General Question

Magnus's avatar

What if we only had the digits 0-8?

Asked by Magnus (2871points) November 5th, 2008 from iPhone

Would math be harder? Bear with me now, I’m kinda tired.
Is ten a perfect number? If we had 11 different digits, would it be as easy multiplying your way up? What determined that we have 10 digits? I’m sorry if I’m difficult to understand now, but try thinking about it, how math would be so very fundamentally different with 11 different digits.

Going back to ten digits, why not seven instead, since you can divide six by three and two?

My main question is however; why do we have ten different digits?

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28 Answers

jcs007's avatar

To answer your original question, we wouldn’t have the tragedy of seven ate nine.

laureth's avatar

We have ten digits because we have ten digits – on our hands.

If we only had two, we’d do math in Binary, like computers, and we wouldn’t know it as being any harder or easier than what we have now, because it’d be what we’re used to.

gailcalled's avatar

Magnus; go to bed. You asked seven questions (or was it eight?)

elchoopanebre's avatar

Then we would have a base 2 number system. We would still be able to express every number.

For example, binary is only a base 2 number system but it can accurately express any number.

Elumas's avatar

@ Laureth: It would be much harder to write the problems out though.

Mtl_zack's avatar

the babylonians used 60 digits. this was because 60 is divisible by 12, 5, 4, 15, 3, 20, 2, 30, 10 and 6 (did i leave any out?). the mayans used 20 didgits because they counted on their toes too (not kidding).

its just easiert o count by tens because we’re accustomed to it. if we grew up in central america 1500 years ago, it would be very hard to count by tens.

PupnTaco's avatar

Nine is not to question why.

elchoopanebre's avatar

“Then we would have a base 2 number system.”

I meant “Then we would have a base 8 number system.”

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

Back in the day, they made us work math problems in base 8, etc. in grade school. No wonder no one my age is comfortable with math. Although, in California, in 1st grade, I learned about sets and set notation.

laureth's avatar

@Alfreda – ayup! They don’t make first graders like they used to.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

To paraphase Tom Lehrer in “New Math” “Base 8 is just like Base 10, if you’re missing two fingers.”

breedmitch's avatar

We’d all be singing, “Eighty-eight bottles of beer on the wall. Eighty-eight bottles of beer…”

Bluefreedom's avatar

For me, it wouldn’t matter one way or another. Even if we only had the digits 0–3, I would still be a math idiot. Thank God for calculators!

HalfScottishGuy's avatar

I once heard somewhere that a base 12 counting system is actually the most efficient… and the simplest for math, but I can’t remember why… anyway, everything you asked for has been answered I just wanted to ad a little bit of extra info. =)

breedmitch's avatar

@Half: 12 is divisible be 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 12.
10 is divisible by 1, 5, and 10.

scubydoo's avatar

@jcs007… We’d actually have an unanswerable question instead of a tragedy. It would be the seven ate (what)... the world would never know the answer.

MrItty's avatar

Folks, numbers 0–8 is base 9, not base 8. Nine digits.

fireside's avatar

Our phones could be smaller if we only had 7 digits.

gailcalled's avatar

Credit to AlfredaPru: Clear, animated, funny, sung by Tom (Magnus – great for your English) and listen to entire piece to get the last joke.

Tom Lehrer’s New Math

shadling21's avatar

@MrItty – Oh. Right.
Still.
It can be done.

finkelitis's avatar

It certainly can be done, and if we had nine fingers instead of ten, we wouldn’t even think it was hard. Ten isn’t special—it’s just what we’re used to.

tadpole's avatar

there would be no flake 99’s….

finkelitis's avatar

However, I should add that it would be harder to write one half in base 9. It would be the repeating decimal .44444…

On the other hand, one third would be the very clean .3.

tadpole's avatar

@finkelitis so is that kind of like one step forward one step back :-)

whothei0's avatar

it would be hard but over all i would have to say if the system was set up like that it wuoldnt be to bad
for example we have a base ten system but computers think in a base 2 1’s and 0’s but now some computes think in a base 16 0–9 and a-f, each system would work slightly different but they would work overall the same. but if you would try to transfer from one to the other it would be like converting Fahrenheit to Cecilius difficult but most defiantly doable

gailcalled's avatar

“converting from Fahrenheit to Cecilius is defiantly” (sic) not doable.

MrItty's avatar

@gailcalled huh? Subtract 32, multiply by 5/9. How is that “not doable”?

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