## Numbers

Numbers

Math, as Barbie says, is hard. Common Lisp can't make the math part any easier, but it does tend to get in the way a lot less than other programming languages. That's not surprising given its mathematical heritage. Lisp was originally designed by a mathematician as a tool for studying mathematical functions. And one of the main projects of the MAC project at MIT was the Macsyma symbolic algebra system, written in Maclisp, one of Common Lisp's immediate predecessors. Additionally, Lisp has been used as a teaching language at places such as MIT where even the computer science professors cringe at the thought of telling their students that 10/4 = 2, leading to Lisp's support for exact ratios. And at various times Lisp has been called upon to compete with FORTRAN in the high-performance numeric computing arena.

One of the reasons Lisp is a nice language for math is its numbers behave more like true mathematical numbers than the approximations of numbers that are easy to implement in finite computer hardware. For instance, integers in Common Lisp can be almost arbitrarily large rather than being limited by the size of a machine word. And dividing two integers results in an exact ratio, not a truncated value. And since ratios are represented as pairs of arbitrarily sized integers, ratios can represent arbitrarily precise fractions.

On the other hand, for high-performance numeric programming, you may be willing to trade the exactitude of rationals for the speed offered by using the hardware's underlying floating-point operations. So, Common Lisp also offers several types of floating-point numbers, which are mapped by the implementation to the appropriate hardware-supported floating-point representations. Floats are also used to represent the results of a computation whose true mathematical value would be an irrational number.

Finally, Common Lisp supports complex numbers—the numbers that result from doing things such as taking square roots and logarithms of negative numbers. The Common Lisp standard even goes so far as to specify the principal values and branch cuts for irrational and transcendental functions on the complex domain.

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