Better by the Dozen

C. Hugh Snyder
Bridges: Mathematical Connections in Art, Music, and Science (2001)
Pages 133–138


WHY TEN? 'Tis a pity that the human body came into being with five fingers on each hand instead of six.' Scholars generally agree that early humans developed our numbering system consisting of ten digits by counting on their fingers. Most people have learned to use a system to the base ten (decimals) from an early age and have the impression that this base is somehow fundamental. Actually, choice of the base ten was purely arbitrary. Any value can be the base of a numbering system, and earlier cultures have used other bases. The binary system (base two) figures almost universally in the internal operations of digital computers. However, numbers to base two are extremely cumbersome to use manually.