Imaginary numbers

“A mortal, corporeal, or finite conception of God cannot embrace the glories of limitless, incorporeal Life and Love.”
— Mary Baker Eddy

As I’ve mentioned before, I am utterly thrilled by the concept of imaginary numbers. An imaginary number is defined as the square root of negative one, which is an impossibility, because any number squared has to be positive.

During algebra class a couple of weeks ago, I caught myself literally choking back tears of joy over the fact that such a thing could exist. I realize this makes me the biggest geek in three counties, but really: How could any thinker fail to be delighted by the existence of something that can’t exist? The mind reels. 

More wonderful was my instructor’s explanation. He told how imaginary numbers got their name: The word “imaginary” was a derisive term used to ridicule the theoretical mathematicians who had come up with the concept. The name stuck — a circumstance my instructor found unfortunate. An imaginary number, he explained, is just as real as any other number; the problem is that we simply haven’t figured out a practical application for it.

His explanation delighted me almost as much as the concept itself. I couldn’t put my finger on why I liked it so much until a few days later, when it came to me that imaginary numbers are perfect expressions of God, who is sometimes mistaken for (or derisively — and inaccurately — described as) a figment of someone’s imagination simply because our limited human perception hasn’t yet expanded sufficiently to grasp the nature of infinity.

Like God, an imaginary number is incorporeal. We can’t see it, touch it, or offer tangible proof of its existence. Matter can’t define it. Yet when we use it correctly in a problem, it always leads us to the right answer.

Isn’t it wonderful to think of such a thing?

Emily

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3 Responses to Imaginary numbers

  1. BobInTulsa says:

    Hi Emily, Don’t know if you saw my comment in your “Happy” post from Jan 14. In case you did not:
    For info on Michael’s factual observation, do a Google on: “university of toronto e to the i pi” and select “Question Corner.” (Should be the first hit.)
    Something to print and then ponder in the ball chair.

  2. I think I’ll come back to that when I take trig next semester….

  3. Sara says:

    This is exactly how I feel about god. I love the debate of faith. And never fear the questions. (Only I have to say it’s not really fun debating with the angry + narrow minded.) But if it is true or right or whatever you want to call IS, no amount of prodding and prying and thinking can make it not, yes?

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