What is your imaginary number?

I was once working with a coaching client who is an incredible mathematician and has a voracious appetite for the suject. Because this was a passion of his and because my coaching regularly explores our sense of purpose, it was inevitable that we would eventually talk numbers.

Now, before you start thinking that I have the slightest ability with maths, I’ve got to confess that my career in numeracy faced an arrested development aged 12. Having been taught by an ogre of a maths teacher who scared the living daylights out of even the mouthiest hard-nut in my class, a block to mathematics was created in me and since then has never dissolved.

Later in life, whilst driving to work I listened to a radio programme about imaginary numbers and something in that programme twanged a chord in me.

In my primitive mathematical understanding of what the programme was saying, the gist was this; imaginary numbers were invented as a tool to work out complex equations and these equations have resulted in science and technology making HUMUNGOUS leaps. Without the imaginary number these advances would never have happened, yet imaginary numbers don’t actually exist.

Unable to stop thinking about imaginary numbers, I left work early that afternoon, headed straight to Waterstones and purchased thirty pounds worth of books on the “divine equation”. When I got home I took them out of the bag and gazed at them lovingly. I knew I wouldn’t read them (after all I have the mathematical development of a 12 year old …. in fact probably less after all this time) and instead slotted them onto the sacred shrine of my bookcase, where they have remained ever since.

The imaginary numbers grew dusty.

Until now.

In this conversation with my client.

“Imaginary numbers fascinate me!” I declared, impulsively blundering into an intellectual territory that I was not evolved to survive in for more than two sentences. However, my kind client was very gentle and had a way of explaining the subject in a way that (at the time) made utter sense.

My interpretation of what he said was this: “In the mathematical world, imaginary numbers were created as a tool to work out complex equations, yet a huge amount of thought, time and energy is now being poured into studying imaginary numbers. People have become fixated with the tool, rather than continuing to use the tool to create and understand.”

I went away and chewed this over.

It was as though a new note had just been strummed on my imaginary number chord harp. Something was frustrating me with it; it was as if the equations and imaginary numbers and creation and imagination were all parts of a bigger cosmic jigsaw that I sensed went together, but in my current level of understanding and awareness, I was unable to communicate even to myself.

What I was kind of thinking about was this …

In the same way that imaginary numbers allow us to work out complex equations and create rad new technologies and make scientific leaps, by using imaginary “higher forces” humanity are also able to find meaning in the meaningless and make massive leaps in progress and consciousness.

The imaginary number is a blank


The power of faith is also a blank.


Yet as humans, rather than using faith and thought to create higher levels of consciousness and reality, we instead get all hung up on the imaginary number itself. We take a “tool” that doesn’t exist in time/space terms and dress it up. We colour it in. Give it form then worship it.

We call it Gods and Goddesses.

The House of Bethan


The House of Bethan

Some people call it Lord.

The House of Bethan

Some people call it Allah.

The House of Bethan
Some people call it Jehovah and others call it Buddah.

The House of Bethan
Some people call it Spirit or the Web Of Life.

The House of Bethan
Some people call it Higher Self.

The House of Bethan
Some people call it Energy; The Law of Attraction; Quantum Physics; Luck; Fate; Destiny; Prayer.

By surrendering to their  version of the “imaginary number” and believing in its power, members of A.A are able to recover from addiction. Research has shown that for people to recover from all addiction, recognition of an “imaginary number/higher power” is vital to their recovery.

In the workshops I run, Jayne and I call this “purpose”; the thing that people will push themselves the extra mile/ten miles/hundred miles for.

People who have achieved amazing feats in their lives have had their own personal “imaginary number” that they have faith in and trust.

I refer to my “imaginary number” as the Universe. I have no idea of what the Universe is (well, I do but I don’t claim that to be true for anyone but myself) however, in my experience the more I have learned to trust in my “imaginary number” the more profound my results in life have been.

I refer to the invisible force that secures me a parking space every time I ask for one as “Fred”. Fred isn’t an angel or a fairy or a parking space diva. Fred is an invisible number that acts as a tool for me to focus my intention and navigate subconsciously towards a parking space. The result is that I always get one.

Essentially, the imaginary number for humans is called “Faith In Something”.

And the imaginary number is simply a tool.

It’s a missing blank that we get to fill in.

Each individual can colour it however they like.

You are officially allowed your very own colouring in book!!

The House Of Bethan

Organised religions may attempt to claim the imaginary number and label it and tell people how it should be coloured. This is okay … but it kind of undermines people’s ability to own their own colouring book. You know? And it generally ends in unnecessary shit like this:

The House of Bethan

If what my client believes is true and the mathematicians/scientists have forgotten that the imaginary number is a tool for creation … I believe the same can also be said for the religious organisations and governments they dilute, who have forgotten that faith is a tool for creation not an idol to be obsessed over.

The fact that my relationship with what I refer to as “the Universe” is actually just my relationship with an imaginary number has filled me with a massive surge of comedy today.

I love it.

I think it is funny.

In fact it makes me want to slap 3/God/Allah/79/Goddess/Poodle Fluff on the imaginary bottom and declare, “thanks, Imaginary Number, for making yourself so simple that even a 12 year old mathematical dunce could understand it!” And then add … “Right, what new daring outrageously good shit can we go out and create on Planet Earth?”

Then go out and do it.

I certainly won’t be telling anyone else what their imaginary number should look like.

Or doosh them up because their colouring in isn’t the same as mine.

The House of Bethan

What’s your imaginary number?


18 thoughts on “What is your imaginary number?

  1. Oh yes, yes, yes! Thank you Bethan. I could not agree more. There’s also ‘gravity’ — we don’t know what it is. Seriously, we don’t. And electricity, we don’t know what that is, either. It used to be thought that the entire Universe was filled with an invisible aether, then Einstein came and said that a aether isn’t necessary to explain his equations; mind you, that’s not the same as saying that there is no aether. Scientists dress these things up with jargon and invented ‘thingies’ they spend the next thirty years looking for and congratulate themselves when they eventually find something that might be a ‘thingy’ having spent billions on a ‘thingy’ detector. Well, “you would expect to find a ‘thingy’ with a billion dollar ‘thingy’ detector, wouldn’t you?”, as Mandy Rice Davies might put it.

    Another lovely imaginary number beloved and essential to mathematics pure and applied is ‘infinity’. Meaningless, and science is just noticing that elephant-sized blunder.

    But back to your connection with ancient religious text, from the Holy Bible, we have right at the beginning “The Creation
    1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” For the rest see http://www.bartleby.com/108/01/1.html Incredible just how close this is to the best scientific thinking today?

    Let’s strip off the window dressing and leave the Emperor with no clothes…if the Emperor will let us 😉 Without clothes the Universe is loveless (using love as we use the word); love is a very humankind thing. Nature doesn’t ‘love’, nature is cruel.

    • Hi Pass The Sick Bag Alice!! And thank you for your comment. Before you read this, please know it is all the unique product of my own imaginary number colouring book and despite how sci-fi it is about to sound, I actually dislike sci-fi and Star Trek bores the shit out of me.

      What I found interesting in your comment was that you said the Universe was loveless/cruel (using love/cruelty as we understand the word). I mentioned in my post that I refer to my imaginary number as “the Universe”. To me (and this is literally just through my own sensory toolbox) I experience the Universe a single consciousness (represented by the number 1) that pervades and permeates everything. Because of that nothing dies and nothing is born … it simply transforms.

      I believe that this 1-ness existed before matter and will exist post matter (not that this 1-ness even exists in a sphere of time or space and so there is no before or after for it … sort of like infinity without the timespan). Following this, I believe that 1-ness split and Matter appeared – the time/space reality that our planet and big black inky sky exist within. In that moment, duality was born – the number 2. Within this 2ness came light and dark, warmth and heat, masculine and feminine, near and far … all the opposing forces that exist in time and space. And through the interplay and coming together of opposites in this dual place, there is a birthing of something new; growth, building, creation, new species, babies, art. The combined effect of duality is CREATION – Number 3.

      Despite my complete lack of numeracy in the division and multiplication, I do believe that the universe is mathematical. However, because we live in a dual reality there must be an equal counterpart to the cold logic of numbers. That counterpart is the “imaginary”, the “quality of love”, the “consciousness” of the big 1-ness. And as humans who exists as pockets of consciousness within physical form (so as to be able to walk around in their time/space reality – a combination of 1 and 2) we are the little creators walking around the reality creating light bulbs, creating motorcars, creating the internet, creating imaginary numbers to work our complex equations, creating tomorrows world for our children to be born into.

      Do we really need to know what the imaginary number is MADE out of? Do we really need to know what electricity is? Is aether really necessary to explain our equations? Can we ever work out the true “thingy” when we are limited to “thingys” that comply with our time/space reality and can only be experienced through our senses? (I’m thinking of Ads being electrocuted here!)

      Final word: I once did a course in scriptwriting and discovered the formula that all films are based on. Now I can not absorb myself in being entertained by a movie because all I see is the washing line that the scenes are hung on. Maybe we aren’t supposed to know what the imaginary number really is as that way the whole “life/reality” thing would be ruined?

      Phew. Reply over.
      PS. I once tried to discuss all of this with a Jehovah Witness who came and mistakenly knocked at my door.

      • Your colouring book. I had one just like it as a little child …. maybe it’s the same one? It went missing. I don’t suppose I ever finished it and don’t remember the inside pages now.

        My comment about the Universe and Nature being loveless/cruel needs a bit of explaining. I don’t believe that the Universe is sentient so how can it express love or caring? Nature, were it sentient, would be incredibly cruel. ‘God’ as accepted in the Judeo-Christian cultures is a horribly vain, violent, uncaring, self-serving entity devoid of anything remotely like ‘love’.

        Animals sometimes appear to express ‘love’ but I have my doubts. I think we read too much into their behaviour because we’d like to think that they love us in much the same way that we love them. But they don’t, really. Any more than dolphins actually ‘smile’.

        I think it’s back to people. How people relate over distance and time is a puzzle. There are especially nice people and especially nasty people, with all shades in between. Nice people invariably have a moral compass they use to navigate through life while being kind and thoughtful towards others. Nasty people either don’t have a moral compass or ignore it (mad or bad?).

        How we choose our moral compass is up to us. Some rely on rules/laws, some are controlled by a powerful influence in their close circle, some join churches, cults, clubs, gangs, spiritual groups…. Our choice of moral compass is one thing, but the ability to read it accurately and the courage to follow it are equally important.

        Tip for JWs. Thank them for calling and tell them you’re a Buddhist, and a very busy Buddhist so good day. That tip courtesy of the late, great and ever-so-odd Sir Patrick Moore.

      • I think I remember reading something about altruism and how selflessness and love, in themselves are essentially selfish survival tactics. Like you say, how we choose our moral compass is down to us; our nature, the nurture we’ve received and how we interpret and respond to life experience. For me, I simply feel that every human consciousness that knits together the reality with which humans interact and experience “the world”, are different facets on ONE great big diamond within which, one ultimate consciousness resides. The boundaries and experiences and thoughts and awareness of each facet is held together by one thing that all scientists, religious people, materialists and atheists have in common: belief. Everything else is a wild tapestry of colourful and unending variations in the interplay of duality and relationship. Some people believe that animals love. That is the experience they will generate. Other people believe dolphins don’t smile and that is their reality. That is kind of what I was getting at on the subject of imaginary numbers – we all have the power to believe and what we invest our belief into becomes real for us.

        Appreciate the JW tip, however, I can’t help but like talking to them. I can’t say the feeling is probably mutual!! xx

  2. Hmmm….being a bear of little mathematical brain, I feel quite stumped. Is it possible for the imaginary number to be oneself? Otherwise, I am thinking that an imaginary number for me might be ONE without the self. Confused? So am I 🙂

    • Hi Gallivanta! The same client from my post used this wonderful expression about certain equations as sending you “right up a gumtree”! I absolutely love that. Because this is definitely gum tree material. I haven’t got a flipping clue what the imaginary number is, other than something that someone believes in and through somehow utilising that space, is able to do something/create/manifest something that they otherwise couldn’t. For example, I believe that Fred brings me parking spaces and Fred does. I don’t know why or how, but ask any of my friends and family and they will be able to tell who Fred is and that “he” really does provide spaces. In the same way, loads of research has been done on the placebo effect. I think this is the same principle as the invisible number. To me it is like this invisible force that has takes up no space and has no physical form, but it effects things. And we can deliberately use it to effect things. I think it is faith – which is an extension of ourselves … or Oneself, in which case both of what you said *could be* right.
      Oh bloody hell. I’m up a gum tree.
      PS. If you want to employ Fred ever, its really simple. You think about what you need, say “parking space please Fred” (you can specify size, shape etc depending on parking abilities) and then you must schmooze Fred with loads of praise and tell him how gorgeous he is and how much you love him. The more you smother him with love, the more he will perform. Try it!! xxx

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