Sunday, October 27, 2013

Modern vs. Ancient

In the ancient Egyptian numeration system, one million was written using a character depicting a kneeling man with his arms upraised. It is thought to be a genie, or the god Heh, god of infinity and that which can't be counted. It is sometimes referred to as the "surprised man":

In our contemporary notation, meanwhile, one million is represented by a single "1" followed by six "zero"s with commas at regularly occurring intervals:

Looking at these two numbers we can probably agree on the relative merits of both systems. Yet in the eternal struggle between the beautifully poetic and the blandly functional - between the ineffable and the replicable - Egypt wins this one hands down.