By Niall McArdle
Today is the final day of the April A to Z Challenge.
We’ve gone from A to Z, Alpha to Omega, Aleph to Taw, Dot Dash to Dash Dash Dot Dot, 01100001 to 01011010
Time for Zed. Or Zee, if you prefer.
Of course, if you’re Zebedee, it’s probably time for bed.
Z is the last letter of the alphabet, but it’s the first letter in Zero (which derives from the Italian zefiro, which in turn came from the Arabic safira meaning ‘it was empty’). Fibonacci (of the famous Fibonacci Sequence) probably brought the word with him to Europe from North Africa. Fibonacci also introduced the decimal system.
Ancient mathematicians and philosophers in Greece were troubled by the concept of nothingness, and by the empty space used to represent it. Zero came to be represented by 0, most likely because of the pleasing and perfect shape of the circle.
Nothing is a sacred concept in Zen (another z word!) Sunyata (emptiness) is an essential quality of all phenomena.
For Zeno, meanwhile (another z!), nothing could not be (you cannot think of non-being because as Zeno’ teacher Parmenides had said, ‘nothing comes from nothing.’) To prove the non-existence of nothingness, Zeno proposed his famous Paradox of the Arrow.
An arrow shot from a bow must always be in motion, but at every instant it must be somewhere in space. If it is always in some one place, it cannot be moving at every instant, because to be in transit is to be nowhere and thus not moving.
Zero is sometimes something, though. I could not write this post without a series of zeros interacting with a bunch of ones.