899: Number Line

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Number Line
The Wikipedia page List of Numbers opens with "This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it."
Title text: The Wikipedia page List of Numbers opens with "This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it."


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Once again, Randall seems to be just messing around, this time with a number line.

  • Negative numbers have the same magnitude as positive numbers but can only be used to represent the removal of that same magnitude (hence the term "difference" being used for subtraction).
  • The golden ratio or "phi" is the number (1 + sqrt(5)) / 2, about 1.61803. It has many interesting mathematical properties, mostly relating to geometry, and has occasional appearances in nature, such as spirals formed by the seeds in sunflowers. It is also subject to many less credible claims, such as the belief that phi appears in Parthenon (a well-disputed claim) or that rectangles proportioned after phi are somehow more aesthetically pleasing. Basically, awesome math clouded with pareidolic pseudoscience.
  • Forbidden Region and Unexplored are both map jokes.
  • e (Euler's number) is 2.71828... and π (pi) is 3.14159265...
  • 2.9299372 is a President's Day reference. It is the average of e and pi just as the American Presidents' Day is always observed on the 3rd Monday of February (between George Washington and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays). (For non-US residents, Washington and Lincoln were the 1st and 16th Presidents of the USA, respectively. Each has a celebrated place in American history.)
  • Gird is a purely fictional number. (The glyph that Randall uses seems to resemble an older shape of the digit 4, such as seen on archaic maps.) Gird could be a reference to any or all of:
    • Bleem - a fictional integer between 3 and 4
    • iCarly's Derf - a fictional integer between 5 and 6
    • George Carlin's Bleen - a fictional integer between 6 and 7
    • SCP-033 - a fictional number that causes freaky things to happen

Canon and orthodox are reference to organised religion.

  • Site of the Battle of 4.108 is another map joke, implying that 4.108 is an actual location, where an eponymous battle was previously fought. It may be a reference (or homage) to the Battle of Wolf 359, a famous military conflict in the fictional universe of Star Trek.
  • It is often the case in the media that "It has been 7 years..." or "In the last 7 years..." etc. It is made to seem like a believable statistic but cannot always be true. Alternatively, it is intended as an absurd joke that the number 7 is just "not to be believed".
  • 8 is not the largest even prime. 2 is. A joke intended for those who clearly know that the claim is false.
  • The last entry seems to be a reference to discrete mathematics, which rarely deals with numbers higher than 9. It finishes off the tone of the comic that seems to be shaping the number line terms of what is commonly useful to certain areas of applied mathematics, rather than a complete, accurate version of the number line.
  • The title text is a literalist joke implying that Wikipedia would like its "List of numbers" page to include every number from negative infinity to infinity. It could also be a reference to Gödel's incompleteness theorems, which Randall has used as comic fodder before [1]. Gödel's theorems roughly assert that a number theory could never be fully complete. The equivalent for just a sheer list of numbers is Cantor's diagonal argument, which is a "proof of the uncountability of the real numbers." Therefore, if Wikipedia ever did have a "List of numbers," it would perforce forever be incomplete, no matter how much it was expanded. Both Gödel's incompleteness theorems and Cantor's diagonal argument feature prominently in Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter, to whom Randall devoted a later comic[2].


[Number line ranging from -1 to 10.]
[Arrow pointing left, towards negative numbers] Negative "imitator" numbers (do not use)
[Line right before the number one] 0.99... (acutally 0.0000000372 less than 1)
[Line at the golden ratio.] Φ - Parthenon; sunflowers; golden ratio; wait, come back, I have facts!
[Line at a region between two and 2.2] forbidden region
[Line at Euler's number.] e
[Line a bit before 3] 2.9299372 (e and pi, observed)
[Line at π.] π
[Line at 3.5 with a ribbon as the numeral] Gird - accepted as canon by orthodox mathematicians
[Line a bit after 4.] site of battle of 4.108
[Blob between 4.5 and 6.5 labeled unexplored.]
[Line at seven.] Number indicating a factoid is made up ("every 7 years...", "science says there are 7...", etc)
[Line at eight.] Largest even prime
[Line at 8.75.] If you encounter a number higher than this, you"re not doing real math

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Where does sqrt(-1) go? 19:07, 2 January 2013 (UTC)

It goes up (literally above 0). A number line can be extended to a complex plane with sqrt(-1) as the unit of measurement in the vertical direction. Or at least, that's where it actually goes. I don't know where Randall would put it. 01:04, 5 March 2013 (UTC)

I'm sorry...are you indicating the ACTUAL location for an IMAGINARY number? -- ‎ (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Yes, that's exactly where it is (up to switching clockwise for counterclockwise). There is nothing strange about providing a location for imaginary or complex numbers, the location described is logical, and the adjective 'imaginary' is an artifact of nomenclature and nothing more. 20:40, 30 March 2013 (UTC)

In fact, complex numbers are nearly more real than real ones! Complex analysis really opened my eyes to how much "stepping out" can help in solving problems. The complex notion of analyticity yields fruit in real analysis. Extensions to hypercomplex numbers are weirder, however. --Quicksilver (talk) 20:27, 17 August 2013 (UTC)

Analyticity must be an imaginary word, and therefore would be found one unit directly above any dictionary. 14:19, 9 October 2013 (UTC)

Oh my god, I can't believe how hard I laughed at that. Would an imaginary friend actually be above you then? I'm going to use that sometime. 21:25, 24 April 2014 (UTC)
"I'm sorry, you have reached an imaginary number. Please rotate the phone by 90 degrees and try again." 17:01, 21 October 2017 (UTC)

Is unexplored a map reference? Halfhat (talk) 17:53, 13 January 2014 (UTC)

Note that the digits 5 and 6 do not show up on any of the numbers in the comic, reinforcing the fact that the integers 5 and 6 are unexplored. Blitzer (talk) 02:34, 15 May 2014 (UTC)

So the 5th digit of pi can not be known either? Tharkon (talk) 03:56, 12 July 2014 (UTC)
The whath digit of pi? 01:59, 1 January 2015 (UTC)

Thank God (or someone else, I'm not choosy) that the SCP link here still works. The rest of the site's gone private. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

It appears that Wikipedia had noticed the implications of the title text here. The message now says that it might never be complete, but can be expanded with reliably sourced articles. I'm not 100% sure it's due to Randall's involvement, but I like to think so. -- 22:01, 9 December 2014 (UTC)