[INDOLOGY] Zero project
Bijlert, V.A. van
v.a.van.bijlert at vu.nl
Tue Jul 28 07:06:33 EDT 2015
Call for collaboration
We are seeking collaboration with academics / researchers to launch a broad-based,
multidisciplinary research project on the origin of the zero digit in India.
In order to facilitate such a project, the ZerOrigIndia Foundation, based in the
Netherlands, will soon be starting online campaign comprising three parts: a) an online
petition that may be signed by the general public to indicate support; b) a crowdfunding
component to collect donations from persons wanting to do more than simply endorse the
campaign; c) a crowdsourcing component intended for scholars and researchers, who may
wish to contribute to the cause in terms of ideas and suggestions.
We are setting ourselves the immediate goal of collecting Eu. 400,000, or a multiple
thereof, to finance the training of one or more PhD students in fields related to the research,
preferably under the auspices of a leading institution of higher learning in India but in
collaboration with a counterpart in another country. The PhD student(s) may thus be Indian
national or hold other nationality.
Please contact us for further details if this research proposal may be of interested to
you or someone in your network.
Human beings have been counting for tens of thousands of years. But it is only within
past millennia that mathematics proper has been practiced in advanced civilizations.
Place-value systems, including base-10, base-20, base-60 and others, are found early
on, with or without a zero placeholder, that is, a symbol to represent the absence of a digit in a
number. Numeration systems with a placeholder zero were in use for hundreds of years
without the symbol representing zero being used as actual numeral in its own right.
It is widely agreed that the use of the zero digit not only as placeholder but also as
fully-fledged numeral alongside the other numerals was an unrivaled innovation that
revolutionized mathematics, science and technology. It is stating the obvious to note that
practically all nations on Earth have since adopted the decimal system including zero, while
few people today are aware where the numbers they use daily came from.
And while there is general agreement among scholars that the decimal system
ubiquitously in use today hails from India, reaching medieval Europe via the Arabs, there is
no consensus as to whether or not the zero digit was an indigenous South Asian invention or
whether it was ‘imported’ – either from points further to the West or the East.
Thus there is much conjecture and controversy surrounding the emergence of the zero
digit as numeral and to this day it has never been incontrovertibly established precisely where
and when or in what cultural context the zero digit first appeared, let alone who the individual
was to be credited with its invention - which has been ranked among mankind’s greatest
All scholarly books and articles on the subject continually refer to certain basic facts
known about the possible origin of the zero digit without making mention of any recent or on-
going research on the subject. To date the ZerOrigIndia Foundation has not been able to
establish whether at present there are any research teams devoted to finding any fresh
evidence that may shed light on the issue.
It is against that background that the ZerOrigIndia Foundation, which restricts its
scope to India, has set itself the task of having a properly staffed and funded multidisciplinary
research team of experts take up the challenge of answering the question as to when and
where the zero digit first appeared, and if possible to pinpoint the prevailing cultural
conditions under which the individual thrived, who made this astounding contribution to
There are still tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts in India and in the world at
large that have not been studied for any clues that may point to the origin of the zero digit. In
that connection it would be very timely to undertake a concerted effort now to discover what
extant evidence may as yet be produced before crucial manuscripts deteriorate further or are
Dr. Victor A. van Bijlert
Associate professor Religious Studies
Department of Philosophy of Religion and Comparative Study of Religions
Faculty of Theology, VU University
De Boelelaan 1105, NL-1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
v.a.van.bijlert at vu.nl<mailto:v.a.van.bijlert at vu.nl>
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