Sunday, February 2, 2014

Base Eight

As one who tends to question everything, I have wondered on several occasions why double-digit numbers begin with ten. Binary would be impractical due to both its written length and the time most human minds would take to comprehend it. A speed limit of 00100001 miles per hour would take a few moments to process, and it would endanger those on and around roads.
But why ten? Twelve would make a decent amount of sense, as it is divisible by one, two, three, four, and six. I think eight would be better, however, despite the forfeited perquisite of a clean decimal to represent one-third. This is because eight is so evenly divisible and so close to ten. It is two cubed, obviously! Picture the wheel of the Ninpo Bugei in ancient Japan, which is crossed by four diametrical beams, the measure between each adjacent pair of which is (by our strange arc-measuring system) 45 degrees. Clocks would also make more sense this way, but here we face the problem of a massive paradigm shift.
As I understand, the two-times-five philosophy derives from many ancient cultures, independent of one another in history, almost all of whom drew the idea from their own hands. Counting thumbs, all (well, most) of us have ten fingers. Stopping at a market stall and calculating the arithmetic of monetary cost is simpler with fingers! However, why not have our current "8" be written as "10" and therefore have "12" digits? Excluding thumbs for the sake of argument seems beneficial, seeing as we could still count to the new "10" (our current "8"), and have two to spare.
As I hinted at a few moments ago, the main issue here seems to be akin to the one that plagues me as an American-born living in my country of birth - the English measurement system, which is even worse than a tens-based metric system. The cause for both is stubbornness. Virtually all of our media would need to be rewritten, and no one would know what was meant by one-zero in which context! Madness would ensue, all because of a strange judgment repeated across history.
Therefore, I say that although base eight makes more sense, remaining with our current base ten seems more practical for the time being. Perhaps one day, regardless of whether I still live, an official shift will take place, but at the moment, I think learning both would bamboozle most individuals. Performing even the most elementary of calculations would be a tedious process, like reading an older form of one's own language (such as Old English or Shakespeare) without prior knowledge. Glancing at translations or explanations every few seconds interrupts the flow of a piece of literature (at least in my case). And although I know a number of Shakespearean terms and a handful of ancient words used in Beowulf, not everyone can be expected to do likewise...especially these days!