Zero is nothing, nada, zip, zilch. You can’t see 0 because it isn’t there. Zero represents the absence something, a relatively abstract concept. In fact as children we have to learn zero – we are not born with the ability to understand zero.

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Adult humans have understood the notion of nothing or having nothing for a very long time. However, the concept of zero as a number is relatively new. Some historians believe the origins of zero date back over 4,000 years ago to the Sumerians who used angled wedges as placeholders for zero in their counting system. Others believe that it wasn’t until that system was passed on the Babylonians around 300 BC that the wedge was clearly a placeholder. The placeholder represented the absence of a number in a string of numbers. On the other side of the world from the Babylonians, the brilliant Maya used zero as a placeholder in their calendar system. Yet despite being excellent mathematicians, they did not use zero in equations.

Zero as a number unto itself has its origins in India around 1500 years ago. It was revolutionizing to mathematics. The number zero has even been called one of the greatest human inventions of all time. In mathematics it is both a placeholder and a digit. In addition, zero allowed people to conceptualize negative numbers for the first time. Zero as a number opened the door to algebra, calculus, and more. It also laid the foundation for computer binary code.

So while zero is nothing, it is also something. And in today’s high tech world, it is the basis for everything.