Chapter 12: The Principle of Computational Equivalence

Section 9: Implications for Mathematics and Its Foundations

Generalization in mathematics

Systems that have evolved from the basic notion of numbers provide a characteristic example of the process of progressive generalization in mathematics. The main such systems and their dates of earliest known reasonably formalized use have been (see also page 901): positive integers (before 10,000 BC), rationals (3000 BC), square roots (2000 BC), other roots (1800 BC), all integers (600 AD, 1600s), decimals (950 AD), complex numbers (1500s, 1800s), polynomials (1591), infinitesimals (1635), algebraic numbers (1744), quaternions (1843), Grassmann algebra (1844), ideals (1844, 1871), octonions (~1845), Boolean algebra (1847), fields (1850s, 1871), matrices (1858), associative algebras (1870), axiomatic real numbers (1872), vectors (1881), transfinite ordinals (1883), transfinite cardinals (1883), operator calculus (1880s), Boolean algebras (1890), algebraic number fields (1893), rings (1897), p-adic numbers (1897), non-Archimedean fields (1899), q-numbers (1926), non-standard integers (1930s), non-standard reals (hyperreals) (1960), interval arithmetic (1968), fuzzy arithmetic (1970s), surreal numbers (1970s). New systems have usually been introduced in connection with extending the domains of particular existing operations. But in almost all cases the systems are set up so as to preserve as many theorems as possible—a notion that was for example made explicit in the Principle of Permanence discussed by George Peacock in 1830 and extended by Hermann Hankel in 1869.

From Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science [citation]