something to honk about
I have read that our base 10 counting system arises from the fact that we have ten fingers on our hands. But what if we had eight fingers or twelve? In that case, instead of adding a decimal place after nine, we would add one after seven, or eleven. I have to do some real mental calisthenics to understand how that would work. The base ten system is so ingrained in me.
I woke up at 3:30 am last night for this. Clearly, my brain really wanted to be awake to think about different based numerical systems, because that is what was going through my mind.
Let’s say we had four fingers on each hand and it was a base 8 system. Then counting would be like 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,10 and then 11,12,13,14,15,16,17,20. So when you got to 100, it would be equal to what we now know as 64. It would be 62, 63, 100. 63 seems like a strange number at which to stop and add a digit. But so would 99 seem if we were used to a base 8.
What’s more, not everyone in the world uses a base 10 numerical set. I’ve also read that cultures where the temperatures are warmer and they don’t wear shoes are more likely to use a base 20 set. Ten fingers plus ten toes equals twenty. This cool article from Mental Floss explains twelve alternative counting systems from around the world.
When you are awake in the middle of the night what do you ponder?