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Good Math by Mark C. Chu-Carroll

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Blame Tradition

We use roman numerals for historic reasons. Until quite recently, scholars in western culture did most of their work in Latin. For example, Isaac Newton (1643--1727) wrote his famous monograph, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, in Latin in the seventeenth century because all scholarly work at the time was published in Latin.

Using a historic language out of tradition, it also made sense to use their traditional number notation. This has continued into the present in many places entirely out of tradition. For example, modern architects still put dates on cornerstones using roman numerals. While a modern geek like me would argue that it doesn’t make sense to use such an impractical notation, tradition is a powerful ...

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