Most people don’t get that easily excited about a number – unless perhaps some symbol like $ or € appears right nearby. Still, several valuable minds in history made a lot of fuss about specific numbers and their meaning. An especially conspicuous and long-standing sensation occurred about i, the famous (and infamous) square root of -1. Descartes was disgusted by it, regarded it as a forced artifact and spitefully called it an imaginary number (surprisingly, as he was so fond of other kinds of artifact.) Cardano did found √-1 by solving an equation but considered the use of such a number a “mental torture.” In 1777, Euler introduced the symbol i and made that controversial number look a little less scary to all of us.
The name imaginary sticked to i and we are thankful, for it’s a beautiful name that makes us dream. The intercourse between an imaginary number and a real one creates a complex number. To push the language of mathematics straight into a more trivial matter, a printed one to be precise, might sound inappropriate but the temptation is strong. Young Torless, among others, paved our way regarding i.
Occulto issue √-1 starts by affirming that “no such thing as heliocentrism really exists,” goes on reporting of someone who has been accused of “algebraic terrorism,” and ends just like this: “For heaven’s sake, don’t try to be cynical. It’s perfectly easy to be cynical.”
The issue is structured in four sections which, if they were to be named, could be outlined as science, history, the visual arts and literature. An artist’s project in three parts comes in between the various sections. You haven’t heard the whole story though. Artists explore the sky and tell you about the atomic bomb. Scientists are talking about seminal electronic avant-garde music, and thanks to digital imaging techniques they are showing you beauty such as you haven’t seen in art galleries for a while. The author who introduces you to the scientific concept of aether is actually an artist and performer. A contemporary art exhibition makes us jump into a dark side of Italian history. Unexpected connections between Steiner and the Milanese airport of Linate are being revealed. Identification of the living Antichrist and the analysis of people’s urine prove to have a great influence on political and legal matters. You are even asked to read footnotes extirpated from their main text.
The fuss is over: i has found its way and has important applications in scientific fields such as fluid dynamics, quantum mechanics, cartography and signal processing.
Alice Cannava, November 2011