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The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zeroby Robert Kaplan
Synopses & Reviews
A symbol for what is not there, an emptiness that increases any number it's added to, an inexhaustible and indispensable paradox. As we welcome the new millennium, zero is once again making its presence felt. Nothing itself, it makes possible a myriad of calculations. Indeed, without zero mathematics as we know it would not exist. And without mathematics our understanding of the universe would be vastly impoverished. But where did this nothing, this hollow circle, come from? Who created it? And what, exactly, does it mean?
Robert Kaplan's The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero begins as a mystery story, taking us back to Sumerian times, then to Greece and India, piecing together the way the idea of a symbol for nothing evolved. For Kaplan, the history of zero is a lens for looking not only into the evolution of mathematics but into very nature of human thought. He points out how the history of mathematics is a process of recursive abstraction: how once a symbol is created to represent an idea, that symbol itself gives rise to new operations that in turn lead to new ideas. The beauty of mathematics is that even though we invent it, we seem to be discovering something that already exists.
The joy of that discovery shines from Kaplan's pages, as he ranges from Archimedes to Einstein, making fascinating connections between mathematical insights from every age and culture.
In the tradition of "Longitude, " a small and engagingly written book on the history and meaning of zero--a "tour de force" of science history that takes us through the hollow circle that leads to infinity. 32 illustrations.
About the Author
Robert Kaplan has taught mathematics to people from six to sixty, most recently at Harvard University. In 1994, with his wife Ellen, he founded The Math Circle, a program, open to the public, for the enjoyment of pure mathematics. He has also taught Philosophy, Greek, German, Sanskrit, and Inspired Guessing. Robert Kaplan lives in Cambridge, MA.
Table of Contents
A Note to the Reader
0. The Lens
1. Mind Puts Its Stamp on Matter
2. The Greeks Had No Word for It
3. Travelers' Tales
6. Into the Unknown
7. A Paradigm Shifts
8. A Mayan Interlude: The Dark Side of Counting
9. Much Ado: 1. Envoys of Emptiness, 2. A Sypher in Augrim, 3. This Year, Next Year, Sometime, Never, 4. Still It Moves
10. Entertaining Angels: 1. The Power of Nothing, 2. Knowing Squat, 3. The Fabric of This Vision, 4. Leaving No Wrack Behind
11. Almost Nothing: 1. Slouching Toward Bethlehem, 2. Two Victories, a Defeat and Distant Thunder
12. Is It Out There?
13. Bath-house with Spiders
14. A Land Where It Was Always Afternoon
15. Was Lear Right?
16. The Unthinkable
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