2.1 History of Numbers
Let’s start this chapter with some history. The numbers we use today, called Hindu-Arabic numbers, are a combination of just ten symbols or digits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 0. These digits were introduced in Europe during the thirteenth century by Leonardo Pisano (also known as), an Italian mathematician. Pisano was educated in North Africa, where he learned and later carried to Italy the now popular Hindu-Arabic numerals.
The Hindu numeral system is a pure place value (or base) system, which is why you need a zero, as we’ll see later.
[ Did you know that a symbol representing “nothing” has been found on tablets dating from 700 bce? It wasn’t until much later that the symbol we know as zero was adopted and used systematically. ] Mathematician Bertrand Russell called the invention of zero “the greatest achievement of the human mind.”
And not everybody needs numbers. It’s said that there’s a tribe in the Trobriand Islands in the South Pacific who only have three numbers: “one,” “two,” and “many.” Works for them …
One of the main reasons the number system developed and continues to develop is so that people can use numbers to solve a wide variety of important problems in trading, building, and navigating, although in this chapter, we will be concentrating on more everyday problems.