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In mathematics, the surreal number system is an arithmetic continuum containing the real numbers as well as infinite and infinitesimal numbers, respectively larger or smaller in absolute value than any positive real number. The surreals share many properties with the reals, including a total order ≤ and the usual arithmetic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division); as such, they form an ordered field.^{[1]} In a rigorous set theoretic sense, the surreal numbers are the largest possible ordered field; all other ordered fields, such as the rationals, the reals, the rational functions, the LeviCivita field, the superreal numbers, and the hyperreal numbers, are subfields of the surreals. The surreals also contain all transfinite ordinal numbers reachable in the set theory in which they are constructed.
The definition and construction of the surreals is due to John Horton Conway. They were introduced in Donald Knuth's 1974 book Surreal Numbers: How Two ExStudents Turned on to Pure Mathematics and Found Total Happiness. This book is a mathematical novelette, and is notable as one of the rare cases where a new mathematical idea was first presented in a work of fiction. In his book, which takes the form of a dialogue, Knuth coined the term surreal numbers for what Conway had simply called numbers originally. Conway liked the new name, and later adopted it himself. Conway then described the surreal numbers and used them for analyzing games in his 1976 book On Numbers and Games.
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