The Abacus  

The Chinese Abacus. The abacus was first mentioned (possibly improved upon, but not invented) by the mathematician Xu Yueh (徐岳) at the end of Eastern Han Dynasty (25220 A.D). The abacus is a tool for calculating numbers, and was widely used in ancient times up to the invention of the modern mechanical and electronic calculators. The abacus is similar to the modern calculator. It has a rectanglular wooden frame with beads in columns (nowadays you also can find abacus made with plastic or other materials rather than wood). There is a cross rod to divide beads into two parts, above the rod each bead represents quantities of five, while under the rod each bead represents quantities of one. The basic operations for which the abacus is helpful include arithmetic operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The computational methods using an abacus are called abacus calculations. Some people transform the abacus calculation operation’s principles for mental arithmetic (the mental abacus methods). The mental abacus method rests upon a principle of visual imagination, as the mind recalls an abacus image and manipulates visual memory as imagined beads are moved around in the fantasized abacus. This is an interesting example of visual thinking (which is usually intuitive) performing abstract analytical thinking (mathematics). It is interesting to note that calculating prodigies often report that visual and intuitive methods lie behind their astonishing mathematical abilites, perhaps corresponding in some way to the mental abacus methods.


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