also the midpoint in the list of numbers from positive to negative.  It holds a place where nothing exists, and it forces the decimal point to move either to the right or left, depending on where it is placed.  A lot of zeros indicates either a really large number, such as 1,000,000,000, or a very small number, such as 0.00000000002.  In short, zero occupies a special place in our numbering system.

Apparently the first use of the zero was in India, around the seventh to ninth centuries, AD.  I did a little research on this unusual digit, and found out a lot about it, but I wasn’t able to find out much about the thing that, for a long time, I’ve considered most unusual about it.  That is, how did the zero get to be used to indicate a multiple of ten?

Our decimal numbering system uses ten digits.  But we don’t use ten digits to indicate the ten fingers we have on our hands (which is a common reply to the question of why we have ten digits in the first place.)  The ten digits are 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.  But logically, if it were up to me to design ten digits to represent our ten fingers–and in the absence of any other numbering system–I would have made: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and some other digit to represent the tenth finger (the pinky on the left hand?)  But that’s not how our system works, and I can’t figure out how zero came to be used in that manner.  Or, to put it differently, why do we repeat a digit and add a zero to get to the “tenth” digit?  It isn’t logical.  Granted we’re very familiar with this system we call the decimal system, and we’ve used it to make some astounding discoveries.  But the zero must have some unusual history behind it.  Anybody got any ideas how zero came to be used that way?

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