matrix() can't handle NaN (PR#193)

Bill Simpson Bill Simpson <>
Wed, 12 May 1999 09:51:35 +0000 (GMT)

On Tue, 11 May 1999, Prof Brian Ripley wrote:

> The field is regarded as a character field unless  na.strings is
> extended to include NaN.
> I am not in favour of treating NaN as a number, which is linguistic nonsense!
That's why I said that NaN was a "number" (with quotes). It is a number in
the sense that it is the output of an arithmetic operation.
> First, in IEEE arithmetic, NaN is a class of numbers as I understand it
> (and internally in R NA is one of those NaNs).

> So just which one do
> you mean?  And what are you going to achieve by having essentially a
> second NA, except to blur the real purposes of NaNs?
Well to me NA means missing value, and it is abuse of NA to use it to
represent things like 0/0.

The purpose of having NaN to me:
I am allowed to get an NaN as a result of some operation in R. Let's say I
then save that in a file, then I read the file in again using read.table.
In the process of saving and reading it in I lose the NaN. I don't like
that. It doesn't seem consistent. If the NaN is to be changed, I would
like to do the changing explicitly myself, so I know what happened to it.

I would also include Inf and -Inf here. These are allowed outputs from R
operations, so why can't they be read in by read.table? So I am proposing
that allowable IEEE entities Inf, -Inf, NaN be read in by read.table as
themselves (not as character strings).

> Secondly, on non-IEEE implementations of R, I believe NaN = NA: in any
> case we should not lightly be making IEEE features an essential part of the
> language. (Or with the gradual demise of Vaxen is IEEE arithmetic now
> universal: I still have a Sun running with a special-purpose non-IEEE
> floating-point unit.)
OK I see this point. That's what I meant when I said maybe it would be
opening a can of worms to try to use NaN and Inf consistently throughout


PS: I remember reading on this list about complex numbers in R. That
brings in a conflict with IEEE (doesn't it?), because in IEEE,
sqrt(negative number)->NaN.
But that is not a NaN if you allow complex numbers (I would think).
> sqrt(-1)
Warning: NaNs produced in function "sqrt"
[1] NaN

Is there a need for an "I" symbol in R?

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