The Islamic world, after al-Khwarizmi, was happily using the Hindu-Arabic numerals, complete with zero. But it took the Christian world almost one thousand years to come to terms with this new and awe inspiring system. The reason: Christianity was very much afraid of zero. To them it was a symbol of the devil. (This is a topic for a later post).

Around the 10th century A.D, a French monk, Gerbert of Aurillac, traveled to Spain to study mathematics and the sciences. He went despite the fact that religious leaders in Europe during the period did not support the use of zero.

To them using zero insured that you were relegated to the hottest part of hellfire. But zero was in fact an integral part of the new mathematics in which he was interested. So there was little hope for poor Gerbert when he returned. Or so it seemed!!

At that time Spain was controlled by the Moors and was a haven for learning. There Gerbert became quite a scholar in mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy. He returned home and was soon employed by the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto the Great, as a tutor for his son Otto II. He remained in Otto’s court for many years.

The influence of the court helped him later in life Gerbert to become  Pope Sylvester II. But even with this authority he was unable to get the Christian world to accept his mathematics.

It was said that the the mathematics he did was a tool of the devil and that Satan himself had followed him into the Papacy.

Here comes the son of Bonacci!!

It is about two hundred years after Pope Sylvester II when Leonardo Fibonacci, popularly known simply as Fibonacci, formally introduced Europe to Hindu-Arabic numerals in his book “Liber Abaci” in the year 1202. He was supposed to be the best western mathematician of the Middle Ages (not that there many).

During his wide travels he was able to encounter many other number systems. He was therefore able to compare the cumbersome Roman numerals (which were mandated in Europe) with the Hindu-Arabic system which he had found to be quite favorable.

Even with Fibonacci’s widely acclaimed book there was still a great deal of resistance to the use of the Hindu-Arabic system, partly because of the refusal to accept a new number system and partly because of the much despised zero.

As a matter of fact in 1259 an Edict came from Florence forbidding bankers to use the new numerals. This serious aversion to zero continued and even about a hundred years later, book prices were still required to be listed in Roman numerals.

It was not until the 15th century that zero really became acceptable in Europe, and the seeds of Western mathematics were planted. Europe had stunted the growth of mathematics by their blind adherence to Aristotle. (Discussed in a later post, “Religion and Zero”).

The Abused  Zero Becomes a Superhero

Zero became extremely important in the development of European mathematics. It was a fundamental part of the Cartesian coordinate system developed by Rene Descartes. In addition, Newton and Leibniz  depended heavily on zero for the development of calculus.

Without zero there would have been no computer system. Zero is the backbone of the binary number system on which the computer system depends. (Christianity no longer afraid of zero!!)

I want you to think of as many uses as possible for which we use zero in modern times.

Let me know what you think. I will be very happy to get feedback from you because,

I am nuts about zero!!!!