Negative numbers: it's debt

Author Nikolay Khyzhnjak. Negative numbers it's debt. Mathematics for blondes.
Author Nikolay Khyzhnjak

You can't take life from the dead.

In one popular science film, a mathematician gave an example about negative numbers. "You have minus one fish. You went fishing, you caught one fish and you have nothing left. Amazing result!".

The mathematical record of this story looks like this:

-1 + 1 = 0

Now suppose I am a fisherman. This is how I see this story. Someone says that I have minus one fish. I don't have anything. I write zero.


I go fishing and I catch one fish. Now I have one fish. I add one.

0 + 1 = 1

After that, the one who claimed that I have minus one fish appears and takes my fish for himself.

0 + 1 - 1 = 0

Ups! Where are the negative numbers here? This is an ordinary racket.

Now let's look at what it means to borrow. I urgently need money, 1 dollar. What do I have now? Nothing, zero.


A good man (or an evil bank) gave me $1. What do I have now? I have a real, positive $1 that I can spend however I want. No, I won't waste it. I'll keep it as a museum piece.

0 + 1 = 1

After that I earned 1 dollar. How much money do I have?

1 + 1 = 2

I am an honest person and I pay my debts. How much money will I have left?

2 - 1 = 1

I borrowed money, I paid it back and I was left with $1. Or I will still have what I bought. What was it? Were these negative numbers? No. It was a time machine that allows me to buy today what I can earn only tomorrow.

The main rule is this: it is impossible to borrow something that does not exist. Try borrowing a time travel machine, a perpetual motion machine, or a flying saucer. This is impossible to do because these things do not exist. And no matter how many minus signs you promise, you still won’t get these things. You can't take life from the dead.

Next, I suggest playing a numbers game.

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