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Off the Number Line: Imaginaries at Play

imaginary numbers funny math cartoon

Interviewer: 

Cute! I like how 8i is the mom. Very fitting. What are those imaginary number kids 3i and 5i playing with down there on the real number line?

Cartoonist:
They’re using the real numbers 1 and 4 as swords. I’m imagining that the mom probably also said: “Put those down! Those are real.”

Interviewer:
Is that vertical dashed line the imaginary number line?

Cartoonist:
Yes. Since i, the square root of -1, doesn’t exist on the real number line, you can represent it by having it float above 0. When you consider multiples of i (1i, 2i, 3i, etc…) it forms that vertical imaginary number line.

Interviewer:
I like how these imaginary numbers are more “life-like” than the real numbers!

Cartoonist:
Well that’s part of the message here. Even though we call them “imaginary,” they are actual numbers. Imaginary numbers aren’t any more “pretend” or “fictitious” than real numbers.

Interviewer:
Can’t wait to see what you imagine for the next Off the Number Line cartoon!

Matthew Peterson and James Huang

About the Author

Matthew Peterson, Ph.D., is Co-founder and Chief Research & Development Officer at the MIND Research Institute. James Huang is Senior Visual Designer at MIND Research Institute.

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