The Complicated Discovery of Zero

Jul 27, 2022 | Grand Rapids East

In today's world, everyone knows what zero is. Zero has many uses like right now, you're reading this article on a binary computer, which consists of strings of zeros and ones. In the place value system, zero is used as a placeholder and as a number in the numerals. Despite zero's assumed valuelessness, its applications are enormous. It is used in mathematics, algebra, geometry, physics, geography, and everyday situations. Even though no one has ever known what zero’s value is, the concept is relatively new; it evolved in India around the fifth century A.D., perhaps even a couple of centuries earlier.

The discovery of Zero took place in a series of steps: First as a placeholder and then as a digit. Zero was initially used as a placeholder. It was used in many civilizations, from Babylonia to Egyptian. According to historian Robert Kaplan, zero was used as a placeholder 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia. They were written using a pair of angled wedges. Later on, the Chinese and the Babylonians came up with their own versions of zero. Yet, both of them were used as placeholders too. Babylonia had trade relations with the Indian subcontinent. This way, the Babylonian concept of zero traveled to India. Brahmagupta, a Hindu astronomer, came up with the modern equivalent of zero. He formulated a symbol that was a dot below the number. This symbol was Brahmagupta's zero. The symbol was discovered inscribed on a wall in a temple in Gwalior(India) by the University of Oxford. The symbol has also been found in the Bhakehali Manuscript. Originally, this manuscript was contemporary to the period in which the temple was built. But now it has been found that the manuscript dates back to the third or fourth century. The script represents zero as a hollow-like structure that looks like a dot. It almost signifies nothing. This script was formulated by the greatest mathematician of that time, Aryabhatta. From non-existence to emptiness to the most recent discoveries in astrophysics, numerical Zero has become the bedrock of all our lives. It is one of the most wonderful and unique inventions of mankind. Without it, the application of many things would simply not be impossible.