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印度的“虚无”概念

更新时间:2018-9-4 20:28:34 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

India's impressive concept about nothing
印度的“虚无”概念

In Gwalior, a congested city in the centre of the India, an 8th-Century fort rises with medieval swagger on a plateau in the town’s heart. Gwalior Fort is one of India’s largest forts; but look among the soaring cupola-topped towers, intricate carvings and colourful frescoes and you’ll find a small, 9th-Century temple carved into its solid rock face.

瓜里尔(Gwalior)是印度中部一个人口稠密的城市。在市中心的高岗上,一座公元8世纪建造的堡垒拔地而起,其规模在印度名列前茅,这就是中世纪风格的瓜里尔堡垒。目光穿过高耸的圆顶塔尖、繁复的雕刻、缤纷的壁画,你会发现一座公元9世纪的小寺庙,从那坚硬的岩石中雕琢而出。

Chaturbhuj Temple is much like many other ancient temples in India – except that this is ground zero for zero. It’s famous for being the oldest example of zero as a written digit: carved into the temple wall is a 9th-Century inscription that includes the clearly visible number ‘270’.

查图胡杰寺(Chaturbhuj Temple)与印度其他古寺差不多,不过有一点,这里是数字"零"的起点。在寺庙墙壁上雕刻的铭文中,有一个清晰可见的数字——"270"。这座寺庙因此闻名,这是世上已发现的、最为古老的书写数字"零"。

The invention of the zero was a hugely significant mathematical development, one that is fundamental to calculus, which made physics, engineering and much of modern technology possible. But what was it about Indian culture that gave rise to this creation that’s so important to modern India – and the modern world?

数字零的发明是数学发展史上非常重要的一环,奠定了微积分的基础,成就了物理学、工程学和许多现代技术。不过印度文明是如何创造出这项对现代印度,乃至现代世界都至关重要的发明呢?

Nothing from nothing

从虚无中来

I recalled a TED talk by renowned Indian mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik in which he tells a story about Alexander the Great’s visit to India. The world conqueror apparently met what he called a ‘gymnosophist’ – a naked, wise man, possibly a yogi – sitting on a rock and staring at the sky, and asked him, “What are you doing?”.

我想起印度著名神话学家帕塔纳伊克(Devdutt Pattanaik)有一次作TED演讲,讲述了亚历山大大帝到访印度的故事。这位世界征服者显然遇到了他所谓的"修行者",一个赤裸的智者,可能还是一名瑜伽行者,正坐在岩石上盯着天空。亚历山大大帝问他:"你在做什么?"

“I’m experiencing nothingness. What are you doing?” the gymnosophist replied.

"我在感知虚无。你在做什么?" 修行者回应。

“I am conquering the world,” Alexander said.

"我在征服世界。"亚历山大说。

They both laughed; each one thought the other was a fool, and was wasting their life.

他们都笑了,彼此觉得对方是荒废生命的傻瓜。

This story takes place long before that first zero was inscribed on Gwalior’s temple wall, but the gymnosophist meditating on nothingness does in fact have a connection to the digit’s invention. Indians, unlike people from many other cultures, were already philosophically open to the concept of nothingness. Systems such as yoga were developed to encourage meditation and the emptying of the mind, while both the Buddhist and Hindu religions embrace the concept of nothingness as part of their teachings.

早在瓜里尔寺庙墙上铭刻那个最早的"零"之前,就有了这个故事。不过修行者对虚无的冥想也的确和这个数字的发明有关。与其他文化背景的人不同,印度人早就在哲学上对虚无这个概念敞开思想。瑜伽等活动的发明也是为了激励冥想,并清空净化心灵。而且,佛教和印度教都将虚无这个概念作为其教义的一部分。

Dr Peter Gobets, secretary of the Netherlands-based ZerOrigIndia Foundation, or the Zero Project, which researches the origins of the zero digit, noted in an article on the invention of zero that “Mathematical zero (‘shunya’ in Sanskrit) may have arisen from the contemporaneous philosophy of emptiness or Shunyata [a Buddhist doctrine of emptying one’s mind from impressions and thoughts]”.

ZerOrigIndia基金会又称"零计划",总部位于荷兰,其秘书长戈贝兹(Peter Gobets)博士研究了数字零的起源。他在一篇关于"零"的发明的文章中指出:"数字零(梵语中读作'shunya')可能起源于同时代的虚无哲学,又称Shunyata(一种让观感和思想从人的想法中解脱出来的佛教教义)"。

In addition, the nation has long had a fascination with sophisticated mathematics. Early Indian mathematicians were obsessed with giant numbers, counting well into the trillions when the Ancient Greeks stopped at about 10,000. They even had different types of infinity.

此外,印度这个国家很早以前就开始对复杂的数学着迷。早期的印度数学家沉迷于庞大的数字,当古希腊人只能计算到一万时,印度人已经达到数万亿。可以说两地对无穷大的概念完全不同。

Hindu astronomers and mathematicians Aryabhata, born in 476, and Brahmagupta, born in 598, are both popularly believed to have been the first to formally describe the modern decimal place value system and present rules governing the use of the zero symbol. Although Gwalior has long been thought to be the site of the first occurrence of the zero written as a circle, an ancient Indian scroll called the Bhakshali manuscript, which shows a placeholder dot symbol, was recently carbon dated to the 3rd or 4rd Centuries. It is now considered the earliest recorded occurrence of zero.

印度天文学家和数学家阿耶波多(Aryabhata)出生于公元476年,婆罗门吉多(Brahmagupta)出生于公元598年,他们都被认为是最早正式描述现代小数位值系统的人,并最早提出零符号使用规则。长期以来,人们一直以为瓜里尔是第一个把零写作圆圈的地方,不过在一种称为巴赫沙利(Bhakshali)手稿的古老印度卷轴中,出现了一个占位符点标记。最近对其进行碳素测定年代,发现可追溯到公元三、四世纪。现在,这个符号被认为是最早有历史记录的零。

Marcus du Sautoy, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, is quoted on the university’s website as saying, “[T]he creation of zero as a number in its own right, which evolved from the placeholder dot symbol found in the Bakhshali manuscript, was one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of mathematics. We now know that it was as early as the 3rd Century that mathematicians in India planted the seed of the idea that would later become so fundamental to the modern world. The findings show how vibrant mathematics have been in the Indian sub-continent for centuries.”

牛津大学网站引用了本校数学教授杜索奥(Marcus du Sautoy)的一段话:"零作为一个独立的数字,从巴赫沙利手稿中的占位符点标记演变而来,可谓是数学史上最伟大的突破之一。现在知道早在公元3世纪,印度数学家就已经埋下这个影响现代世界的伏笔。研究结果显示,几个世纪来印度次大陆的数学是如此充满活力。"

But equally interesting are the reasons as to why the zero wasn’t developed elsewhere. Although the Mayans and Babylonians (and many other civilisations) may have had a concept of zero as a placeholder, the idea is not known to have developed as a number to be used in mathematics anywhere else. One theory is that some cultures had a negative view of the concept of nothingness. For example, there was a time in the early days of Christianity in Europe when religious leaders banned the use of zero because they felt that, since God is in everything, a symbol that represented nothing must be satanic.

但同样有趣的是,为什么零没能在别的地方繁衍出来。一种理论认为,一些文化对虚无概念持负面看法。比如欧洲基督教早期曾有一段时间,宗教领袖禁用了零,因为他们觉得,上帝代表万物一切,那么代表虚无的符号一定属于魔鬼。

So maybe there is something to these connected ideas, to the spiritual wisdom of India that gave rise to meditation and the invention of zero. There’s another connected idea, too, which has had a profound effect on the modern world.

所以也许印度就是有一种能耐,产生关于零的相关创意,创造出冥想和数字零的印度精神智慧。除此之外,还有一个相关的创意同样对现代世界产生了深远的影响。

The concept of zero is essential to a system that’s at the basis of modern computing: binary numbers.

Silicon Valley, India-style

印度风格的硅谷

As you drive out of Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport towards the city centre, about 37km away, you’re greeted by several large signs stuck somewhat incongruously into the ground of rural India. They proclaim the names of the new gods of modern India, the companies at the forefront of the digital revolution. Intel, Google, Apple, Oracle, Microsoft, Adobe, Samsung and Amazon all have offices in Bengaluru, along with home-grown heroes like Infosys and Wipro.

当你开车驶出印度班加罗尔(Bengaluru)的坎皮高达国际机场(Kempegowda International Airport),前往市中心,在大约37公里外就能看到一些大型标志,在印度农村显得有点突兀。这些标志宣告了现代印度的新神,一些处于数字革命尖端的公司。英特尔、谷歌、苹果、甲骨文、微软、Adobe、三星、亚马逊都在班加罗尔设有办事处,此外还有印度本土的大公司Infosys和Wipro。

The sleek airport and shiny signs are the first indicators of transformation. Before the IT industry came to Bengaluru, it was called Bangalore, and was known as Garden City. Now it’s Bengaluru and is known as the Silicon Valley of India.

整洁光亮的机场、全新闪耀的标志,为城市转型打起了第一盏信号灯。 在信息技术行业来到班加罗尔之前,这里被称为花园城市班加罗尔。现如今,成了印度硅谷班加罗尔。

What started in the 1970s as a single industrial park, Electronic City, to expand the electronics industry in the state of Karnataka, has paved the way for today’s boomtown. The city now boasts many IT parks and is home to nearly 40% of the country’s IT industry. Bengaluru may even overtake Silicon Valley, with predictions suggesting it could become the single largest IT hub on Earth by 2020, with two million IT professionals, six million indirect IT jobs and $80 billion in IT exports.

上世纪70年代起,为了扩大卡纳塔克邦(Karnataka)的电子产业,班加罗尔一直是一个单一的工业园区、电子城,这也为今天的兴起铺平了道路。 该市现在拥有相当多的信息技术园区,是该国近四成信息技术行业的所在地。据预测,到2020年,班加罗尔可能超过硅谷,成为全球最大的信息技术中心,拥有200万信息技术人才、600万间接工作岗位,和800亿美元的信息技术出口。

It’s binary numbers that make this possible.

Modern-day digital computers operate on the principle of two possible states, ‘on’ and ‘off’. The ‘on’ state is assigned the value ‘1’, while the ‘off’ state is assigned the value ‘0’. Or, zero.

现代数字计算机的工作原理基于两种状态——"开"和"关"。"开"状态赋值为'1',而"关"状态赋值为'0',也就是零。

“It is perhaps not surprising that binary number system was also invented in India, in the 2nd or 3rd Centuries BCE by a musicologist named Pingala, although this use was for prosody,” said Subhash Kak, historian of science and astronomy and Regents Professor at Oklahoma State University.

俄克拉荷马州立大学董事兼科学和天文学历史学家卡克(Subhash Kak)教授说,"二进制数系统也是在印度发明的,这也没什么好奇怪的。公元前二、三世纪,有一位叫平加拉(Pingala)的音乐学家发明了二进制,不过当时是用于韵律。"

Lalbagh Botanical Gardens is at the cultural and geographical centre of Bengaluru, a symbol of ‘old Bangalore’ and the first must-see place locals recommend. Originally designed in 1760 with many later additions, it has a distinctly Victorian feel to it, featuring 150 types of roses and a glass pavilion made in the late 1800s and patterned after London’s famous Crystal Palace. Lalbagh is a treasure in a city that is one of the fastest growing in Asia, and a charming reminder of the days when Bengaluru was a favourite spot for retired British civil servants during the days of the Raj. They built quaint cottages with large gardens and quietly whiled away their retirement years enjoying the temperate climate and ideal growing conditions of the sleepy town.

拉巴克植物园(Lalbagh Botanical Gardens)是班加罗尔的文化地理中心,是"老班加罗尔"的象征,也是当地人首选的必看景点。植物园最初设计于1760年,后来经过改造,呈典型的维多利亚风格,园内有150种玫瑰,19世纪后期还仿造伦敦著名的水晶宫建造了一座玻璃馆。拉巴克是亚洲发展最快的城市中的瑰宝,也是对旧日迷醉的一段回忆,当时的班加罗尔是殖民时期英国公务员退休后最喜欢的地方。他们建造了配有大花园的古雅小屋,在温和的气候和清闲的小镇上,静静地消磨自己的退休时光。

But old Bangalore is disappearing beneath much-needed infrastructure construction and the city’s ambitious expansion. In the 10 years from 1991 to 2001, Bengaluru grew a whopping 38%, and it’s now the 18th most populous city in the world with 12 million people. The traffic is arguably the worst in India, as infrastructure planning has not kept pace with the development of the many IT parks and the never-ending influx of IT workers.

然而,随着城市雄心勃勃地扩张,基础设施不足,老班加罗尔正在消失。从1991到2001年这10年间,班加罗尔的人口增长了38%,现在是全球排行第18位的人口大市,拥有1200万人口。各种信息技术园区不断发展,信息技术工作者不停涌入,基础设施始终跟不上步伐,因此毫无疑问,班加罗尔的交通是全印度最糟糕的。

The chaos and congestion that’s the hallmark of India’s metropolises reaches something of a zenith in Bengaluru, where it can take an hour to drive 3km. Nevertheless, the inhabitants carry bravely on, living as close to the high-tech campuses as possible – and even on them in some cases – creating start-ups, designing software and supplying the world with IT products and know-how. It’s hard to imagine the number of computer chips and bits and programs that have come from Bengaluru, the number of computers and devices built and powered. And even more impossible to imagine is the number of binary-system zeroes it has all taken.

印度大都市的标志就是混乱拥堵,而严重程度在班加罗尔达到了顶峰,在那里开车一小时,可能只能前进3公里。尽管如此,居民们仍然无畏地坚持下去,觉得住得离高科技公司越近越好,甚至直接住在里面。人们创业、设计软件、为世界提供信息技术产品和技术。很难想象有多少计算机芯片、二进制信息和程序来自班加罗尔,有多少电脑和设备在这里生产和使用。至于这里输入输出过多少二进制的零,更是无法想象。

And yet all of this started in India… from nothing.

而这所有的一切,都始于印度,始于虚无。

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