The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero

Paperback | March 15, 2001

byRobert KaplanIllustratorEllen Kaplan

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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 zeromathematics 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 theevolution 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 ofmathematics 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.

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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 zeromathematics as we know it would not exist. And w...

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 Cam...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:240 pages, 4.76 × 7.76 × 0.63 inPublished:March 15, 2001Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195142373

ISBN - 13:9780195142372

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Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsA Note to the Reader0. The Lens1. Mind Puts Its Stamp on Matter2. The Greeks Had No Word for It3. Travelers' Tales4. Eastward5. Dust6. Into the Unknown7. A Paradigm Shifts8. A Mayan Interlude: The Dark Side of Counting9. Much Ado: 1. Envoys of Emptiness, 2. A Sypher in Augrim, 3. This Year, Next Year, Sometime, Never, 4. Still It Moves10. Entertaining Angels: 1. The Power of Nothing, 2. Knowing Squat, 3. The Fabric of This Vision, 4. Leaving No Wrack Behind11. Almost Nothing: 1. Slouching Toward Bethlehem, 2. Two Victories, a Defeat and Distant Thunder12. Is It Out There?13. Bath-house with Spiders14. A Land Where It Was Always Afternoon15. Was Lear Right?16. The UnthinkableIndex

Editorial Reviews

"It is a true delight to read Robert Kaplan's The Nothing That Is. Full of remarkable historical facts about zero, it is both illuminating and entertaining, touching deeper issues of mathematics and philosophy in a very accessible way."--Sir Roger Penrose, Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematicsat the University of Oxford, and the author of The Emperor's New Mind