Math

Should We Start Using The Base-12 Number System?

Excited for today's eclipse? Visit our Eclipse 2017 page to explore the science, history, and myths of the event. The Curiosity team will be viewing the eclipse alongside NASA in Carbondale, Illinois. Follow us on Facebook for live videos, trivia, and interviews today!

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.

Share the knowledge!

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

If you liked this you'll love our podcast! Check it out on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music, SoundCloud, search 'curiosity' on your favorite podcast app or add the RSS Feed URL.

Advertisement