## Posts Tagged 'Set Theory'

### Limits of Sequences, Limits of Sets

In undergraduate mathematics, we are confronted at an early stage with “Epsilon-Delta” definitions. For example, given a function ${f(x)}$ of a real variable, we may ask what is the value of the function for a particular value ${x=a}$. Maybe this is an easy question or maybe it is not.

The epsilon-delta concept can be subtle, and is sufficiently difficult that it has been used as a filter to weed out students who may not be considered smart enough to continue in maths (I know this from personal experience). The formulation of the epsilon-delta definitions is usually attributed to the German mathematician Karl Weierstrass. They must have caused him many sleepless nights.

### Sets that are Elements of Themselves: Verboten

Can a set be an element of itself? A simple example will provide an answer to this question. Continue reading ‘Sets that are Elements of Themselves: Verboten’

### The Size of Sets and the Length of Sets Schematic diagram of ${\omega^2}$. Each line corresponds to an ordinal ${\omega\cdot m + n}$ where ${m}$ and ${n}$ are natural numbers [image Wikimedia Commons].

Cardinals and Ordinals

The cardinal number of a set is an indicator of the size of the set. It depends only on the elements of the set. Sets with the same cardinal number — or cardinality — are said to be equinumerate or (with unfortunate terminology) to be the same size. For finite sets there are no problems. Two sets, each having the same number ${n}$ of elements, both have cardinality ${n}$. But an infinite set has the definitive property that it can be put in one-to-one correspondence with a proper subset of itself.

### The Whole is Greater than the Part — Or is it?

Euclid flourished about fifty years after Aristotle and was certainly familiar with Aristotle’s Logic.  Euclid’s organization of the work of earlier geometers was truly innovative. His results depended upon basic assumptions, called axioms and “common notions”. There are in total 23 definitions, five axioms and five common notions in The Elements. The axioms, or postulates, are specific assumptions that may be considered as self-evident, for example “the whole is greater than the part”  [TM232 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com]. Continue reading ‘The Whole is Greater than the Part — Or is it?’

### Cantor’s Theorem and the Unending Hierarchy of Infinities The power set of the set {x,y,z}, containing all its subsets, has 2^3=8 elements. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

In 1891, Georg Cantor published a seminal paper, U”ber eine elementare Frage der Mannigfaltigkeitslehren — On an elementary question of the theory of manifolds — in which his “diagonal argument” first appeared. He proved a general theorem which showed, in particular, that the set of real numbers is uncountable, that is, it has cardinality greater than that of the natural numbers. But his theorem is much more general, and it implies that the set of cardinals is without limit: there is no greatest order of infinity.

### The Size of Things In Euclidean geometry, all lengths, areas and volumes are relative. Once a unit of length is chosen, all other lengths are given in terms of this unit. Classical geometry could determine the lengths of straight lines, the areas of polygons and the volumes of simple solids. However, the lengths of curved lines, areas bounded by curves and volumes with curved surfaces were mostly beyond the scope of Euclid. Only a few volumes — for example, the sphere, cylinder and cone — could be measured using classical methods.

### Aleph, Beth, Continuum

Georg Cantor developed a remarkable theory of infinite sets. He was the first person to show that not all infinite sets are created equal. The number of elements in a set is indicated by its cardinality. Two sets with the same cardinal number are “the same size”. For two finite sets, if there is a one-to-one correspondence — or bijection — between them, they have the same number of elements. Cantor extended this equivalence to infinite sets. ### The Empty Set is Nothing to Worry About

Today’s article is about nothing: nothing at all, as encapsulated in the number zero and the empty set. It took humanity millennia to move beyond the counting numbers. Zero emerged in several civilizations, first as a place-holder to denote a space or gap between digits, and later as a true number, which could be manipulated like any other. [see TM143, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com]. A selection of images of zero (google images).

### Stan Ulam, a mathematician who figured how to initiate fusion

Stanislaw Ulam, born in Poland in 1909, was a key member of the remarkable Lvov School of Mathematics, which flourished in that city between the two world wars. Ulam studied mathematics at the Lvov Polytechnic Institute, getting his PhD in 1933. His original research was in abstract mathematics, but he later became interested in a wide range of applications. He once joked that he was “a pure mathematician who had sunk so low that his latest paper actually contained numbers with decimal points” [TM138 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com]. Operation Castle, Bikini Atoll, 1954

### The Birth of Functional Analysis

Stefan Banach (1892–1945) was amongst the most influential mathematicians of the twentieth century and the greatest that Poland has produced. Born in Krakow, he studied in Lvov, graduating in 1914 just before the outbreak of World War I. He returned to Krakow where, by chance, he met another mathematician, Hugo Steinhaus who was already well-known. Together they founded what would, in 1920, become the Polish Mathematical Society.

### Do you remember Venn?

Do you recall coming across those diagrams with overlapping circles that were popularised in the ‘sixties’, in conjunction with the “New Maths”. They were originally introduced around 1880 by John Venn, and now bear his name. Left: Stained glass window at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge showing a Venn diagram. Right: John Venn (1834-1923) with signature [images Wikimedia Commons].

Continue reading ‘Do you remember Venn?’

### Degrees of Infinity

Many of us recall the sense of wonder we felt upon learning that there is no biggest number; for some of us, that wonder has never quite gone away. It is obvious that, given any counting number, one can be added to it to give a larger number. But the implication that there is no limit to this process is perplexing.