# How are Quaternions derived from Complex numbers or Real numbers?

I understand how complex numbers are derived from real numbers. Namely when you have a sqrt of a negative number you must have an answer of some kind, but this answer cannot be in the real number system, therefore you need another number system which you call complex.

What I do not understand is which problem in calculation, either calculation in real numbers or in complex numbers, you cannot solve within those systems, for which you need another system like the quaternion. Thus I fail to see how the quaternion system can be derived from the complex or real number system from a perspective of calculation.

To me it therefore seemed that someone wanted a 3dimensional number system to represent problems in graphing. This person then found out that the 3rd dimension in the number system made no sense (the relation of this 3rd dimension with complex and real numbers is unclear) and therefore defined a 4th dimension in order to make sense of this 3rd dimension. What I think at this moment is that he has not derived quaternions from complex and real numbers but instead simply chose to define another system.

However: Since I am a noob and this guy was clearly a genius, I presume that I fail to see something. And the relevant thing that I fail to see is: How are quaternions derived from complex and real numbers from a calculation perspective. (Not from a geometrical perspective).

• For the question in the title, it could look like you're looking for the Cayley-Dickson construction. However, that is fairly abstract, and probably not a good answer to the actual question you ask. – hmakholm left over Monica Sep 8 '15 at 9:18
• Thank you it was indeed what I was looking for! If I understand the idea behind it: you can write real and complex numbers as an ordered pair and using algebraic properties we have for real and complex numbers on the ordered pair you can derive a quaternion system. – St.Clair Bij Sep 8 '15 at 9:54
• What I do not understand is which problem in calculation, either calculation in real numbers or in complex numbers, you cannot solve within those systems, for which you need another system like the quaternion. "ability to solve equations" is not really the only (or the best) justification of the complex numbers. (Although you can be forgiven for thinking so, given modern math instruction.) the complex numbers model geometry in the plane, while quaternions let you do 3d geometry. – rschwieb Sep 8 '15 at 10:38

It is therefore not so much a matter of "deriving" the quaternions, as of thinking about the problem for a long time (and by that time Hamilton no doubt had a keen intuitive experience with the ways a multiplication rule can fail to work) and then suddenly noticing that this particular rule happens to work. Once it works, it doesn't need to have a neat story of how you found it -- though Frobenius later proved that the quaternions are the only finite-dimensional associative division algebra over $\mathbb R$ other than the real and complex numbers, so sooner or later someone would have found it.