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Are complex numbers just means to an end? 
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#1
Aug314, 09:13 PM

P: 326

Do we use imaginary numbers just in the intermediary steps of a predictive theory? For example, in QM, in order to make predictions in the real world, you square the wave function. The wave function might have have all the information, but in order to predict something you must operate on it to remove the imaginary numbers. Is it like this in other areas, like EE, or can you have a predictive answer in terms of imaginary numbers?



#2
Aug314, 09:19 PM

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In signal processing you certainly can have meaningful imaginary numbers. Basically, all you need is to have a signal where the magnitude and the phase both encode meaningful information.



#3
Aug314, 09:22 PM

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Complex numbers are very useful as a means to an end. But even if they weren't so useful, we'd still study them before they're so fascinating in their own right.



#4
Aug414, 07:11 AM

P: 70

Are complex numbers just means to an end?



#5
Aug414, 12:09 PM

PF Gold
P: 342

You cant measure an imaginary number in nature...You can measure the coefficient (real number) of [itex]i[/itex] of the imaginary part of a complex number, but not actually measure an imaginary number. Laws of physics may take a more convenient form in terms of complex numbers, but I think it can be proved that all algebraic manipulations can be done without recourse to complex numbers as well as contour integration.



#6
Aug414, 12:46 PM

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#7
Aug414, 01:00 PM

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#8
Aug414, 01:31 PM

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Recently looking back at some fluid mechanics notes and found that problems that can be formulated as a complex o.d. diff equation were equivalent to a pair of real coupled partial diff equations. So they are not just convenient for QM calculations...



#9
Aug414, 01:43 PM

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What did you mean by that? I see no reason to think that "complex numbers are just a means to an end" is any more true (or false) than the same statement about real numbers. 


#10
Aug414, 01:45 PM

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#11
Aug414, 02:05 PM

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Well you could call it measuring a complex number but really you are measuring the real numbers that can be extracted from the complex number, for example [itex]a[/itex] and [itex]b[/itex] from [itex]z = a + ib[/itex] or with [itex]z = R e^{i \theta}[/itex] we can extract [itex]R[/itex] and [itex]\theta[/itex]. Formulation of problem to solution can be done without recourse to complex numbers though. 


#12
Aug414, 04:33 PM

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#13
Aug414, 07:06 PM

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#14
Aug414, 07:11 PM

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How do you prove that axb = bxa in a computable manner? It is obvious that this is right, but how do you do this via a computable manner for all a and b? Possibly I could be misunderstanding.



#15
Aug414, 09:59 PM

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#16
Aug514, 10:37 AM

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P: 342

You cant measure a physical quantity to be [itex]i[/itex] for example, that was my original point.



#17
Aug514, 11:47 AM

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And you cannot measure a physical quantity to be [itex]\sqrt{2}[/itex] (or even 2). That was my (and others) point.



#18
Aug514, 03:34 PM

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The first paragraph or so of http://math.buffalostate.edu/~MED600...s/jacobstm.pdf quotes an amusing and relevant anecdote by Isaac Asimov.



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