[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.

Background

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

intellectual feats.

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

progress.

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

lost altogether.


________________________________

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>
+31613184203
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