Learning from zero
It is a pity that India’s formidable legacy of mathematics has not been parlayed into continued achievement
Last week saw the addition of an important footnote to India’s intellectual history. According to Oxford University’s Bodleian Libraries, radiocarbon dating now shows the Bakhshali manuscript—it was found buried near Peshawar in 1881—to date back to the 3rd or 4th century, which makes it almost half a millennium older than previously believed. This means that the origin of the concept of zero—present in the manuscript—is far older than previously believed. Until now, that origin was thought to date back to the 9th century in the form of an inscription in a Gwalior temple.
India’s rich history in mathematics is a matter of record. From the Pythagorean theorem to Pell’s equation, there is evidence that advances attributed to others were in fact first made in India. The Kerala School of Mathematics’s work on calculus similarly predates the likes of Isaac Newton.
It is a pity, then, that this formidable legacy has not been parlayed into continued achievement—explained, perhaps, by a failure to incorporate it into current educational systems.