"Every perception is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination."
-- Gerald Edelman, Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge
How to invent Hindu-Arabic numerals？2 How to invent Hindu-Arabic numerals？How to invent Hindu-Arabic numerals？How can we develop transformative tools for thought？2020-10-18Journal
How should you respond to this request? From our modern vantage point we know a vastly better system of numerals is possible, the Hindu-Arabic numerals. Hindu-Arabic numerals were, in fact, a great leap in the history of tools for thought. Could you, as a designer, have made that leap? What creative steps would be needed to invent Hindu-Arabic numerals, starting from the Roman numerals? Is there a creative practice in which such steps would be likely to occur?
To be clear: this is a somewhat fanciful thought experiment. Many of the ideas needed to get to Hindu-Arabic numerals were, in fact, known earlier to the Babylonians, to the Greeks, and in other cultures. They were also inchoate in the abacus and similar devices. And so we're not asking a literal historical question. Rather, it's a question meant to stimulate thought: what design process could take you from Roman numerals to Hindu-Arabic numerals?