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Did the Polynesians invent binary system?

New York, Dec 17: It's time to unlearn what the world thought was a European discovery.

The 18th century German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz cannot any more be called the inventor of binary arithmetic, used by most digital devices, including our mobile phones, a new study says.

The study, by psychologists Andrea Bender and Sieghard Beller of the University of Bergen in Norway, the findings of which appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that indigenous people of a tiny Pacific island, Mangareva in French Polynesia, used a kind of binary system 300 years before Leibniz made the advantages of the base-2 system popular in the 18th century.

In what is seen as an affirmation of "the primacy of cultural factors underlying the invention of number systems", the new study, after analysing historical records of Mangarevan culture and language, suggested that the language used by the natives of the island contained words that clearly showed that they were well aware of simple binary calculation.

The discovery, made by analysing historical records of the now almost wholly assimilated Mangarevan culture and language suggests that some of the advantages of the binary system adduced by Leibniz might create a cognitive motivation for this system to arise spontaneously, even in a society without advanced science and technology.

Before Mangarevans came in contact with Europeans in the 18th century, the stratified society of the island "survived mostly on seafood and root crops, and needed a number system to quantify large transactions in trade and in tributes made to chieftains".

The findings of the study appeared in the science journal Nature.

Update: 17-December-2013


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