Is it is or is it ain't - Leibniz and I Ching

There was a discussion here about the value of a liberal arts education vs a narrow technical one.

According to this article the mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is said to have invented the binary number system based on reading the 5000 year old I Ching, also known as the Book of Changes.

“Is it is or is it ain’t” (one or zero) comes from the Alan Watts video at the linked article.


And all these operations are so easy that there would never be any need to guess or try out anything, as has to be done in ordinary division. There would no longer be any need to learn anything by heart, as has to be done in ordinary reckoning, where one has to know, for example, that 6 and 7 taken together make 13, and that 5 multiplied by 3 gives 15, in accordance with the Table of one times one is one, which is called Pythagorean.1 But here, all of that is found and proved from the source, as is clear in the preceding examples under the signs and .
However I am not in any way recommending this way of counting in order to introduce it in place of the ordinary practice of counting by ten. For, aside from the fact that we are accustomed to this, we have no need to learn what we have already learned by heart. The practice of counting by ten is shorter and the numbers not as long. And if we were accustomed to proceed by twelves or sixteens, there would be even more of an advantage.

There are only 10 types of people in the world. Those that understand binary and those that don’t.


Of course even with easy operations doing arithmetic in binary would be unbearably tedious for humans. Imagine working with numbers to four decimal places? That would be ten bits just for the fractional part.


Yes, it would get tedious, you’d have to invent some device to do it for you. Some sort of device that could follow a few very simple rules, many times.

1 Like

You could of course build that device with ten fingers to count on, and it’s been done. But two-state devices are so much easier.

I see Leibniz invented a step reckoner in 1672.

image image

The step reckoner (or stepped reckoner ) was a digital mechanical calculator invented by the German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz around 1672 and completed in 1694.[1] The name comes from the translation of the German term for its operating mechanism, Staffelwalze , meaning ‘stepped drum’. It was the first calculator that could perform all four arithmetic operations.[2]


I used the Curta ‘pepper mill’ around 1960, a descendant of Leibniz’s stepped reckoner.
It was much more precise than the then used slide rule >>>


Curiously, the Curta calculators cost about the same now (in nominal dollars, not constant ones) as they did new.

In the name of humanity…why is this a tread in a maritime forum? Maybe we should discuss computing sight reductions using only Roman numerals?

When did the geeks take over here?






Nautical .

  1. an open cask of drinking water.
  2. a drinking fountain for use by the crew of a vessel.

Informal . rumor or gossip.

1 Like

1910 or there abouts.




Let’s try to keep the geekery here to a minimum…huh?

Maybe instead of reading threads that don’t interest you, you could read a book.


Prolly around the same time as cranky pissed off old dudes started ranting.


Obviously not practical, Roman Numerals don’t have a zero, the system has an “is” but it doesn’t have an “ain’t”. Being and nothingness, got to have both.

1 Like

This is a pretty good read on the topic of nothingness.