Thursday, December 10, 2009

Deep Thought

First things first.
......And yet I find 'zeroth' in my dictionary, to refer to the one before the first one. In Wikipedia I find: The zeroth item is the initial item of a zero-based sequence (that is, a sequence which is numbered beginning from zero rather than one), and surely 'first' would have done just as well as 'initial' there. In such a sequence, the first element is also the second; that is, a certain equivocation has been introduced, a new sense of "first" added to our initial, informal sense.
......The idea of an ordinal number zero comes from the ordering of the integers on a number line, from negative to positive infinity (exclusive). But when we use ordinal numbers to include negatives, as with years, we naturally make the direction more explicit (e.g. with BC and AD) and exclude year zero (whence all the fuss about when the millenium began).
......Modern maths does not like directions. It finds it best to begin with a collection of natural numbers {0, 1, 2, 3, ...} that are most fundamentally ordinal numbers, and are usually reduced to pure sets. Mathematics does not like directions. Following Euclid's reduction of geometry to logic, geometry was naturally reduced to analysis following Descartes, and then arithmetized, with an arithmetic reduced to set theory.
......And yet mathematicians do like directions. Imaginary numbers were only taken seriously as numbers (like the negative numbers) when it was realised that the positive and negative imaginary numbers i and -i could be regarded as unit distances (like 1 and -1), specifically in the direstions perpendicular to the positive and negative directions of the "real" number line in a "complex" plain (which is how complex numbers are introduced to students).
......Given the foundation of the concept of direction in our experience of space, I would guess that if there really are extra dimensions in physics, they are more likely to correspond to the complex numbers of quantum mechanics (e.g. by representing dimensions of actual physical possibility) than the six dimensions of phase space (nor the ten or twelve of string theory, etc.).

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