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The Kid Should See This

A brief history of numerical systems

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“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9… and 0. With just these ten symbols, we can write any rational number imaginable,” begins this TED-Ed lesson by Alessandra King, directed by Michael Kalopaidis. “But why these particular symbols? Why ten of them? And why do we arrange them the way we do?”

“Numbers have been a fact of life throughout recorded history. Early humans likely counted animals in a flock or members in a tribe using body parts or tally marks. But as the complexity of life increased, along with the number of things to count, these methods were no longer sufficient.”

different notation systems

“So as they developed, different civilizations came up with ways of recording higher numbers. Many of these systems, like Greek, Hebrew, and Egyptian numerals, were just extensions of tally marks with new symbols added to represent larger magnitudes of value. Each symbol was repeated as many times as necessary and all were added together.”

Roman numerals introduced another non-positional system of notation, where symbols were used to represent numbers through addition and subtraction. However, the development of positional notation revolutionized numerical representation and led to the creation of new mathematical frameworks around the globe.

base ten
This TED-Ed introduces the history of numbers and various numerical innovations and systems, including tally marks, Greek, Hebrew, and Egyptian numerals, Roman numerals, positional notation, Babylonian, Ancient Chinese, and Aztec numerals, the Indian positional notation system, the Hindu-Arabic numeral system (base ten), the Mayan positional notation system with zero, vigesimal (base twenty), sexigesimal (base sixty), duodecimal (base twelve), binary (base two), and the octal and hexadecimal systems (used by programmers).

Watch these related number videos next:
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β€’Β How exactly does binary code work?
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β€’Β 2ⁿ, a story of the power of numbers from the 1961 Mathematica exhibit
β€’Β The mathematical secrets of Pascal’s triangle
β€’Β What is Infinity? A mathematician explains in this Elevator Pitch

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