Have you ever wondered what humans did before numbers existed? How they organized their lives, traded goods, or kept track of their treasures? What would your life be like without them?
Numbers began as simple representations of everyday things, but mathematics rapidly took on a life of its own, occupying a parallel virtual world. In Are Numbers Real?, Brian Clegg explores the way that math has become more and more detached from reality, and yet despite this is driving the development of modern physics. From devising a new counting system based on goats, through the weird and wonderful mathematics of imaginary numbers and infinity, to the debate over whether mathematics has too much influence on the direction of science, this fascinating and accessible book opens the reader’s eyes to the hidden reality of the strange yet familiar entities that are numbers.
Even the most math-phobic have nothing to fear in the latest from English science writer Clegg (Ten Billion Tomorrows): a lighthearted yet far-reaching look at the history of numbers and how we use them. From their earliest days, numbers haven't been seen as "real," but they represent real things remarkably well, helping people keep track of livestock and produce, for instance. As Clegg explains, it wasn't long before the ancient Greeks began using geometry to describe patterns such as the shape of objects and the motion of the sun overhead. Euclid's geometry described a type of elegant, perfect world that Plato had imagined centuries prior, but that didn't quite mesh with the curvilinear nature of the universe. Clegg also digs into the development of a way to represent nothing with zero, and absolutely everything with infinity. When Clegg isn't reveling in such "mathematical toys" as imaginary numbers, he's sharing stories about the calculus feud between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, Galileo's deviousness at sneaking heretical ideas past the Inquisition, and a legal wrangle over exactly what the number one means. Whether he's counting sheep or measuring warped space around black holes, Clegg offers an entertaining and accessible look at the numbers we take for granted every day.