Let us think of the ordinary numbers as set out on a line which goes to infinity in both positive and negative directions. We could start by taking a stretch of the line near the origin (that is, the point representing the number zero) and putting in the integers as follows:

Next,
we could add in rational numbers, such as ½ ,
23/11, etc., then the irrationals like _{},

then numbers like _{}, and so on, so any number you can think of has its place on
this line.

Now let’s take a slightly different point of view, and think
of the numbers as represented by a *vector* from the origin to that
number, so 1 is

and, for example, –2 is represented by:

Note that if a number is multiplied by –1, the corresponding vector is turned through 180 degrees. In pictures,

The “vector” 2 is turned through _{}, or 180 degrees, when you multiply it by –1.

What are the square roots of 4?

Well, 2, obviously, but also –2, because multiplying the backwards pointing vector –2 by –2 not only doubles its length, but also turns it through 180 degrees, so it is now pointing in the positive direction. We seem to have invented a hard way of stating that multiplying two negatives gives a positive, but thinking in terms of turning vectors through 180 degrees will pay off soon.

In solving the standard quadratic equation

*ax*^{2}
+ *bx* + *c* = 0

we find the solution to be:

_{}.

The problem with this is that sometimes the expression
inside the square root is negative. What
does that signify? For some problems in
physics, it means there is no solution.
For example, if I throw a ball directly upwards at 10 meters per sec,
and ask when will it reach a height of 20 meters, taking *g* = 10 m per
sec^{2}, the solution of the quadratic equation for the time *t*
has a negative number inside the square root, and that means that the ball
doesn’t get to 20 meters, so the question didn’t really make sense.

We shall find, however, that there are other problems, in wide areas of physics, where negative numbers inside square roots have an important physical significance. For that reason, we need to come up with a scheme for interpreting them.

The simplest quadratic equation that gives trouble is:

*x*^{2}
+ 1 = 0

the solutions being _{}

What does that mean?
We’ve just seen that the square of a positive number is positive, and the
square of a negative number is also positive, since multiplying one negative
number, which points backwards, by another, which turns any vector through 180
degrees, gives a positive vector.
Another way of saying the same thing is to regard the minus sign itself,
-, as an operator which turns the
number it is applied to through 180 degrees.
Now _{} has two such rotations
in it, giving the full 360 degrees back to the positive axis.

*To make sense of the square root of a negative number, we
need to find something which when multiplied by itself gives a negative number*. Let’s concentrate for the moment on the
square root of –1, from the quadratic equation above. Think of –1 as the operator – acting on the
vector 1, so the – turns the vector through 180 degrees. We need to find the square root of this
operator, the operator which applied *twice *gives the rotation through
180 degrees. Put like that, it is pretty
obvious that the operator we want rotates the vector 1 through 90 degrees.

But if we take a positive number, such as 1, and rotate its
vector through 90 degrees only, it isn’t a number at all, at least in our
original sense, since we put all known numbers on one line, and we’ve now
rotated 1 away from that line. The new number created in this way is called a
pure imaginary number, and is denoted by *i*.

Once we’ve found the square root of –1, we can use it to
write the square root of any other negative number—for example, 2*i* is
the square root of –4. Putting together
a real number from the original line with an imaginary number (a multiple of *i*)
gives a *complex number*.
Evidently, complex numbers fill the entire two-dimensional plane. Taking ordinary Cartesian coordinates, any
point *P* in the plane can be written as (*x*, *y*) where the
point is reached from the origin by going *x* units in the direction of
the positive real axis, then *y* units in the direction defined by *i*,
in other words, the *y* axis.

Thus the point *P* with coordinates (*x*, *y*)
can be identified with the complex number *z*, where

*z* = *x* +
*iy*.

The plane is often called the *complex plane*, and
representing complex numbers in this way is sometimes referred to as an Argand
Diagram.

Visualizing the complex numbers as two-dimensional vectors,
it is clear how to *add* two of them together. If *z*_{1} = *x*_{1}
+ *iy*_{1}, and *z*_{2} = *x*_{2} + *iy*_{2},
then *z*_{1} + *z*_{2} = (*x*_{1} + *x*_{2})
+ *i*(*y*_{1} + *y*_{2}). The real parts and imaginary parts are added
separately, just like vector components.

Multiplying two complex numbers together does not have quite
such a simple interpretation. It is, however, quite straightforward—ordinary
algebraic rules apply, with *i*^{2} replaced where it appears by -1. So for example, to multiply *z*_{1}
= *x*_{1} + *iy*_{1} by *z*_{2} = *x*_{2}
+ *iy*_{2},

*z*_{1}*z*_{2}
= (*x*_{1} + *iy*_{1})(* x*_{2} + *iy*_{2})
= (*x*_{1}*x*_{2} - *y*_{1}*y*_{2})
+ *i*(*x*_{1}*y*_{2} + *x*_{2}*y*_{1}).

Some properties of complex numbers are most easily
understood if they are represented by using the polar coordinates _{} instead of (*x*, *y*)
to locate *z* in the complex plane.

Note that *z* = *x* + *iy* can be written _{} from the diagram
above. In fact, this representation leads to a clearer picture of
multiplication of two complex numbers:

_{}

So, if

_{}

then

_{}

and

_{}

That is to say, to multiply together two complex numbers, we
*multiply* the *r*’s – called the *moduli* – and *add* the
phases, the _{}* *’s. The modulus *r *is often denoted by | *z
*|, and called mod *z*, the phase _{} is sometimes referred
to as arg *z*. For example, |*i*|
= 1, arg *i* = _{}

We can now see that, although we had to introduce these
complex numbers to have a _{}, we don’t need to bring in new types of numbers to get _{}, or _{}. Clearly, _{}, arg _{}= 45°. It is on the
circle of unit radius centered at the origin, at 45°, and squaring it just
doubles the angle.

In fact this circle—called the *unit circle*—plays an
important part in the theory of complex numbers. Every point on the circle has the form

_{}

Since all points on the unit circle have |*z*| = 1, by
definition, multiplying any two of them together just amounts to adding the
angles, so our new function _{} satisfies

_{}

But that is just how multiplication works for exponents!

That is, _{} for *a* any
constant, which strongly suggests that maybe our function _{} is nothing but some
constant *a* raised to the power _{}, that is, _{}

It turns out to be convenient to write _{}say, where *A* = ln *a*.

This line of reasoning leads us to write _{}

Now, for the above “addition formula” to work for
multiplication, *A* must be a constant, *independent* of _{}. Therefore, we can
find the value of *A* by choosing _{} for which things are
simple. We take _{} to be very small—in
this limit _{}, and _{} dropping terms of
order _{} and higher.

Substituting these values into _{} gives *A* = *i*.

So we find:

_{}

To test this result, we expand _{}* *:

_{}

We write _{}* *in the last
line because the series in the brackets are precisely the _{} confirming our
equation for _{}. Changing the sign of _{} it is easy to see that

_{}

so

_{}, and _{}

__Bottom Line__: any complex number can be written:

_{}