Math

Should We Start Using The Base-12 Number System?

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What do you get when you halve the numbers 10 and 12? That's easy: 5 and 6, respectively. But what about when you divide them in thirds? 3.333 and 4. Fourths gets you 2.5 and 3. For everyday calculations -- splitting the bill or determining a store discount, for example -- 12 is much simpler to use than 10. In fact, ancient cultures used a base-12, or duodecimal, counting system rather than one based on 10, and there's a small but vocal group of people who think that a return to that system would make everyday math easier on all of us. Detractors of the base-12 system might point out the difficulty of counting to 12 by hand, since we're born with 10 fingers. But modern cultures who use the base-12 system count on their hands with no trouble at all: by using the thumb as a pointer, they count on the three segments of each finger, which adds up to 12.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. In the base-12 system, the symbols are our usual 1-9, then X (dek) for 10, Ɛ (el) for eleven, and 10 (doh) for 12. 00:42

  2. The duodecimal system would make everyday calculation easier, since 12 has more factors than 10 and is easier to divide by thirds and fourths. 03:10

  3. The cultures that use base-12 count on the segments of their fingers. 08:20

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