Math Lesson #i: Imaginary Numbers

Pi (Pie) and I (Me or i)I want to start off this post by saying: don’t worry.  This won’t be a math intensive post.  You don’t need to be good at math to find this post funny. 5832×12349=3.4290×10-72/2. (That was a math joke.  You need to be good at math to find that joke funny).

You see, I had a pretty neutral relationship with math up until this point in my life.  Math would beat me up in school (read: bad grades) and I would retaliate by feeding my Math Book, page by page, to a squirrel in my backyard (this is neutral because the damage we do each other balances out to 0).

However, math has gone beyond the point of no return.  Now I am expected to learn that there are imaginary numbers.  Right.  And I got an imaginary ‘A’ on my last test.

But I’m not kidding you.  This is not some absurd joke.  This is serious stuff.

And yet, it seems unrealistic and laughable.  How do you think the class would react if your English teacher started talking about imaginary letters? What if you had to spell words with imaginary letters?

Don’t just limit that analogy to English-what about history or science? “Today, class, we will examine the imaginary war of 1901. Who knows who the imaginary winner was? How many imaginary people died?” It sounds like a joke, after all.

Yet in math, imaginary numbers are not something to be taken lightly.  Neither is my imaginary friend, Tom, but that’s another story.  (No, Tom, I’m not writing about you.  Go back to doing my math homework. Hey, maybe Tom’s the reason I get such bad grades in math).

Apparently, there is this imaginary number i, which is the square root of -1.  The number one real-world application of i is entertainment value, I believe.

I heard you can go to these mathematician conventions and you might overhear a conversation such as: “Ha! They’re still teaching that imaginary number April Fools joke in schools! Maybe we shouldn’t have told ‘em it was a joke by now!” “No way, Myrtle [most mathematicians have names such as Snodgrass, Myrtle, or Dexterson].  It’s hilarious! Without that, where would the fun be in being a mathematician? I can’t wait for April this year: I’m thinking something like ‘day-sensitive numbers: you can only use them on Wednesdays.’”

Really, though, and I ask this question (mmph!) with a straight fac-ha ha ha mmph!-e: has anybody seen Tom? Oh, no, sorry, I think he went to the bathroom.  I meant to ask: is it necessary to learn about imaginary numbers?

I guess, from a political viewpoint, it is quite beneficial.  “Our unemployment rate is a ridiculously high number-but no need to worry about that; it’s a ridiculously high imaginary number!” Boom! There goes our deficit.  Huh, I would have though trillions of dollars would have made a louder noise in the shift from real to imaginary.

It could even be beneficial for your average Joe (who lives on main street, not Wall Street.  He had to move out of Wall Street because the protesters got too thick).  Minimum wage is still only about eight real dollars an hour, but you can also earn up to 20 imaginary dollars-all you need to do is believe in them.  If you’re lucky, your bank will also believe in them.

Before I get too carried away with these imaginary analogies, though, I just wanted to say: don’t drink and drive.  Unless it was an imaginary drink, in which case, you are not sane enough to be on the road anyway.

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