Date: Mon, 19 Oct 1998 11:16:39 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Log

Name: benny

Who is asking: Student
Level: Secondary

What does log means? How come we have to use log

Hi Benny,

John Napier (1550-1617) of Scotland invented logarithms ("logs" for short) and coined the name. The name comes from Greek words that mean roughly "ratio number." Apparently he first wanted to call his invention "artificial numbers", but he changed his mind, feeling that "ratio number" describes the way he computed them for his log tables of 1614. They SHOULD have been called "exponents" since that's what they are for us, but the notion of an exponent was not to be invented (by Descartes) until later that century. We are consequently stuck with a name that no longer has any meaning for us. Logs were invented to make calculations easier -- in fact, they were among the necessary ingredients for the scientific revolution that took place in that same century. Until the arrival of cheap calculators some 20 years ago, logs continued to be extremely useful for calculations, and were the only way to compute large powers of large numbers -- try computing 123^4571 by hand without using logarithms.
   They no longer have any importance in calculations, but they will always be important as functions that arise naturally in the world around us. Logarithms are intimately connected with most laws of growth; they are far more important than polynomials, say, in math and in any field (such as physics, biology, and economics) that uses math.


Go to Math Central

To return to the previous page use your browser's back button.