MATHEMATICS AND THE WORLD 257
the binary system, still used by some savage tribes, of which we retain traces when we speak of couples, or pairs, or braces, we get an enormous simplicity in operations by using only two symbols, 1 and 0. It should be remembered that, in every system, the tables of addition and multiplication must be memorized. In the binary system, these tables are reduced towhile in our decimal system,
each table has 100 entries. But what we gain in simplicity by a low base-number is offset very seriously by the cumbersomeness of the notation. As Danzig tells us, our number 4096 is represented in a binary system by 1,000,000,000. That we adopted the decimal system is probably a physiological accident, because we have ten fingers. The savage, with his binary system, did not reach even the finger stage; he is still in the fist stage.
For practical purposes, it is simpler to have a base which has many divisors, as, for instance, 12. We still use this duodecimal system when we divide a foot into twelve inches, or a shilling into twelve pennies, or count by dozens or gross. It seems that mathematicians would probably select a prime number for a base, but the gain would be so slight and the difficulty of offsetting a physiological habit so tremendous, that this will probably never happen.
^{2}From what was said already, it is, perhaps, clear that mathematics requires a positional notation in which we must have a symbol for '1' and zero, at least. For these and other reasons, the two numbers 1 and 0 are somehow unusually important. Even in our decimal system we generate numbers by adding 1 to its predecessor. Thus
and we must enquire into the semantic character of these numbers.
The notions of matching, comparing, measuring, quantity, equality., are all interwoven and, by necessity, involve a circularity in definitions and implications if the analysis is carried far enough. The interested reader may be referred to the chapter on equality in Whitehead's
The Principle of Relativity to learn more on this subject.In the evolution of mathematics, we find that the notions of 'greater', 'equal', and 'less' precede the notion of numbers. Comparison is the simplest form of evaluation; the first being a search for relations; the second, a discovery of exact relations. This process of search for relations and structure is inherent and natural in man, and has led not only to the discovery of numbers, but also has shaped their two aspects; namely, the cardinal and the ordinal aspects. For instance, to ascertain whether the number of persons in a hall is equal to, greater than, or less than the number of seats, it is enough to ascertain if all seats are |
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