It’s always taken for granted that the real number line is perpendicular to multiples of i, but why is that? Why isn’t i just at some non-90 degree angle to the real number line? Could someone please explain the logic or rationale behind this? It seems self-apparent to me, but I cannot actually see why it is.
Furthermore, why is the real number line even straight? Why does it not bend or curve? I suppose arbitrarily it might be strange to bend it, but why couldn’t it bend at 0? Is there a proof showing why?
Of course, these things seem natural to me and make sense, but why does the complex plane have its shape? Is there a detailed proof showing precisely why, or is it just an arbitrary choice some person made many years ago that we choose to accept because it makes sense to us?
There is a really important aspect of complex numbers that depends on the complex plane having exactly this shape: complex multiplication.
Complex numbers can not only be characterized in cartesian coordinates by a real part and an imaginary part, but also in polar coordinates by a length and an angle.
You know that for any z∈C there exist x,y∈R such that z=x+i⋅y, right? x is the real part and y is the imaginary part? Well, there also exist r,φ∈R, r≥0 such that z=r⋅(cosφ+isinφ). Here, r is called the length or absolute value of z and φ is called the angle or argument, measured counterclockwise from the positive real axis.
We can use cartesian coordinates to add complex numbers: (x1+i⋅y1)+(x2+i⋅y2)=(x1+x2)+i⋅(y1+y2)
We can use cartesian coordinates to multiply complex numbers:
However, we can also use polar coordinates to multiply complex numbers:
So to multiply two complex numbers in polar coordinates, you multiply their lengths and add their angles. I personally think this is incredibly helpful for visualization, and this also shows why the imaginary axis needs to be at a right angle to the real axis: since the angle of −1 is 180∘, the angle of i needs to be 90∘ or 270∘.