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number systems of the world
November 22, 2002 2:27 PM   Subscribe

Counting in base-14. "Just because we use a decimal system doesn't mean everyone does. "The teseradecimal lifestyle is thus not just a way of life. It is not only a method of regulating marriage, birth, succession, and other aspects of village life. It is also a theory of history where genesis, finality, and apocalypse are laid out on the space between the pinky and the nose."
Alex Golub illuminates the counting system of the Ipili tribe of Papua New Guinea, in response to much discussion of the ethnomathmatics at Leuschke.org. [more inside]
posted by me3dia (21 comments total)

 
Further browsing:
+ Numbering Systems Around the World
+ The Development of Counting Systems and Notations
+ The Abacus In Various Number Systems
+ Introduction to the Binary and Other Number Systems (in braille)
+ More on number systems from Eduscape
posted by me3dia at 2:27 PM on November 22, 2002


(To clarify, that fourth link isn't in braille, it's about braille.)
posted by me3dia at 2:28 PM on November 22, 2002


More websites should be in braille.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 2:33 PM on November 22, 2002


There was an interesting article recently at kuro5hin.org.
posted by four panels at 2:40 PM on November 22, 2002


Ask and you shall receive:
+ Sites of Interest to Blind and Visually Impaired People
+ Blindness Resource Center
posted by me3dia at 2:41 PM on November 22, 2002


thank you, me3dia, that (FPP) was a very interesting read.

Something tells me their prophecy will come true, unfortunately.
posted by Espoo2 at 2:45 PM on November 22, 2002


Great article. Thanks. I still remember when I learned in elementary school that the decimal system was not the only way to count . . . I think it came when I first started learning time signatures in music. And everyone knows that 7/8 is the best.
posted by mikrophon at 2:54 PM on November 22, 2002


I can't help wondering how many groups learnt to count in base 16. It's the kind of thing I'd expect the Greeks (or the like) to have done...
posted by twine42 at 3:31 PM on November 22, 2002


twine42 - why are some bases better than others? Apart from the fact that all your base are belong to us.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:43 PM on November 22, 2002


why are some bases better than others?

Divisibility. Closely related to kissability.
posted by four panels at 4:19 PM on November 22, 2002


Some bases' mothers are bigger than other bases' mothers.
posted by four panels at 4:21 PM on November 22, 2002


the whole thing about wether or not some cultures could count past 2 reminded me of Neal Stephenson's "The Diamond Age":

"There's only zero of you,' said the Queen of the Ants (to the King of the Shrews). In ant arithmetic, there are only two numbers: Zero, which means anything less than a million, and Some. 'You can't cooperate, so even if you were King, the title would be meaningless.'"
posted by signal at 4:52 PM on November 22, 2002


Using base 14 is immoral...
posted by five fresh fish at 5:10 PM on November 22, 2002


Yes, but how does the Ipili tribe of Papua New Guinea feel about semen?
posted by Danelope at 5:24 PM on November 22, 2002


"There's only zero of you,' said the Queen of the Ants (to the King of the Shrews). In ant arithmetic, there are only two numbers: Zero, which means anything less than a million, and Some. 'You can't cooperate, so even if you were King, the title would be meaningless.'"

And your comment reminded me of Watership Down, where rabbits count anything fiver or greater as a thousand.
posted by drezdn at 6:12 PM on November 22, 2002


And that reminded me of Terry Pratchett's trolls, who count 'one, two, many, lots'...
posted by Orange Goblin at 6:53 PM on November 22, 2002


I always liked a base 8 system. Breaks down nice and evenly into 2s and 4s(2x2s). 16 is nice because you can get higher numbers without so many decimal places, but then the question is, what are your new numbers going to look like? 10 is a horrible base because of the 5 factor, a very ugly number. Is it too late to change?
I think patterns in the world around us would become much more recognizable with a sensible base system that we actually applied to things. Our time system, for instance, is all messed up because we tried to stuff a base 6 system into a base 10 numbering scheme. And dont even get me started on the metric system vs evil inches.
posted by sophist at 7:04 PM on November 22, 2002


Base 12 has a lot going for it. 2, 3, 4 and 6 all divide evenly into it. There are some traces of a duodecimal system in English, where we have the concept of "dozen", "gross", the old Anglo Saxon long hundred of 120, and "eleven" and "twelve" rather than oneteen and twoteen.

The Ipili prophet's words filled me with horror.

Finally, the mine would come and dig up their sacred mountain, the mountain beneath which their totemic ancestor, the python Kupiane slept. It was only when the mountain was dug out and Kupiane had fled (ingesia - 14) that the end of the traditional counting system, and hence the Ipili conception of time would end.

It's coming true. Bummer.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:56 PM on November 22, 2002


I've often wondered what it would be like to have a seemingly basic, immutable thing about your world this much different -- such as the different ways some cultures divide up the colors.
posted by dhartung at 8:05 PM on November 22, 2002


"There are only 10 kinds of people in this world; those who read binary, and those who don't."
posted by johnnyace at 2:44 AM on November 23, 2002


16 is nice because you can get higher numbers without so many decimal places, but then the question is, what are your new numbers going to look like?

You use A through F, of course - any programmer can tell you that. Base 16 is a very nice system; it's easy to work with and fits perfectly inside Base 2. Base 8 was abandoned years ago, probably because its 3-bit-wide digits don't fit well into bytes.

I used to expect that after enough years of working in base-16 it would start to seem normal to me, and base-10 the oddity, but it really hasn't worked that way. I still think about the real world in base-10, and only inside the machine does base-16 seem natural. This suggests that either I learn more slowly than I like to believe, or that one's numbering system is like a native language, something you learn as a child and never forget.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:46 AM on November 23, 2002


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