There is much more to the ideas of Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras than the famous theorem that bears his name. His belief that “all is number” asserts that there is a numerical explanation for everything we see as well as everything we cannot see. This belief, and the science that has been built upon Pythagoras’ work, has directed much of the study of the mathematics in our world for nearly two millennia.
Perhaps the best illustration of this principle that anything can be quantified, or expressed as numeric values, is found not in our world, but in the virtual world of computers. Even with Pythagoras’ intellect and insight, he would be impressed at the speed with which today’s computer programs crunch numbers to process data.
One of the most obvious examples within that world is in the area of computer graphics. Computer graphics is the term used to describe two-dimensional or three-dimensional objects and images that are produced with computer software using numerical data and complicated mathematical information.
A computer animator starts with little more than an idea. Everything after that—the objects, the way they move, their color, the scene behind them, and the lighting and shadows—has to be created from the nothingness of virtual space using the only language computers understand, numbers.
Your favorite video game, the movie effects you saw last week with friends, even the software applications on your home computer, all use numbers to create the images you see and to manipulate them based on your interactions.
Even though computers speak the “language of numbers,” their vocabulary is limited; they can’t count past one. Using a basic number base, known as binary, computer hardware sees the numerical value of a charged circuit as “1.” A circuit with no charge has a value of “0.” Billions of these circuits are structured in a certain way in the computer’s memory. This enables the computer to access incredibly large sets of numbers and perform intricate calculations.
The results are complex computer graphics based upon a basic binary system. Though the numbers being crunched in the computer’s memory can be extremely complex, the language used to create them is extremely basic. That elaborate 3-D animation that seems so real on the screen simply comes from a series of 0s and 1s.
To learn more about how technology affects us daily, check out The Impact of Technology: Society.