Imagining numbers as shapes

How do you picture the number 54? Do you see a 5 and a 4 – or perhaps a series of triangles?

Imagine if you could see numbers – not by visualising digits or by counting, but as shapes?

On the CBS program 60 Minutes in 2012, American child prodigy Jake Barnett showed viewers his number system that re-worked the base-10 system used by most of the world.

In the video above from Numberphile, mathematician Simon Pampena explains how Barnett nutted it out.

Pampena says Barnett uses the points of triangles to group large numbers into its primes – a method called “prime decomposition”.

The process is a fascinating insight into how numbers aren’t rigid, but can be reimagined, “taking what we learned at school and having fun with it”.

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Anthea Batsakis is a journalism student in Melbourne, Australia.