May 20th, 2008, 01:27 PM  #1 
Member Joined: Apr 2008 From: New York Posts: 41 Thanks: 0  I count in base 11
Since I have ten fingers it seems as though I should be able to count ten objects before I need to use "another digit". Isn't this base 11? If my lefthand thumb is number 1, and my lefthand pointer finger is number 2 why does my righthand thumb get to have two characters (10)? Was the first number theorist "missing something" or am I counting something I shouldn't?

May 20th, 2008, 03:07 PM  #2 
Senior Member Joined: May 2007 Posts: 402 Thanks: 0 
And what if your first finger was 0?

May 20th, 2008, 08:55 PM  #3 
Global Moderator Joined: Nov 2006 From: UTC 5 Posts: 16,046 Thanks: 938 Math Focus: Number theory, computational mathematics, combinatorics, FOM, symbolic logic, TCS, algorithms 
You can count on your fingers many different ways. Perhaps you can't control your pinky/last finger too well, so you only have an effective 8 digits, but you use these as binary indicators. Now you can count to 256 (or 255 if you start with 0) on your fingers.

May 21st, 2008, 11:52 AM  #4 
Member Joined: Apr 2008 From: New York Posts: 41 Thanks: 0 
This entire query probably has more to do with psychology than mathematics, but I still wonder.... If I'm a neandrethal mathematician, and I start a collection of objects I'm not going to consider my initial object to be the zeroth. I can match each object with a finger until I get ten objects. If I get another object I need to put a mark in the sand, use a toe, or call over a colleague to put up a finger. This should be where I invent the number "10" with the "1" meaning "I have used up all of my fingers once". At this point I have eleven objects. Most of us use the symbols 1 2 3... instead of our fingers to count things today. It seems curious that there is no unique symbol for "my righthand thumb". Most people use the symbol, and concept of, 0 to mean "no fingers at all". Presumably if we had a different number of fingers we would use a differently based number sysyem. Why do we use base 10 instead of base 11? I know that "curious" ideas shouldn't be dismissed in mathematics. Just look at my elastic numberline post (which I'm still working on). After seeing the movie "Beautiful Mind" my wife thinks that mathematics leads to insanity. Is there any truth to this? 
May 21st, 2008, 12:24 PM  #5  
Senior Member Joined: Oct 2007 From: Chicago Posts: 1,701 Thanks: 3 
It's an interesting question, although it seems to be more of an anthropology or philosophy of mind question than mathematics. Quote:
Although I may be (and probably am) wrong here, there does seem to be a slight correlation between mathematical aptitude and various mental illnesses; the most notable of which (although definitely not the one with the strongest correlation) is schizophrenia. If I were to venture a guess as to the cause of (#1) the correlation between intelligence and mental problems and (#2) the correlation between intelligence and schizophrenia specifically I would say: #1 is probably associated with the fact that those of greater intelligence have more trouble associating with "normal" people, who have a very different thought process. Therefore, they develop social anxieties, withdrawing from society (hence making the problems more acute). I know for myself, as "social" as I am (especially for a nerd), I get really, really, really nervous in large groups, and around people I don't know. For #2: Whatever it is that allows a person to think abstractly quite likely also causes them to lose grasp of the real world. viz, being able to abstract away from what we "know" to something new (i.e. mathematical aptitude) also causes us to abstract what we see to a different experience (i.e. schizophrenic episodes).  
May 21st, 2008, 02:03 PM  #6  
Global Moderator Joined: Nov 2006 From: UTC 5 Posts: 16,046 Thanks: 938 Math Focus: Number theory, computational mathematics, combinatorics, FOM, symbolic logic, TCS, algorithms  Quote:
 
May 25th, 2008, 06:37 AM  #7 
Newbie Joined: May 2008 Posts: 1 Thanks: 0 
Fingers arent the only reason for a culture using a certain base. The ancient babylonians used base 60. Popular theory is because it's the smallest number divisible by 1,2,3,4,5,and 6. The current base system might even change in the future. Binary could get alot more popular due to its use in computers.

May 25th, 2008, 03:05 PM  #8  
Global Moderator Joined: Nov 2006 From: UTC 5 Posts: 16,046 Thanks: 938 Math Focus: Number theory, computational mathematics, combinatorics, FOM, symbolic logic, TCS, algorithms  Quote:
A direct use of base 2 is unwieldy, but base 8 or 16 is easily convertable.  
May 28th, 2008, 12:14 PM  #9 
Newbie Joined: Oct 2007 From: The Netherlands Posts: 1 Thanks: 0 
I would like to return to the first post by noting that with ten fingers, it actually is most logical to use the base 10 system we are using. This gets more obvious if you continue counting for more 10cycles. Say you do represent 10 with a new symbol, say A. Then the first 10 counts would be 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,A. After that, you would continue with 11 (not 10, that would mean creating a new symbol 0), 12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,A,21,22..... As you can see, this just replaces a symbol, it doesn't create a new base. If you would, however, create a base 11 system, counting would soon get out of sync with your fingers. Just try counting 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,A,10,11.... on your fingers. But this is probably pretty much what milin already said by pointing out that your first finger could be 0.[/list] 
May 28th, 2008, 01:37 PM  #10 
Senior Member Joined: Oct 2007 From: Chicago Posts: 1,701 Thanks: 3 
Ah, but what if, as the op suggested, you place a stone (or other marker) on every 11th number? That is, count 1A, then drop a stone on B, then start again with 1. The act of dropping the stone (on the 11th number) will also reset your fingers (to 0). Using a base10 system, using all 10 fingers and "unusing" your hands are the same action; if it were 2 actions, there would be 1 extra digit in the number system. 

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