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Do we know how to teach the mathematics of complex numbers

Aref Hamawi, Kunskapens Hus 511 80 Kinna, Sweden

The mathematics of complex numbers is of special importance and has a great application.
Teachers and other mathematics educators should know about the deep meaning of complex
numbers and their use. Unfortunately, many pupils carry out the mathematics without
knowing what they are doing. They actually just copy the procedure rather than realizing the
way those numbers work. Accepting the idea of the complex numbers opens many
possibilities towards new concepts and making things much more fun. The most fundamental
concept that should be know about imaginary and complex numbers is that numbers in
general are not scalars any more rather they are vectors having both magnitude and direction.


The idea of complex numbers started when mathematicians dealing with quadratic equations
faced such equations that are not solvable within the vicinity of the real numbers. In other
words, those functions have curves that do not intersect the x-axis. There is no such known
number(s) that can be inserted in the equation x2 + 2x + 2 = 0 so that the answer will be zero.
This also leads to the conclusion that the equation is not factorizable. The equation also means
the following question: what are the two numbers which there sum is two there product is also
two. The lack of solution for such an equation is simply because the discreminant is negative.
By introducing the square root of a negative number then it will make possible to have a
solution or to have the curve cutting the x-axis, figure 1 below. All equations of type x2 + a
such that a > 0 must then have a solution regarded that the x-axis in the x-y plane must be
only imaginary.
y (Re)

(-i√a, 0) (i√a, o)

x (Im)

When knowing that i = √(-1) which is the fifth fundamental number in mathematics then it is
very interesting to show that upon combining all the five fundamental numbers then one gets
the most beautiful equation in mathematics;

eiπ + 1 = 0

The main reasons are the following 1. We always have to remember that such questions arose when concepts like the average or negative numbers came in. They are partly motivated by the fact that it is not paid a lot of attention towards this important issue. In many of the cases it was disappointing to see that in most of these cases they lack this basic knowledge. the product the equal sign as will as the exponent. regarding the imaginary numbers one can bring the following example. It sounds logic and natural but when saying that we get paid upon buying things from the shop then it sounds non logic and unnatural. This in turn will give the students no motivation or encouragement for the whole issue although it is of crucial importance and of great fun. And upon saying that one has – 500 SEK simply means that one is owed to the bank by 500 SEK. What we mean by saying that the average members in the Swedish family is 3. Sometimes one gets paid for thing. This equation has another interesting aspect which is it also shows all the fundamental mathematical operations i. In some if not many cases is actually goes like this especially when the shop is new and it wants to attract new customers. The answer of these questions is of course simple and convincing.20 is simply that for one hundred Swedish families we expect to have about 320 family members. In many cases I had long discussions with teachers about their way of looking to the mathematics of the complex numbers. directly or non directly. The way I and other mathematicians present the mathematics of the complex numbers may differ from some others in many ways since I (we) concentrate on their meaning and their concept rather than just carrying out the algebra in a copy process without paying attention on the content. we know that when we buy things from a shop then we have to pay for that. The above equation is called Eulers equation. The fact that these case are unreal or non logic then they are imaginary cases that can be related to imaginary numbers. teachers having that course mostly lack sufficient and basic knowledge about the use or the philosophy of the complex numbers. The only thing one concludes is that they just follow the textbook and the way it is presented without discussing the use of the world of complex numbers. by direct money or by souvenirs or even by travels somewhere upon buying just anything.e the plus. Upon introducing imaginary numbers to the pupils it is always expected to have questions like how are they looking like? Do we have examples from reality that describe those numbers and if that is the case why we do not use them in a more scale. In any of my presentations I take into consideration the following facts about imaginary and complex numbers: . students often carry out the mathematics of the complex numbers correctly and accurately but without understanding the meaning of that or for what purpose is all that. Sometimes they discuss classical examples about electrical circuits containing coils or capacitors or both but with no radical look att the meaning of having a phase between the current and the voltage. The reasons why I choose this subject to talk about are many. They just get passed with a good or an excellent grade without knowing why! 2.

We all know now that x2 + 4 can be factorized as x2 + 4 = (x – 2i)(x + 2i) . As far as we deal with complex numbers then we should think of them as vectors. Multiplying c by –i will produce another vector having the same length as c but is rotated 900 clockwise. If. they are not scalars any more. This result is clearly obtained if z and zz are vectorially (geometrically) added by completing a parallelogram. instead they have both a magnitude and a direction i . this simply means that z is a vector consisting of a real vector of 3 units directed towards the plus x-axis and another imaginary vector of 2 units directed towards the imaginary part or the y-axis. All real numbers are located along the x-axis direction and all imaginary numbers are located along the y-axis direction. numbers in general have direction. 2.e a rotation . what is –z then? From vector geometry we know that the minus of any vector is simply the same vector having the opposite direction. Having known that complex numbers are vectors will make it easier for pupils to carry out the mathematics in an understandable way. they increase or decrease the length of the vector and then they change its direction. z is added to another vector zz = 2 + 3i then the result will be a third vector which is zzz = 5 + 5i. If for example z = 3 + 2i . Upon multiplying by i3 or –i then it is as if we rotate by 900 trice anti clockwise or simply rotating by 2700 . Imaginary numbers make it possible to factorize numbers and that were not factorizable before. The operating process is therefore one of the basic concepts in modern or quantum mechanics which started by the beginning of the 19th century. If that is known. The conclusion is that the multiplication procedure is an operating process i . Upon multiplying any complex number (vector) by ni or –ni where n is an integer will therefore rotate the complex number anti clockwise or clockwise and then prolonging or contracting with a factor n. the expression x2 + 4 was not factorizable before introducing the imaginary numbers. for example. Generally. Complex numbers are therefore operators. figure 2 below. upon multiplying any vector by in implies that one has to rotate the vector clockwise or anti clockwise by 900 n. Im Re Figure 2. Addition of two complex numbers is carried out as vector addition. For example. What will happen if any number is multiplied by i.e they are vectors. Complex numbers on the other hand have a direction between the real x-axis and the imaginary y- axis.1. When multiplying any complex number by i2 which is –1 then it is as if we rotate the complex number (vector) twice by 900 each anti clockwise or simply rotating by 1800 . For example if c = a + ib is multiplied by i then we get ic= ia–b which is another vector having the same length as c but is rotated 900 counterclockwise.

3. i i . the number 6 which has only two real factors ( 2 and 3) will have more factors. . According to this fact number 2 is not a prime number since 2 = (1 – i)(1 + i) while 3 is still a prime number. This consequence directly comes from the factorizing ability mentioned before. – 2 if n is even and only divided 2 but not divided by 4 c. what do expressions like 2i . 5 = (2 – i)(2 + i) while number 7 is a prime number since it cannot be factorized. 11. unlike real numbers. Number 5 on the other hand is not a prime number since it can be factorized. If one has to follow the definition of the exponential function then 2 i would mean that 2 is multiplied by itself i times. 7. Before leaving this point it is worthy and interesting to note that the expression n2 – n + 41 is very unique in the since that when substituting n from 1 to 40 then the expression will generate prime numbers starting from 41 up till 1601 ! 4. One observes that these numbers follow a certain pattern which is when one is added to these numbers then the result is divisible by 4. the expression in + 1/in is equal to a. In order to calculate such an expression then we have to remember that a b can be written as e b lna. 23 and so on. Generally speaking. This will give that 2 i = e i ln2 . The right hand side can simply be written as = cos (ln2) + i sin (ln2) . If we follow this sequence we see that the only prime numbers left are 3. For example. This definition does not make sense. 6 = 3 x 2 = (1 – i√5)(1 + i√5) = (– 2 – i√10)(2 + i√10) = (– 3 – i√15)(3 + i√15) and so on. 19. –i can be written as i– 1 . In this aspect 143 is not a prime number while 131 is a prime number. In this case one has to redefine prime numbers in this way: P is a prime number if P +1 is divisible by 4. –ni can be written as ni-1 or as n/i. The fact that real numbers have an infinite number of factors means that all quadratic equations must have solution within the frame of real or imaginary numbers. probably the most interesting thing about complex numbers or complex functions is their interpretation and how to calculate them. The real number –3 can not be written in that way as 3–1 . actually an infinite number of factors (imaginary factors). ln (–5) sini and cosi mean? How do we calculate them and what is their interpretation? Do they mean something practical or they are just abstract or fun to calculate(1). In other words. zero if n is an odd number b. is the function of an imaginary number necessarily an imaginary number or an imaginary function? Since i is imaginary then does sini essentially mean the sin of an imaginary angle? And if so what is an imaginary angle? To answer these questions let us start with the simple exponential function 2 i . + 2 if n is even and divided by 4 5. Furthermore. the introductory of imaginary numbers breaks the old rules regarding the prime numbers. ln i.

x) = ln(–1) + lnx = ln i2 + lnx = 2 lni + lnx = 2 iπ/2 + lnx = iπ + lnx the conclusion is that the natural logarithm of a negative number is simply a vector having two components. a constant. The lnx is negative if 0 < x < 1 and as x approaches zero then lnx approaches minus infinity. a real one of length cos (ln2) and an imaginary one of length sin (ln2). Regarding the natural logarithm function of imaginary numbers the modification of the definition is essentially even there. As x goes to plus infinity then ln(-x) becomes practically equal to lnx since iπ is negligible. which is a vector having two components.e. a real one of length lnx and an imaginary one of length π. ln(-x) = ln(x). In order to calculate lni then one has to use Eulers formula(2) eiπ + 1 = 0 which can be written as eiπ = –1 when taking the natural logarithm of both sides then we get iπ = ln(–1) = ln(i2 ) = 2 lni. When x goes beyond zero then lnx goes beyond minus infinity(!) which is imaginary. Then lni can be written as iπ/2 which is a vector or an operator that rotates vectors counterclockwise by 900 and then expanding them by a factor of π/2. A vectorial sketch showing the evaluation of ln(-x) as two components. This amazing result should open a discussion about the meaning of the infinity concept and whether the plus and the minus infinity simply meet each other! Im y ln(-x) iπ Re x lnx Figure 3. What is surprising in this connection is that the natural logarithm of a negative number is now defined and can be evaluated. . This will mean that any exponential function having the form xi can be written as x i = cos (lnx) + i sin (lnx) as far as imaginary numbers are involved then the classical definition of the exponential function should be modified to have a vector aspect. To evaluate ln(-x) where x is positive then we have to write ln(-x) as ln((–1). The most amazing thing of this issue is that if x goes to plus infinity then the real part of ln(-x) which is lnx becomes much larger than the imaginary one which is iπ. We know that in the vicinity of the set of real numbers the ln of a negative number lacks a real solution. In this case iπ can be ignored and then ln(-x) is essentially consisting of a pure real component i.

Boken om tal. john Conway and Richard Guy. Capital 8 and 9. These and other results give the students a remarkable kick and encouraging attitude to learn more about the mathematics of complex numbers. The conclusion is that cosi is an enlargement factor or operator and sini is another factor that rotates vector (complex numbers) by 900 anti clockwise and then enlarging it by a factor of 1. In conclusion. The most beautiful thing in this connection is that even upon dealing with imaginary trigonometric functions it is still that the trigonometric rules do work. For example. M.Willy International Edition 2.Finally. In addition.54 and sini is another vector having a pure imaginary component of 1. Boas.17 i which is imaginary. ISBN 91-4401189-X . regarding the trigonometric functions such as the sin and the cosin we know that can be written as Cosx = ( eix + e–ix)/2 Sinx = ( eix – e–ix)/2i To evaluate. References: 1. The concepts must be discussed simultaneously with the mathematics.17.L. The most important issue that has to be learned out from the very beginning is the vectorial or operative character of the complex numbers. May be they are the people who will come with thosenew numbers. they realize that complex numbers are not the end of the history rather it is just a beginning of something more importance which is still unknown. we just put x = i in the respective expressions Cosi = ( e –1 + e1 )/2 ≈ 1.54 which is a real number and Sini = ( e–1 + e1 )/2i ≈ 1. The direct sequence of this is that trigonometric relations or functions are valid for all numbers or angles regardless if they are real or imaginary. it is easy to show that cos2 i + sin2 i =1 and cos 2i = cos2 i – sin2 i and so on. Then cosi is a vector having only a pure real component of 1. the mathematics of complex numbers is fun and important.17. Mathematical methods in the physical sciences.