Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Imaginary Numbers

Those of you who have been with me for a longer time and know a bit more of my background will recall that I long ago* entered the ivied gates of Penn State University with a goal of graduating as a chemical engineer. Four years later - and much to my father's consternation - I graduated with a degree in Linguistics. I had, sadly, crashed on the rocks of differential and integral calculus, which led me to seek a different field of endeavor.

One of the concepts of higher mathematics with which I had serious difficulties is one which - oddly enough - applies today. That would be the concept of imaginary numbers ... known today by the allegedly more accurate term complex numbers. An imaginary number is a number that can be written as a real number multiplied by the imaginary unit i, which is defined by its property i2 = −1. Graphically represented ...

I had no idea about how imaginary numbers could be actually useful until my co-worker Jason** yesterday mentioned in casual conversation that there might be a provable relationship between such numbers and Congressional budget negotiations***.

Think about it.

Nobody cares about facts any more, particularly on the extreme Republican right, and numbers so vast that Real People can't comprehend them are easy to toss about with careless abandon.

I, for instance, find myself befuddled when the balance in my checkbook reaches a total in five figures****, and am utterly lost when unimaginably vast numbers (such as billions and trillions) are bandied about by cluelessly bloviating legislators+ as if they were chump change.

I think we need to just throw up our hands and admit that the federal budget ... and, indeed, all economic data, should be expressed and discussed in terms of imaginary numbers. For instance, the National Debt Clock reported this morning that the national debt at that moment (shortly before 8AM GMT) was $16,755,483,118,554.64. Suppose we express it as an imaginary number ... say, $16.7i. The Gross National Product in the United States was $15893.90 billion in the second quarter of 2013, a figure perhaps more comprehensible as $15.9i. These are nice, simple, numbers, easily understandable by the most undereducated right-wing zealot or left-wing idealist.

Imaginary numbers ... a useful concept. Who knew? After all, Congress needs all the help it can get.

Have a good day, even if you have to imagine it. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Shortly after that meteor killed off the dinosaurs, which was an exciting time, I can tell you.

** A fellow considerably smarter than I.

*** Otherwise known as uninformed and politically-charged blame-trading matches.

**** Two on the right side of the decimal, three on the left.

+ That would be all of them.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

I love the cartoons! The numbers that Congress deals with are definitely not rational numbers.

Mike said...

You've reminded me I haven't had pi in awhile.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

This purs those imaginary numbers to good use!