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Thread: Numbers...

  1. #1 Numbers... 
    Forum Freshman TAMB0's Avatar
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    Why are human beings so attached to numbers in factors of ten? Why not twelve? Twelve is divisible by 2,3,4,and 6. We tend to symbolize a ten-fold increase by adding a zero. Who started this?


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    Convention, not efficiency. It's just our Arabic numeral system. I don't know the details behind its historical distribution, so I suggest looking it up. I read the Wikipedia article not too long ago for a related topic and it summed it up pretty well, so that's just my suggestion.

    And you're right, the base 12 system is fundamentally better than our base 10. The issue is actually pretty well known, so you could look into decimal vs duodecimal number systems.

    The only disadvantage I know is that in duodecimal, since it's base 12, there have to be unique symbols to represent ten and eleven before it wraps around at twelve. So they're usually written as A for ten and B for eleven, which could be confusing in certain places where one has to distinguish the English letters from the numerical symbols

    Just working with duodecimal is pretty confusing since we're so used to base 10 mathematics since the day of our birth. Despite the little 12 subscript, I have to remind myself that 10 is not ten, but twelve. 11 is not eleven, but thirteen. See? Confusing. It's for convention, not efficiency.


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    Forum Senior TheObserver's Avatar
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    Its most likely due to having ten fingers. But the choice is arbitrary, computers use 2 digits as apposed to 10. Programmers often deal in other base systems.
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    The use of 10 seems to go back a long way and be common to many cultures, so the fingers thing seems plausible. Even Aristotle asked this question!

    The Babylonians used a base 60 system (which is why we still have 60 minutes in an hour, etc). They had a complex writing system (a bit like Chinese) so they may have been happier dealing with the large number of symbols required than we would be.

    I think there is some evidence that Germanic tribes used a base 20 system and there is still some evidence of this in the way French name numbers, for example.

    Some of us are equally happy in base 10 and base 16 (or base 8, for those even older than me).
    Without wishing to overstate my case, everything in the observable universe definitely has its origins in Northamptonshire -- Alan Moore
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    If we have 12 fingers, history may change.
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    Forum Freshman TAMB0's Avatar
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    thanks for the replies guys. I've wondered this ever since I was little. It's amazing how many systems we accept without question.
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    Amazing indeed. I remember learning the Aztecs had a base 20 system, and instead of using numerical symbols in digits they stacked lines and dots. Fascinating how cultures can develop working systems and how unique they can be, like the Aztecs.
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    Well, actually there are several number systems. For example, 12 inches in one foot, the various units for land measurement, that is, rods, perches, etc.
    Pre-decimal the British currency was pounds, shillings and pence, where, one pound was 20 shillings and one shilling was 12 pence. I am old enough to have grown using all those measurement systems and it seemed completely natural to use 12 pence to one shilling, 1760 yards to one mile and so on.
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