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Sacred Number

46 Zero nothing left to say Zero has been left until last, because in a sense it is not actually a number at all, just a mark representing the absence of number. It is perhaps for this reason, and the horror many theologians had of it, that nothing took such a long time to emerge as something at all, and in quite a few sensible cultures it never did. A symbol for zero has been invented independently at least three times. The Babylonians in 400 BC started using the shape of two wedges pressed into clay to act as an empty place marker in their sexagesimal numerals, no number in this column . On the other side of the world, and nearly a thousand years later, the Mayans adopted a seashell symbol for the same function. The circular form that nothing assumed under the Indians reflected the indentation left in sand when a pebble used for counting is removed. Thus our modern zero, inherited from the Indians, began as the visible trace of something no longer there. Like one, zero probes the borderline between absence and presence. In early Indian mathematical treatises it is referred to as Sunya, meaning void , calling to mind the abyss, the ultimate unknowable, the pregnant ground of all being. It is perhaps appropriate that our zero takes the form of a circle, itself a symbol of one, and that our one takes the form of a short line between two points. As acknowledged in gematria, each number already contains the seed of its successor within it, and the symbols for zero and one strangely combine to create the golden symbol , a fitting thought with which to end this book.
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