The American Mathematical Society held on October 1903 its regular meeting in New York City. The program announced a talk by Frank Nelson Cole (1861-1921), with the unpretending title of ‘On the factorization of large numbers’. In due course, Cole approached the board and started to multiply the number 2 by itself, step after step and without saying a word, sixty seven times.
Few elementary mathematical ideas arouse the kind of curiosity and astonishment among the uninitiated as does the idea of the “imaginary numbers”, an idea embodied in the somewhat mysterious number i. This symbol is used to denote the idea of , namely, a number that when multiplied by itself yields -1. How come?
Try googling ‘mathematical gem’. I just got 465,000 results. Quite a lot. Indeed, the metaphor of mathematical ideas as precious little gems is an old one, and it is well known to anyone with a zest for mathematics. A diamond is a little, fully transparent structure all of whose parts can be observed with awe from any angle.