Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea Chapter Abstracts for Teachers

Charles Seife
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Chapters 0-1

• Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea opens with a story of a computer glitch that caused the USS Yorktown to come to a halt in 1997.

• A programming error had forced the computer to attempt to divide by zero, which caused its systems to crash.

• For the author, Charles Seife, this is only a glimmer of the power of zero; no other number can do that much damage.

• Zero was born in the Fertile Crescent a few centuries before Christ; it produced images of nothingness and had strange mathematical properties.

• Initially, math did not require zero; it confined itself to simple tasks like counting sheep that did not require it.

• Early counting systems seem to proceed by fives, but none of the languages used to express these number systems had a word for zero.

• The Egyptians created the decimal system and used math to make a...

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