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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index I > Category: Imaginary Number

Imaginary Number Quotes (6 quotes)

i2 = j2 = k2 = ijk = - 1
[This representation was devised on 16th Oct 1843, and which he carved into a stone of Brougham Bridge, over the Royal Canal, Dublin. It has since worn away.]
As written on a page in his note-book, shown in William Hamilton, Mathematical Papers (1967), Vol. 3, frontispiece.
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If it is true as Whewell says, that the essence of the triumphs of Science and its progress consists in that it enables us to consider evident and necessary, views which our ancestors held to be unintelligible and were unable to comprehend, then the extension of the number concept to include the irrational, and we will at once add, the imaginary, is the greatest forward step which pure mathematics has ever taken.
In Theorie der Complexen Zahlensysteme (1867), 60. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 281. From the original German, “Wenn es wahr ist, dass, wie Whewell meint, das Wesen der Triumphe der Wissenschaft und ihres Fortschrittes darin besteht, dass wir veranlasst werden, Ansichten, welche unsere Vorfahren für unbegreiflich hielten und unfähig waren zu begreifen, für evident und nothwendig zu halten, so war die Erweiterung des Zahlenbegriffes auf das Irrationale, und wollen wir sogleich hinzufügen, das Imaginäre, der grösste Fortschritt, den die reine Mathematik jemals gemacht hat.”
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Imaginary numbers are a fine and wonderful refuge of the divine spirit almost an amphibian between being and non-being. (1702)
[Alternate translation:] The Divine Spirit found a sublime outlet in that wonder of analysis, that portent of the ideal world, that amphibian between being and not-being, which we call the imaginary root of negative unity.
Quoted in Félix Klein, Elementary Mathematics From an Advanced Standpoint: Arithmetic, Algebra, Analysis (1924), 56. Alternate translation as quoted in Tobias Dantzig, Number, the Language of Science: a Critical Survey Written for the Cultured Non-Mathematician (1930), 204
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The geometrical problems and theorems of the Greeks always refer to definite, oftentimes to rather complicated figures. Now frequently the points and lines of such a figure may assume very many different relative positions; each of these possible cases is then considered separately. On the contrary, present day mathematicians generate their figures one from another, and are accustomed to consider them subject to variation; in this manner they unite the various cases and combine them as much as possible by employing negative and imaginary magnitudes. For example, the problems which Apollonius treats in his two books De sectione rationis, are solved today by means of a single, universally applicable construction; Apollonius, on the contrary, separates it into more than eighty different cases varying only in position. Thus, as Hermann Hankel has fittingly remarked, the ancient geometry sacrifices to a seeming simplicity the true simplicity which consists in the unity of principles; it attained a trivial sensual presentability at the cost of the recognition of the relations of geometric forms in all their changes and in all the variations of their sensually presentable positions.
In 'Die Synthetische Geometrie im Altertum und in der Neuzeit', Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung (1902), 2, 346-347. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 112. The spelling of the first “Apollonius” has been corrected from “Appolonius” in the original English text. From the original German, “Die geometrischen Probleme und Sätze der Griechen beziehen sich allemal auf bestimmte, oft recht komplizierte Figuren. Nun können aber die Punkte und Linien einer solchen Figur häufig sehr verschiedene Lagen zu einander annehmen; jeder dieser möglichen Fälle wird alsdann für sich besonders erörtert. Dagegen lassen die heutigen Mathematiker ihre Figuren aus einander entstehen und sind gewohnt, sie als veränderlich zu betrachten; sie vereinigen so die speziellen Fälle und fassen sie möglichst zusammen unter Benutzung auch negativer und imaginärer Gröfsen. Das Problem z. B., welches Apollonius in seinen zwei Büchern de sectione rationis behandelt, löst man heutzutage durch eine einzige, allgemein anwendbare Konstruktion; Apollonius selber dagegen zerlegt es in mehr als 80 nur durch die Lage verschiedene Fälle. So opfert, wie Hermann Hankel treffend bemerkt, die antike Geometrie einer scheinbaren Einfachheit die wahre, in der Einheit der Prinzipien bestehende; sie erreicht eine triviale sinnliche Anschaulichkeit auf Kosten der Erkenntnis vom Zusammenhang geometrischer Gestalten in aller Wechsel und in aller Veränderlichkeit ihrer sinnlich vorstellbaren Lage.”
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Think of Adam and Eve like an imaginary number, like the square root of minus one: you can never see any concrete proof that it exists, but if you include it in your equations, you can calculate all manner of things that couldn't be imagined without it.
In The Golden Compass (1995, 2001), 372-373.
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[For imaginary numbers,] their success … has been what the French term a succès de scandale.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 87. The French phrase (success from scandal), is applied to notoriety attributed to public controversy.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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