The Most Underrated Invention of All Time

You’re Using it as You Read This

You know what this is.

Source: Magda Ehlers on Pexels.

At least, you think you know what these are.

Really think about it for a second.

Could you physically point to the number 1?

Or any of them?

A lot of people tend to go through their entire lives thinking that numbers are useless.

Mathematics is useless.

Functions are useless.

Calculus is useless.

Think about forming sentences for a second.

See how I just did that?

I put all these words in the order that I put them in because I know that order.

I know that your eyes will move exactly in the order that I am writing this.

And I know that this exact order is going to give you an understanding of what I am writing.

And how do I know how to do that?

How do you know how to do that?

We can call it syntax, we can call it order, or organization, or whatever.

But we understand this pattern because of the invention of something that has long been forgotten.

Not forgotten, exactly. But definitely relegated to a part of the brain that keeps using it but has no awareness of its purpose.

Think about trying to tell someone about two things or three things before the invention of the numbers two and three existed.

It would be damn near impossible.

It would be even more impossible to tell them that two is one less than three. Or that there might be half of one, added to two, making it two and a half of something.

You see, a long time ago we gave things distinct, exact, indistinguishable notations among patterns we began to organize.

We did this for the purpose of organizing things in a much neater way. We understood that there was far more data than we could keep in our heads; we needed a way to compile stuff that could be accessible by all.

We even organized a number that exists for the sole reason of attributing absolutely nothing.

And we call that number zero.

Believe it or not, zero might be the most powerful thing ever created.

It gives validity, structure, and uniqueness to the rest of the numbers we invented.

Better than all of that, it gives us symmetry. It balances out everything above it with everything below it. It is the ultimate equalizer in all things mathematics.

We have math to thank for all the crazy stuff we have today. A long time ago, we realized that there was so much information to organize, mathematics alone couldn’t just do it.

So what did we do?

We created functions to organize our numbers.

When that go too crazy?

We divided the data to application-based stuff, and we eventually called it physics.

When that got too crazy?

We divided the application of that stuff, and called it chemistry.

And next?


And now?

We have all sorts of hybrid fields created out of the simplest invention of all time.

Source: XKCD.

Mathematics: The simplest yet most potent concept to ever strike through the main vein of humankind’s progress.

The ability to count, to organize, to select, and to disseminate information in words.

Science progresses solely due to the concept of its infallibility.

Nobody can ever argue that 1 is not 1. Or that 2 is not 2.

Or that 1 is 2.

Anytime you’re not thinking about numbers, you’re using them in your thoughts. In your words, in your movement, in your actions.

And when you want to tell someone to wait a second, remember that you had to first know what a second was. You also needed the person you’re telling to wait a second understand what a second was, too.

Mathematics is universality.

And when you want to say that mathematics is useless, remember that you had to use it to state that it was useless in the first place.

Some story exists about a human who had to set and construct the system for counting and balancing and organizing.

And we are the beneficiaries of that construction.

We are the adopters of that invention. The invention we use in every waking moment of our lives.

Written by

UC Berkeley, mathematics. Los Angeles. Long-time runner. Top writer on Quora, 100M+ total content views. New to Medium. Inquiries:

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