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Zero zero ?

  1. Jul 3, 2010 #1


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    In the another thread, I queried some posters comments which were along the lines that zero is a metaphysical concept / doesn't exist.

    Baywax responded, as below, and my additional comments are in blue.

    Zero exists as much as the number 1 in that these are both language equivalents that correspond to a quantity of actual "things". So, in the sense that "zero" exists as a stimulated group of neurons... beyond that it is only a description of a quantity or a lack of quantity.

    I presume you mean a stimulated group of neurons in the brain .. but then, everything exists as that. 'Cat' and 'weather' and 'syndrome' also exist as a stimulated group of neurons in the brain. So how is this unique to zero ?

    In reality the description "zero" describes the "non-existence" of quantity and so even the "thing" or "quantity" that zero describes...... does not exist.

    Zero describes non existence. OK.

    There is one apple on the table. I remove it. There is zero apples on the table. The 'zero' character of the apple (in realtion to the table) is now very real.What's wrong with that ? What am I missing ? Is the issue here being complicated more than it should ?
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 3, 2010
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  3. Jul 3, 2010 #2
    Zero is a number like any other. All numbers are abstract concepts which can be applied to give them physical meaning. Natural numbers have easy physical meanings, like there are 2 apples on the table. The number means, well, the number of them. Rational numbers can be used to measure things, like the bag of apples weighs 1.2432 newtons.

    Even imaginaries have physical meaning with things like radio signals and electricity.

    The point I'm trying to make is that all numbers have different physical meanings for different things. Zero is no different, only the meaning is a little different.
  4. Jul 3, 2010 #3
    Right. Zero is a little special.
    Whereas you can have 1 apple and easily add more, you are maintaining the concept of an apple throughout, as at least one apple always exists in current observation.

    When going from one or more apples to zero, it gets slightly more complicated, as the current observation of zero apples does not directly imply there were apples before. It is inferred from previous observation or "acceptance" if there were no observation.
  5. Jul 3, 2010 #4
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  6. Jul 3, 2010 #5


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    Thanks. Which cultures didn't have it ? Also, are there any that presently don't ?
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  7. Jul 3, 2010 #6


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    Thanks. That's what I like about this place - it forces you (well, me) to exersise the grey matter a little more than usual.

    In fact, zero apples on the table does have to assume that there were some there in the first place to make sense .. I think ..
  8. Jul 4, 2010 #7
    http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/about/zero.jsp [Broken]


    For some of the history, and its late emergence as a discrete concept.

    For fun: http://home.ubalt.edu/ntsbarsh/zero/zero.htm
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  9. Jul 4, 2010 #8
    You could practically define 0, as "doesn't exist" couldn't you. For example, 0 apples means apples don't exist. Zero apples in the basket means apples don't exist in the basket.

    So O itself, exists as a symbol, used to describe the non-existence of something.
  10. Jul 4, 2010 #9
    As I pointed out in another thread, I find the concept of nothingness as unfathomable as something. "Doesn't Exist", or rather "no quantity" is a powerful concept, because how do you define an absence of apples without a reference to apples? Nothing is a foreign concept to us, and probably anything that exists. This ignores the mathematical issues with 0, which are many and sundry.
  11. Jul 4, 2010 #10
    Reminds me of a thread, about whether nothing is something or not.
  12. Jul 4, 2010 #11
    My kneejerk reaction is that nothing is nothing, but I think in the end that debate can only ever be semantic; we lack the capacity to envision or articulate nothingness with words; only mathematical symbols give us that ability to some degree.
  13. Jul 5, 2010 #12


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    What I think I'm getting is that in most cases, 'zero' does not denote complete and absolute absence - perhaps because others in other times, could not imagine such a thing either.

    Speaking fluent Greek, I am often interested in how closely our English words and the ideas behind them, correspond to the ideas behind the same word but in another, perhaps older language. It is interesting that often, those ideas are not the same, as one would expect that they should be.

    I thought it worthwhile to check out 'zero' in the Greek. Firstly, without looking anything up, I immediately know that the common translation for 'zero' is 'miden'. So, I go to ..


    and I get;

    zero - μηδέν, μηδενικό (miden, mideniko)

    .. which strikes me, as pretty darn close to our 'median' (though ain't it funny that although I've used that word in the Greek often, I've never previously made that connection). So no absolute absence here, and in fact, one could even say 'a neutral / median point' - zero being the median of all numbers 'n all !

    I tried to find something a little earlier (more ancient), at ..


    .. and got;

    zero - οὐδείς (no transliteration given in that dictionary, but I offer "oudes")

    I can't think of any English words with as immediate a correspondent sound (as in 'miden / median'), so still searching for the .. um .. flavour of the word 'οὐδείς', I think of Greek words that might contain it. And the most obvious to me is;

    'οὐδέτερος' - (oudeteros) not either, neither of the two

    .. and today, used mainly to indicate neutrality. If you abstained from voting at a meeting for instance, you are 'οὐδέτερος'. In fact, it is also specifically used to denote gender; arseniko - male, thilyko - female, oudetero - neutral (Greek language is very heavy in it's use of gender).

    Could be interesting too, that 'hades' - the world of the dead, is probably related to 'οὐδείς' though I haven't perused this.

    So anyhow, what I'm saying, is than neither 'μηδέν' nor 'οὐδείς' have a flavour of absolute nothingness about them, and in fact, seem to range around neutrality, non involvement, middle points .. stop me if I'm getting ahead of myself - please !

    I just find this stuff quite fascinating. Zero zero !
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  14. Jul 5, 2010 #13


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    describe the non-existence of something

    Therein lies the conundrum.
  15. Jul 5, 2010 #14


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    This ignores the mathematical issues with 0, which are many and sundry

    Some simple ones please (befitting the mathematical abilities of an orangutang) ?
  16. Jul 5, 2010 #15
    0/0 .
  17. Jul 5, 2010 #16
    Or n/0 for which some number multiplied by zero is not 0. Both work!
  18. Jul 5, 2010 #17


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    0/0 = 0 ? I can't see the issue here.

    I can see the issue with n/0 though - that is, presuming I'm on the right track, that being ..

    6 / 3 = 2, therefore, 2x3 must equal 6. But,

    6 / 0 = 6, therefore 0x6 must equal 6 .. NOT !

    Is that the oddity ?

    PS - you said in another thread as I recall, that you liked wordplay.

    I would be interested to know your view on my post a few up, where I pointed out that in the Greek, zero is 'miden' which I feel sure, relates to our 'median' - thus, tending towards something much different from absolute absence (IMO). Whats your opinion ?
  19. Jul 5, 2010 #18
    I do enjoy wordplay, and my view of your analysis is that you're probably correct. If you consider the use of the abacus or antikythera as a device for calculation, an even distribution would be a null result. This is just based on what you've said, but it makes sense, and fits with historical records that the concept of zero wasn't around in ancient Greece.

    your "6/0 therefore 0x6" is the conundrum I was pointing out, but also, what is nothing divided by nothing? More nothing, less nothing, the same quantity of no quantity? Mathematically it isn't significant the way that an integer/0 is, but it raises the more philosophical end of the spectrum. I'm very glad you started this thread.
  20. Jul 5, 2010 #19
    n/0 = n? I must've missed that in all my math courses.

    Division by 0 isn't a legitimate mathematical process as far as I know.
    0/0 does not = 0

    The only way you can divide by 0 is by using special mathematical theories where division is slightly modified.
  21. Jul 5, 2010 #20
    Taking a wider view of the role of zero in physics (beyond counting apples) reveals it plays an extremely constructive role. Consider how zero comes into the following statements taken at random from a textbook on string theory:

    1. Action is a dimensionless quantity

    2. The mass-shell condition is p^2 + m^2 = 0

    3. The classical string motion extremizes the world-sheet area (dS = 0)

    4. Consistency of the p-brane action requires the cosmological constant to vanish when p=1.

    5. The ground state |0> satisfies a(m)|0> = 0 for m > 0.

    etc, etc..must I go on.
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