Re: The power of ten

From: Iain Strachan \(asa\) (
Date: Fri Mar 28 2003 - 14:51:14 EST

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    "American Home Loans" wrote:

    > And only by sheer coincidence does it happen to equate to the fingers on
    > hands.

    ... and I suppose you therefore believe that the ancient Sumerians and
    Babylonians had 60 fingers on their hands? And the Mayan Indians had 20? I
    notice that "The Simpsons" have a finger missing, so I suppose they must do
    arithmetic in base 8?

    Seriously, according to my History of Maths expert (Prof. I.
    Grattann-Guinness), there is actually little evidence to suggest that 10
    fingers is the reason for base 10 being predominant. It is more likely that
    it is because 10 is a divisor of 60, used since the earliest times, and of
    which we still see residual evidence today (60 seconds in a minute, 60
    minutes in an hour etc). Babylonian mathematicians, who were very
    sophisticated in what they knew, used the sexagesimal system, and wrote
    numerals representing 1-59 in cuneiform. It also may well be the case that
    another reason for 10 coming to the fore was the reverence the ancient
    mathematicians had for the Tetratkys (the triangle of 10).

    I note that Vernon's web page here discusses in detail the numbers 6 and 10;
    I had this information from an entirely different, secular source, who is
    well respected in his field (history of mathematics), and thus I think
    Vernon's observations are worthy of more that a one-liner smart-aleck


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