Category Archives: Number systems

Geometry and Numbers – negative ones – “a minus times a minus is a plus”

To accommodate positive and negative numbers we need two extended number lines, with their zeros at the same place

Then multiplication of two negative numbers will always give a positive result, following the same geometrical structure.

The start, where the multiplier begins at 1

mult pic negative 0

Now the 1 connects with the multiplicand -3

mult pic negative 1

The multiplier is now placed at -2

mult pic negative 2 6

And the parallel line from -2 connects to the 6 on the target line

mult pic negative 3

This is so geometrical, and there is no “funny business”. None of the “ought to be 6”. No stuff about the distributive law.

The only geometry needs the Pythagoras theorem, and this will be the next post.

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Geometry and Numbers, not the counting sort

A number line is generally a piece of straight line with a starting point, labeled 0, and equally spaced points labeled 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and so on till the paper runs out.

The value of a number is the distance from the zero point to the numbered point, in units of the equal spacing.

It is really much easier to draw one of these !

Addition

Two parallel number lines, same scale.
add pic 1

add pic 1a

add pic 1bNotice that the zero points do not have to be in the same vertical line.

Subtraction

To get the symbolic form 7 – 2 = 5 we start with 0 on the target line (now the upper line) and join it to the 2 on the subtrahend line. (arrow down) (needs a nicer word here)

Then from the 7 on the subtrahend line we produce the line from 7 parallel to the 0 to 2 line. Then “arrow up” to the target line

Magic ! The result is 5 on the target line.

I like the picture, but the subtraction words are a mess.

Multiplication

We need two number lines, but since multiplication is  “proportional” they will now be crossing, and the common point is labeled 0.

Also, the labels are “target” and “multiplier” and each line has its own scale.

mult pic 1

mult pic 1a

mult pic 1b

 

mult pic 1c

Bonus: Nomograms, with lines.

The first is a simple calculator, with A + B = Sum

nomogram 1

The second one calculates parallel resistances

nomogram - resistors

 

 

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A minus times a minus is a plus -Are you sure you know why?

What exactly are negative numbers?
A reference , from Wikipedia:
In A.D. 1759, Francis Maseres, an English mathematician, wrote that negative numbers “darken the very whole doctrines of the equations and make dark of the things which are in their nature excessively obvious and simple”.
He came to the conclusion that negative numbers were nonsensical.[25]

A minus times a minus is a plus
Two minuses make a plus
Dividing by a negative, especially a negative fraction !!!!
(10 – 2) x (7 – 3) = 10 x 7 – 2 x 7 + 10 x -3 + 2 x 3, really? How do we know?
Or we use “the area model”, or some hand waving with the number line.

It’s time for some clear thinking about this stuff.

Mathematically speaking, the only place that requires troublesome calculations with negative numbers is in algebra, either in evaluation or in rearrangement, but what about the real world ?
Where in the real world does one encounter negative x negative ?
I found two situations, in electricity and in mechanics:

1: “volts x amps = watts”, as it it popularly remembered really means “voltage drop x current flowing = power”
It is sensible to choose a measurement system (scale) for each of these so that a current flowing from a higher to a lower potential point is treated as positive, as is the voltage drop.

Part of simple circuit A———–[resistors etc in here]————–B
Choosing point A, at potential a, as the reference, and point B, at potential b, as the “other” point, then the potential drop from A to B is a – b
If b<a then a current flows from A to B, and its value is positive, just as a – b is positive
If b>a then a current flows from B to A, and its value is negative, just as a – b is negative

In each case the formula for power, voltage drop x current flowing = power, must yield an unsigned number, as negative power is a nonsense. Power is an “amount”.
So when dealing with reality minus times minus is plus (in this case nosign at all).

The mechanics example is about the formula “force times distance = work done”
You can fill in the details.

Now let’s do multiplication on the number line, or to be more precise, two number lines:
Draw two number lines, different directions, starting together at the zero. The scales do not have to be the same.
To multiply 2 by three (3 times 2):
1: Draw a line from the 1 on line A to the 2 on line B
2: Draw a line from the 3 on line A parallel to the first line.
3: It meets line B at the point 6
4: Done: 3 times 2 is 6
numberlines mult pospos
Number line A holds the multipliers, number line B holds the numbers being multiplied.

To multiply a negative number by a positive number we need a pair of signed number lines, crossing at their zero points.

So to multiply -2 by 3 (3 times -2) we do the same as above, but the number being multiplied is now -2, so 1 on line A is joined to -2 on line B

numberlines mult posneg
The diagram below is for -2 times 3. Wow, it ends in the same place.
numberlines mult posneg

Finally, and you can see where this is going, we do -2 times -3.

Join the 1 on line A to the -3 on line B, and then the parallel to this line passing through the -2 on line A:

numberlines mult negneg

and as hoped for, this line passes through the point 6 on the number line B.

Does this “prove” the general case? Only in the proverbial sense. The reason is that we do not have a proper definition of signed numbers. (There is one).

Incidentally, the numbering on the scales above is very poor. The positive numbers are NOT NOT NOT the same things as the unsigned numbers 1, 1.986, 234.5 etc

Each of them should have a + in front, but mathematicians are Lazy. More on this another day.

Problem for you: Show that (a-b)(c-d) = ac – bc – ad + bd without using anything to do with “negative numbers”

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References.
Wikipedia:
Reference direction for current
Since the current in a wire or component can flow in either direction, when a variable I is defined to represent
that current, the direction representing positive current must be specified, usually by an arrow on the circuit
schematic diagram. This is called the reference direction of current I. If the current flows in the opposite
direction, the variable I has a negative value.

Yahoo Answers: Reference direction for potential difference
Best Answer: Potential difference can be negative. It depends on which direction you measure the voltage – e.g.
which way round you connect a voltmeter. (if this is the best answer, I hate to think of what the worst answer is)
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A. N. Whitehead on negative numbers (1911)

This is really worth reading. It is from his book, “Introduction to Mathematics”, published in 1911.

whitehead intro to math negative nos

 

 

 

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