## Polynesians May Have Invented Binary Math 170

Posted
by
samzenpus

from the original-number dept.

from the original-number dept.

sciencehabit writes

*"How old is the binary number system? Perhaps far older than the invention of binary math in the West. The residents of a tiny Polynesian island may have been doing calculations in binary—a number system with only two digits—centuries before it was described by Gottfried Leibniz, the co-inventor of calculus, in 1703."*
## How is this news? (Score:2, Informative)

Different cultures have been counting in bases other than base-10 for all of human history. Of course a gentleman in the 18th century wasn't the first to use binary.... that's preposterous.

The Mayans, for example, counted in based 20 (supposedly because they counted on both their fingers and, thanks to a warm climate, exposed toes).

## Binary is much older than Leibniz... (Score:5, Informative)

Leibniz freely admits that he took ideas from the I Ching: http://www.leibniz-translations.com/binary.htm

## Re:Weak evidence indeed (Score:4, Informative)

The article, however, is remarkably weak in support for the hypothesis that the people of Mangareva (the "tiny Pacific island" mentioned) actually used binary arithmetic, since in fact it doesn't give any evidence at all that they actually used binary arithmetic. What it says is they have number words for three binary powers of ten:paua for 20; tataua for 40; and varu for 80.

The article wasn't so much weak, as it was in awe of an accident of hindsight. (It only looks "special" because we settled on binary for computers.)

It explicitly made the point that base 10 was used except to refer to large groups.

Their "special words" took hold only after they ran out of fingers.

In fact, if you look at it as counting the number of "bodies worth of fingers and toes" it looks less like using binary and more like "We can't count that high, but there was one fish in the pond for every finger and toe of each person in our boat). After that they just counted boats.

Its really not much different than westerners counting in dozens, and grosses (something that wiki unconvincingly attributes to the convenience of 12 having many divisors [wikipedia.org]. From the same article you learn there were Latin terms for groups of 15, 20, etc. It seems that special, extra ordinal counting numbers for baskets full of stuff are not that unusual.