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Much ado about nothing: A recent discovery about the foundations of mathematics

Xilinx Employee
Xilinx Employee
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A news story from the University of Oxford dated yesterday says that carbon dating performed by scientists at Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries has pushed back the date of the Bakhshali manuscript by about half a millennium. That’s important because the Bakhshali manuscript, found near Peshawar, India (now Pakistan) in 1881, contains the earliest known use of a piece of technology that’s absolutely essential to the development of programmable logic. That piece of technology is…






Of course, without zero, there is no digital engineering. There is no binary math nor Boolean arithmetic. There’s nothing—but that’s not zero. Zero is so ingrained and pervasive in modern digital technology that it fades into the technological wallpaper in our engineering minds.


It was not always so. Zero as a full-fledged numeral does not appear in the historical record prior to the Bakhshali manuscript, which had been presumed to be contemporary with a 9th-century inscription of a symbolic representation of zero that appears on a temple wall in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India. However, recent carbon dating pushes the creation date of the Bakhshali manuscript back in time to between 200 and 400 AD according to this short 3-minute video featuring Professor Marcus du Sautoy at the University of Oxford:







After I wrote this blog, I found another, more detailed video featuring Professor du Sautoy confirming the premise of this blog: that an important block that forms the foundation of all digital engineering including FPGAs is represented on the small piece of birch bark used to create the Bakhshali manuscript: