Found 5 comments on HN
iooi · 2017-09-14 · Original thread
Highly recommend "Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea" [1] if you're interested in learning more about the number zero.


In thinking about this I wanted to reach for something that fundamentally affected humanity. And then I came up with nothing. Literally. 0.

Quoting from Amazon:

"The Babylonians invented it, the Greeks banned it, the Hindus worshiped it, and the Church used it to fend off heretics. Now it threatens the foundations of modern physics. For centuries the power of zero savored of the demonic; once harnessed, it became the most important tool in mathematics. For zero, infinity's twin, is not like other numbers. It is both nothing and everything.

In Zero, Science Journalist Charles Seife follows this innocent-looking number from its birth as an Eastern philosophical concept to its struggle for acceptance in Europe, its rise and transcendence in the West, and its ever-present threat to modern physics. Here are the legendary thinkers—from Pythagoras to Newton to Heisenberg, from the Kabalists to today's astrophysicists—who have tried to understand it and whose clashes shook the foundations of philosophy, science, mathematics, and religion. Zero has pitted East against West and faith against reason, and its intransigence persists in the dark core of a black hole and the brilliant flash of the Big Bang. Today, zero lies at the heart of one of the biggest scientific controversies of all time: the quest for a theory of everything."

Chapter 0 intro from the book:

"Zero hit the USS Yorktown like a torpedo.

On September 21, 1997, while cruising off the coast of Virginia, the billion-dollar missile cruiser shuddered to a halt. Yorktown was dead in the water.

Warships are designed to withstand the strike of a torpedo or the blast of a mine. Though it was armored against weapons, nobody had thought to defend the Yorktown from zero. It was a grave mistake.

The Yorktown's computers had just received new software that was controlling the engines. Unfortunately, nobody had spotted the time bomb lurking in the code, a zero the engineers were supposed to remove while installing software. But for one reason or another, the zero was overlooked, and it stayed hidden in the code. Hidden, that is, until the software called it into memory --and choked."

This is a book about the history and issues surrounding the concept of nothing and it's mathematical representation, the number zero. It isn't a book about computers or programming. It's about zero from ancient times to physics.

Great book. Read it years ago. Going to read it again.

Here's the link:

jerryr · 2012-12-02 · Original thread
I enjoyed these books on the history of that question:

Charles Seife's "Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea" (

Robert Kaplan's "The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero" (

acuozzo · 2012-11-28 · Original thread
The number zero was considered useless for a long period of time [1].

A certain piece of academic information isn't useless just because you can't think of a use for it, so I'd say yes, you're wrong.


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