The motto of the Pythagoreans was “All is Number”. They saw numbers as the essence and foundation of the physical universe. For them, numbers meant the positive whole numbers, or natural numbers , and ratios of these, the positive rational numbers . It came as a great shock that the diagonal of a unit square could not be expressed as a rational number.

If we arrange the rational numbers on a line, there are gaps everywhere. We can fill these gaps by introducing additional numbers, which are the limits of sequences of rational numbers. This process of *completion* gives us the real numbers , which include rationals, irrationals like and transcendental numbers like .