The senary numeral system (also known as base-6, heximal, or seximal) has six as its base. It has been adopted independently by a small number of cultures. Like decimal, it is a semiprime, though being the product of the only two consecutive numbers that are both prime (2 and 3) it has a high degree of mathematical properties for its size. As six is a superior highly composite number, many of the arguments made in favor of the duodecimal system also apply to base-6.
Senary may be considered interesting in the study of prime numbers, since all primes other than 2 and 3, when expressed in senary, have 1 or 5 as the final digit. In senary the prime numbers are written
- 2, 3, 5, 11, 15, 21, 25, 31, 35, 45, 51, 101, 105, 111, 115, 125, 135, 141, 151, 155, 201, 211, 215, 225, 241, 245, 251, 255, 301, 305, 331, 335, 345, 351, 405, 411, 421, 431, 435, 445, 455, 501, 515, 521, 525, 531, 551, ... (sequence A004680 in the OEIS)
That is, for every prime number p greater than 3, one has the modular arithmetic relations that either p ≡ 1 or 5 (mod 6) (that is, 6 divides either p − 1 or p − 5); the final digit is a 1 or a 5. This is proved by contradiction. For any integer n:
- If n ≡ 0 (mod 6), 6 | n
- If n ≡ 2 (mod 6), 2 | n
- If n ≡ 3 (mod 6), 3 | n
- If n ≡ 4 (mod 6), 2 | n
Additionally, since the smallest four primes (2, 3, 5, 7) are either divisors or neighbors of 6, senary has simple divisibility tests for many numbers.
Furthermore, all even perfect numbers besides 6 have 44 as the final two digits when expressed in senary, which is proven by the fact that every even perfect number is of the form 2p−1(2p−1), where 2p−1 is prime.
Senary is also the largest number base r that has no totatives other than 1 and r − 1, making its multiplication table highly regular for its size, minimizing the amount of effort required to memorize its table. This property maximizes the probability that the result of an integer multiplication will end in zero, given that neither of its factors do.
Prime factors of the base: 2, 5
Prime factors of one below the base: 3
Prime factors of one above the base: 11
Prime factors of the base: 2, 3
Prime factors of one below the base: 5
Prime factors of one above the base: 11
of the denominator
|Positional representation||Positional representation||Prime factors
of the denominator
|1/3||3||0.3333... = 0.3||0.2||3||1/3|
|1/5||5||0.2||0.1111... = 0.1||5||1/5|
|1/6||2, 3||0.16||0.1||2, 3||1/10|
|1/10||2, 5||0.1||0.03||2, 5||1/14|
|1/12||2, 3||0.083||0.03||2, 3||1/20|
|1/14||2, 7||0.0714285||0.023||2, 11||1/22|
|1/15||3, 5||0.06||0.02||3, 5||1/23|
|1/18||2, 3||0.05||0.02||2, 3||1/30|
|1/20||2, 5||0.05||0.014||2, 5||1/32|
|1/21||3, 7||0.047619||0.014||3, 11||1/33|
|1/22||2, 11||0.045||0.01345242103||2, 15||1/34|
|1/24||2, 3||0.0416||0.013||2, 3||1/40|
|1/26||2, 13||0.0384615||0.0121502434053||2, 21||1/42|
|1/28||2, 7||0.03571428||0.0114||2, 11||1/44|
|1/30||2, 3, 5||0.03||0.01||2, 3, 5||1/50|
|1/33||3, 11||0.03||0.01031345242||3, 15||1/53|
|1/34||2, 17||0.02941176470588235||0.01020412245351433||2, 25||1/54|
|1/35||5, 7||0.0285714||0.01||5, 11||1/55|
|1/36||2, 3||0.027||0.01||2, 3||1/100|
Each regular human hand may be said to have six unambiguous positions; a fist, one finger (or thumb) extended, two, three, four and then all five extended.
If the right hand is used to represent a unit, and the left to represent the 'sixes', it becomes possible for one person to represent the values from zero to 55senary (35decimal) with their fingers, rather than the usual ten obtained in standard finger counting. e.g. if three fingers are extended on the left hand and four on the right, 34senary is represented. This is equivalent to 3 × 6 + 4 which is 22decimal.
Additionally, this method is the least abstract way to count using two hands that reflects the concept of positional notation, as the movement from one position to the next is done by switching from one hand to another. While most developed cultures count by fingers up to 5 in very similar ways, beyond 5 non-Western cultures deviate from Western methods, such as with Chinese number gestures. As senary finger counting also deviates only beyond 5, this counting method rivals the simplicity of traditional counting methods, a fact which may have implications for the teaching of positional notation to young students.
Which hand is used for the 'sixes' and which the units is down to preference on the part of the counter, however when viewed from the counter's perspective, using the left hand as the most significant digit correlates with the written representation of the same senary number. Flipping the 'sixes' hand around to its backside may help to further disambiguate which hand represents the 'sixes' and which represents the units. The downside to senary counting, however, is that without prior agreement two parties would be unable to utilize this system, being unsure which hand represents sixes and which hand represents ones, whereas decimal-based counting (with numbers beyond 5 being expressed by an open palm and additional fingers) being essentially a unary system only requires the other party to count the number of extended fingers.
In NCAA basketball, the players' uniform numbers are restricted to be senary numbers of at most two digits, so that the referees can signal which player committed an infraction by using this finger-counting system.
More abstract finger counting systems, such as chisanbop or finger binary, allow counting to 99, 1,023, or even higher depending on the method (though not necessarily senary in nature). The English monk and historian Bede, described in the first chapter of his work De temporum ratione, (725), titled "Tractatus de computo, vel loquela per gestum digitorum," a system which allowed counting up to 9,999 on two hands.
Despite the rarity of cultures that group large quantities by 6, a review of the development of numeral systems suggests a threshold of numerosity at 6 (possibly being conceptualized as "whole", "fist", or "beyond five fingers"), with 1–6 often being pure forms, and numerals thereafter being constructed or borrowed.
Another example from Papua New Guinea are the Morehead-Maro languages. In these languages, counting is connected to ritualized yam-counting. These languages count from a base six, employing words for the powers of six; running up to 66 for some of the languages. One example is Kómnzo with the following numerals: nimbo (61), féta (62), tarumba (63), ntamno (64), wärämäkä (65), wi (66).
Proto-Uralic has also been suspected to have had senary numerals, with a numeral for 7 being borrowed later, though evidence for constructing larger numerals (8 and 9) subtractively from ten suggests that this may not be so.
Base 36 as senary compression
For some purposes, base 6 might be too small a base for convenience. This can be worked around by using its square, base 36 (hexatrigesimal), as then conversion is facilitated by simply making the following replacements:
Thus, the base-36 number WIKIPEDIA36 is equal to the senary number 5230323041222130146. In decimal, it is 91,730,738,691,298.
The choice of 36 as a radix is convenient in that the digits can be represented using the Arabic numerals 0–9 and the Latin letters A–Z: this choice is the basis of the base36 encoding scheme. The compression effect of 36 being the square of 6 causes a lot of patterns and representations to be shorter in base 36:
1/910 = 0.046 = 0.436
1/1610 = 0.02136 = 0.2936
1/510 = 0.16 = 0.736
1/710 = 0.056 = 0.536
Related number systems
- Schonbrun, Zach (March 31, 2015), "Crunching the Numbers: College Basketball Players Can't Wear 6, 7, 8 or 9", The New York Times, archived from the original on February 3, 2016.
- Bloom, Jonathan M. (2001). "Hand sums: The ancient art of counting with your fingers". Yale University Press. Archived from the original on August 13, 2011. Retrieved May 12, 2012.
- "Dactylonomy". Laputan Logic. 16 November 2006. Archived from the original on 23 March 2012. Retrieved May 12, 2012.
- Blevins, Juliette (3 May 2018). "Origins of Northern Costanoan ʃak:en 'six':A Reconsideration of Senary Counting in Utian". International Journal of American Linguistics. 71 (1): 87–101. doi:10.1086/430579. JSTOR 10.1086/430579.
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-04-06. Retrieved 2014-08-27.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Owens, Kay (2001), "The Work of Glendon Lean on the Counting Systems of Papua New Guinea and Oceania", Mathematics Education Research Journal, 13 (1): 47–71, doi:10.1007/BF03217098, archived from the original on 2015-09-26