surreal numbers

“it’s something

like the creation

of a universe”

that’s how

donald knuth

describes the unfolding

of surreal number sequences

the alien numbers

that lie in

the in-between spaces

they star in a universe of numbers

between real numbers

like hidden dimensions

dwelling within the walls

of the normal digits

that we know so well

surreal numbers

remind me of those levels

in buildings that we read about

from sci-fi stories

where no elevator can reach

or those levels

in video games

that we try to reach

but where we must venture off script

surreal numbers

not unreal

because they do exist

and they have substance

some of them are very heavy

they play with our idea of infinity

and then confound us with their infinitesimality

each of these under-explored numbers

carries its own meaning

its own presence

because for many people

numbers are not just numbers

they have associations

they can be lucky

or “evil”

some of us endow them

with physical

or spiritual


and personify them

now i wonder what

one over infinity

feels like

looks like

in our un-surreal reality

i mean infinity is ridiculous enough



and even knuth’s book about surreal numbers

was written in a surreal way

he wrote the entire book

in six days

knuth suggestively notes

that on the seventh day

he rested

knuth and his wife

were enjoying an idyllic

sabbatical in oslo norway

his wife contributed the book's surreal illustrations

and for those six creative days

knuth acted as a vessel

for the surreal numbers

to write their story

through a plotless dialogue

between alice (a.) and bill (b.)

with only one cameo by a mysterious (c.)

knuth said

“it wasn’t just me

there was something

the ideas were coming to me

as if they were being dictated

by some muse”

i can appreciate

this experience

i have a thing

for stories and muses :)


in this interview

knuth questions

the mathematical foundation

of our understanding

of our universe


all of our models


that our universe’s laws

sync with the laws

of real numbers

but mayhap not :)

so then what

maybe what

we think is surreal

is real

and what we think is real

is just wrong


yes it is

becoming more difficult

to prove that we are not

living in the matrix


bill cunningham