Paris, Arkansas


In a recent article reflecting the Bodleian Press Release, a Writer on Mathematics offered a sharp insight on the origin of the symbol. [I forget the name; drop me a note if you recognize this piece.]

The concept of zero seems intuitive, but that’s because we’re already familiar with it. There’s a big conceptual leap between saying “there are no apples on this tree” to saying “this tree has zero apples on it.

Both ‘No Apples’ and ‘Zero Apples’ are conceptual extracts, neither being True Nothing. But the Writer makes a very helpful distinction. And the distinction can be made more visible.

Around 600 CE, Chandrakirti, an articulate spokesman for the Mādhyamika school which claimed itself a dialectic, itself holding ‘No views of its own’, gave this illustration of one who retains a ‘View’ of Absence [i.e. an Idea, a conceptual elaboration].

It is as if I ask a shopkeeper:’What do you have to sell?’. And he replies: ‘I have nothing to sell’. And I say: ‘Oh, fine! That will do. Sell me this nothing, then.

The claim: ‘We have no views’, is problematic, and ultimately undermines the school Mādhyamaka schools itself. [It is an unwound Self-Eating Expression.] But that  does not take away from the insight of Chandrakirti’s illustration.

Importantly, there is no ‘Error’ here. ‘True Nothing’ and the ‘Concept of Nothing’ are simply two different destinations. There is a Paris, France and a Paris, Arkansas. The error occurs only if you land in Arkansas thinking it is Paris, France.

You might be surprised how often that happens.

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