The Story of 1 (60 minutes)
I just saw this excellent TV show about the history of numbers (ABC review) and, for joy, it's available on the internet too :-)
Some Australian aboriginal tribes did not have a number system, just one and many. Arithmetic evolved in cities which had more complexity which required calculations. The first writing was with numbers.
3000 BC: The Egyptians conceived of 1 million. Also they invented the cubit, a unit of measurement, required for the buildings they constructed
Pythagoras invented odd and even numbers, things such as magic triangles (1, 2, 3, 4) and explored the relationship between music and the size of containers (the music of the spheres). But his dogmatic idealism about number led to tragedy. One of his disciples discovered irrational numbers and was drowned.
The Romans murdered Archimedes and then imposed their crummy numerals onto the world. They were so useless for doing calculations that the abacus was used instead.
Our decimal system and most notably the number zero wasn't thought of until 500 AD by someone in India. From there it was passed onto the Arabic Muslim world. Then the decimal system was brought to Europe by Fibonacci.
There ensued a struggle between the Roman numerals and the decimals system which lasted for hundreds of years. Eventually the decimal system won out because of the need for capitalism to calculate compound interest accurately.
Finally, Liebnitz invented the binary system but we had to wait another 200 years for the computer
This video is very enlightening and funny being narrated by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. The simulated battles between our modern sprightly numbers and clunky Roman numerals are fabulous.
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