The use of negative numbers. How do they exist?

When you are looking at a balance sheet or a thermometer do you ever wonder why it has negative numbers on it. I mean, how can they possibly exist? How can you have something less than nothing? There is a point to having Negative numbers especially when it comes to the temperature gauge but we also need them in our daily lives. For example, how would you know that you’re in that overdraft? More to the point without Negative numbers that overdraft would not exist in the first place. The world of money and accountancy is a tricky one but if you need Accountants in Cheltenham then a visit to cheltenham accountants randall & payne would be a very good idea.

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The concept of the negative number has quite ancient roots as our ancestor’s realised the need for them pretty early on. The earliest incidents that we have of the use of negative numbers are by the Han Dynasty of China. In fact, they were very open about them, especially the author of the Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art by Jiu Zhang Suan-Shi around 202 BC. Even then, he may have based this on even earlier uses. The ancient Greeks on the other hand decided that in their calculations if a negative number came up it were false. In the book Arithmetica written in the 3rd Century AD the Mathematician Diophantus was having none of it and immediately declared a negative number as absurd. Historians have suggested that the reason why the Chinese were able to incorporate negative numbers into their accounting was that their philosophy of ying and yang and duality in nature led them to accept this as a balance whilst the logical Greeks were all saying “but you can’t have something less than nothing!”

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For Liu Hui working on the Nine Chapters it was pretty easy to understand. He used the example of two sets of rods black and red. The red was positive and the black negative with this he could easily display the midpoint of zero. You might have noticed that Liu Hui has switched what we do know. We use red as the negative and black as a positive on a balance sheet. To further complicate matters the Indian mathematical guide the Bakhshali Manuscript put the + sign as a minus. The minus figure was used to indicate a debt but in wider maths it meant that the Indians and Chinese could do quadratic equations given there technological development a huge boost. They also had a zero.

Because most of our culture is based on the Greeks we didn’t accept it fully until the 17th Century!

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