If $\lfloor{\log_b{n}}\rfloor+1$ counts the number of digits required to represent a number $n$ of radix $b$, what is the significance of $\log_1{n}$ in terms of counting digits of unary numbers?

For instance:

  • $\lfloor\log_{10}{5}\rfloor+1=1$
  • $\lfloor\log_{2}{101_2}\rfloor+1=3$
  • $\lfloor\log_{1}{00000_1}\rfloor+1$ is undefined although you would expect the pattern to continue and tell us that $5$ in base-1 has indeed $5$ digits.

This would effectively mean that $\lfloor\log_1{n}\rfloor+1=n$ and would serve as an identity function. It does not and here's why:

$$\log_b{n}=\frac{\log{n}}{\log{b}}$$ $$\log_1{n}=\frac{\log{n}}{\log{1}}=\frac{\log{n}}{0}$$ and so $\log_1{n}$ for any real $n$ is undefined.

This is further supported by the fact that $\lim_{b\to1^{+}}{\log_b{n}}=\infty$ and $\lim_{b\to1^{-}}{\log_b{n}}=-\infty$ for $n>1$.

Not to mention the very logical contradiction with how any exponential with base of $1$ must equal $1$.

Why does this digit counting property of logarithms make sense but not in the general case? To extend the idea further, is there any other way to logically associate $\log_1{n}$ with the identity function?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There is no such thing as log with base 1. $\endgroup$ Apr 3, 2018 at 5:02
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "and so $\log_1n$ for any real n is undefined"..."Is there any such relationship between $ \log_1n$ and the supposedly reasonable digit counting pattern shown above?" How can it when you (you, yourself) just went to great length to show $\log_1 n$ con not be defined? $\endgroup$
    – fleablood
    Apr 3, 2018 at 5:25
  • $\begingroup$ @fleablood I never asked to define it. I asked if there were any analytical significance. Did you have any actual insight? $\endgroup$ Apr 3, 2018 at 5:44
  • $\begingroup$ Is there any analytical significance to something that is not capable of being defined? Um, no. There is not. My insigt is that without definition this is a logistically void and meaningless and unanswerable question. What I find odd, is that you,the person asking it, are the one who showed it to be baseless and meaningless. That is very unusual. $\endgroup$
    – fleablood
    Apr 3, 2018 at 5:50
  • $\begingroup$ It is also meaningless to define the infinite summations of divergent series, yet analytically continued Dirichlet series like the Riemann Zeta function logically associate values to them. This isn't uncommon. $\endgroup$ Apr 3, 2018 at 5:56

2 Answers 2


Added emphasis on the parts of the original post where the confusion lies...

$\lfloor\log_{1}{00000_1}\rfloor+1$ is undefined although you would expect the pattern to continue and tell us that $5$ in base-1 has indeed $5$ digits.

Calling the unary representation "base-1" is more of a poetic license than math reality, although it is casually (mis)used that way quite often. Indeed, the very article hyperlinked to "base-1" in the quoted wikipedia page leads to radix which very clearly refers to "a system with radix $b$ ($\,\color{red}{b > 1}\,$)", therefore not applicable to the so-called "base-1" case.

Back to logarithms now, they do relate to the number of digits in the base-$b$ representation of numbers in positional notation with $b \gt 1$, because in that case each digit $\,d_k\,$ corresponds to a power $\,b^k\,$ of the base, and the rest follows from definitions. However, the unary representation is not a positional notation, but merely a bijective numeration one.

Therefore any expectation that the relation between logarithms and number of digits in positional notation with base $b \gt 1$ would somehow carry over to non-positional unary notation is misplaced.


Log is really about exponents, and the digit counting comes as a side effect. The reason log base $1$ is undefined is because the only positive number you can get by raising $1$ to some power is $1$. This is essentially why we can't divide by $0$ either.

The concept of base $1$ may function well in some applications similarly to other bases, but it breaks in this way because it's not actually a base, it's just a convenient, cool sounding name for writing a bunch of tally marks to represent a number. Those tally marks aren't digits.

  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, in base 1, the number $00000_1$ does not denote 5 but zero. $\endgroup$ Apr 3, 2018 at 5:05
  • $\begingroup$ @MarianoSuárez-Álvarez That's a very good point. I suppose a lot of patterns across bases break down in base-1. Like leading zeros and $10_b$ representing the base itself. $\endgroup$ Apr 3, 2018 at 5:09

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