Home Page -> Commentary -> 17 January 2000 (Millenial Mathematics)

Comment of the Fortnight
3 January 2000
Mathematical Millennial Thoughts

I've had it up to here with people telling me how the “real” millennium doesn't begin until 2001. You'd think, as a math major, I'd sympathize with them -- but I don't.

Look at the table below. See any problems with it? Of course not; it's mathematically correct.

Now look at this table. See any problem?

1-1 (1 BCE)

The problem, in short, is that there's no year zero. The reason, of course, being that people didn't fully understand the concept of zero when the calendar was being conceived. “But wait,” say the purists. ’You start counting at one, don't you?” However, if we are to accept that the calendar is based on the year in which Christ was born, this argument doesn't hold up. You aren't one year old the moment you're born. You don't get that single candle on your birthday cake until one year after you are born.

The inescapable conclusion is that the inventors of the calendar screwed up way back when, and we're just now getting around to sorting out the mess. “But wait,” interject the purists once again, “this is religious, and you can't interfere with that.” Funny; that sure didn't stop Pope Gregory XIII (the twelfth, if you start counting from zero), from dropping ten days out of the calendar in 1582 to put the calendar in synch with the sun. So, I say, let's simply admit that yes, zero really is a legitimate number, and declare the year 2000 to be the start of the new millennium. Any Pope or Pope-equivalent who'd like to put an official religious imprimatur this idea is welcome to do so.

For those who still need an excuse to celebrate 2001, there's always that movie; perhaps a monolith or three will show up for the festivities. In any event, a Happy New Year to all of you.

A big thank you to Jeryl W. Lafon, whose article in Datamation “On the Theoretical Plausibility of Dividing by Zero,” inspired me to write this bizarre compendium of spurious arguments.

Let me know what you think.

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