Saturday, March 12, 2011


We all love nursery rhymes. I do remember, as if it was yesterday, the rhyme about counting ten green bottles on the wall, subtracting them by one until all the bottles on the wall have fallen down. I think it is a skill children learn about subtracting and how to count backwards.

Counting has always been with man since he knew how to acquire things. When one discovers that he has started accumulating material objects beyond the singletons, then he develops the innate ability to be able to remember how many they are, if one is lost, which it was and plan towards acquiring more. That is counting. While counting, one also develops the innate ability of naming the things counted so that he can group them together for remembrance and memorization. Therefore, a man possessing goats, yams and lands, names these things and counts each of them so he can distinguish all of them while being able to group them as his properties.
The simplest way of counting, which we all learn even from infancy, is to count by watching others. Then we express this ability with our lips. This is what some call recitation. From recitation, we decided to develop the number system so that counting can be done easily and quickly. Numbering can be done through tally or writing out numerals depending on whatever system one desires.

If you visit the market, you will be astonished that counting is a skill traders practice and have learnt to master. They have to know the totals of what they possess. They count as if by rote, even while sleeping, while walking and eating. They count the cash they have, the goods in the store, the debt they owe, the number of times the relative or girlfriend who comes to solicit for funds come every month. They have learnt to count so well that this skill has become a personal sin.

I think that is why from counting, they have also learnt to calculate.
Without the ability to calculate, we wouldn’t find a meaning to what is being counted. If you are counting forwards, do you wish to do addition or multiplication? Do not forget that multiplication is addition done in groups. Some count by adding one to the things before, some in groups of five i.e in multiples of five; some can also count backwards, doing subtraction or divisions.
Calculation makes it possible that you can predict the outcome of future counting. For example, if you know you have x goods in the store and you sold y number of them, by calculation of the subtraction, you can predict the outcome of a future count of those goods taking y from x.

Calculation also helps the counter understand the outcome of past counting and design appropriate counting projects. By calculating our counting, we can derive patterns from them due to repeated counting. For example, I have found that while counting the sum of the license numbers of Nigerian plate numbers that every time the sum is a multiple of 3, I can juggle the numbers so that they can fall in ascending order. Imagine a plate number is LH855KJA, the sum of the numerals adds to eighteen (18), which is a multiple of three, so I can rearrange the numbers as 666, then take one from the leftmost number, six (6), and add to the last six to derive a number that falls in ascending order: 567. Quite some maverick practice, but it works when you find pleasure in counting and numbers.

Counting and calculation has been as old as man itself. A short history of counting involves when we counted by recitation and with the fingers. A mechanical calculation device, the abacus, was thereafter invented to aid in faster counting and calculation.

A Scottish mathematician, John Napier developed logarithms in the sixteenth century. Logarithms made it possible that multiplication and division were converted to addition and subtraction respectively, thereby making counting and calculation of numbers more easy, especially for very large numbers. William Oughtred, an English Mathematician, built upon logarithms to invent the slide rule, a mechanical calculation device, for logarithms.

Calculators which are electro-mechanical devices successfully replaced the manual devices above and eventually, they have all been usurped by the computer. The beauty and sweat of man’s efforts to count and calculate efficiently is embodied in the computer. Thanks to the computer, the absolute impossible, for example, genotyping living beings, is possible. Every single gene in the human body can now be counted and understood.

So, even if all the green bottles fall off the wall, you and I will still be counting in some other way, either through an app on a mobile device or a computer game.

Talking about games, I intend doing research on games that can aid in numerical ability in the nearest future.

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