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May 22nd

May 22nd

# The Real Numbers

1.1 Discussion: The Irrationality of

Toward the end of his distinguished career, the renowned British mathematician
G.H. Hardy eloquently laid out a justification for a life of studying mathematics
in A Mathematician’s Apology, an essay first published in 1940. At the center
of Hardy’s defense is the thesis that mathematics is an aesthetic discipline. For
Hardy, the applied mathematics of engineers and economists held little charm.
Real mathematics ,” as he referred to it, “must be justified as art if it can be
justified at all.”

To help make his point, Hardy includes two theorems from classical Greek
mathematics, which, in his opinion, possess an elusive kind of beauty that,
although difficult to define, is easy to recognize. The first of these results is
Euclid’s proof that there are an infinite number of prime numbers. The second
result is the discovery, attributed to the school of Pythagoras from around 500
B.C., that is irrational. It is this second theorem that demands our attention.
(A course in number theory would focus on the first.) The argument uses only
arithmetic, but its depth and importance cannot be overstated. As Hardy says,
“[It] is a ‘simple’ theorem, simple both in idea and execution, but there is no
doubt at all about [it being] of the highest class. [It] is as fresh and significant
as when it was discovered—two thousand years have not written a wrinkle on
[it].”

Theorem 1.1.1. There is no rational number whose square is 2.

Proof. A rational number is any number that can be ex graph ing-equations/precalculus-tutorial.html">pressed in the form p/q,
where p and q are integers. Thus, what the theorem asserts is that no matter
how p and q are chosen, it is never the case that (p/q)2 = 2. The line of attack
is indirect, using a type of argument referred to as a proof by contradiction.
The idea is to assume that there is a rational number whose square is 2 and
then proceed along logical lines until we reach a conclusion that is unacceptable.
At this point, we will be forced to retrace our steps and reject the erroneous

assumption that some rational number squared is equal to 2. In short, we will
prove that the theorem is true by demonstrating that it cannot be false.
And so assume, for contradiction, that there exist integers p and q satisfying
(1)

We may also assume that p and q have no common factor , because, if they had
one, we could simply cancel it out and rewrite the fraction in lowest terms . Now,
equation (1) implies

(2)

From this, we can see that the integer p2 is an even number (it is divisible by
2), and hence p must be even as well because the square of an odd number is
odd. This allows us to write p = 2r, where r is also an integer. If we substitute
2r for p in equation (2), then a little algebra yields the relationship

But now the absurdity is at hand. This last equation implies that q2is even,
and hence q must also be even. Thus, we have shown that p and q are both
even (i.e., divisible by 2) when they were originally assumed to have no common
factor. From this logical impasse, we can only conclude that equation (1) cannot
hold for any integers p and q, and thus the theorem is proved.

A comp onent of Hardy ’s definition of beauty in a mathematical theorem
is that the result have lasting and serious implications for a network of other
mathematical ideas. In this case, the ideas under assault were the Greeks’ understanding
of the relationship between geometric length and arithmetic number .
Prior to the preceding discovery, it was an assumed and commonly used fact
that, given two line segments and , it would always be possible to find
a third line segment whose length divides evenly into the first two. In modern
terminology, this is equivalent to asserting that the length of is a rational
multiple of the length of . Looking at the diagonal of a unit square (Fig.
1.1), it now followed (using the Pythagorean Theorem) that this was not always
the case. Because the Pythagoreans implicitly interpreted number to mean rational
number, they were forced to accept that number was a strictly weaker
notion than length.

Rather than abandoning arithmetic in favor of geometry (as the Greeks seem
to have done), our re solution to this limitation is to strengthen the concept of
number by moving from the rational numbers to a larger number system. From
a modern point of view, this should seem like a familiar and somewhat natural
phenomenon. We begin with the natural numbers

The influential German mathematician Leopold Kronecker (1823–1891) once
asserted that “The natural numbers are the work of God. All of the rest is

1.1. Discussion: The Irrationality of

Figure 1.1: exists as a geometric length.

the work of mankind.” Debating the validity of this claim is an interesting
conversation for another time. For the moment, it at least provides us with
a place to start. If we restrict our attention to the natural numbers N, then
we can perform addition perfectly well, but we must extend our system to the
integers

if we want to have an additive identity (zero) and the additive inverses necessary
to define subtraction . The next issue is multiplication and division. The number
1 acts as the multiplicative identity, but in order to define division we need to
have multiplicative inverses. Thus, we extend our system again to the rational
numbers

all fractions where p and q are integers with q ≠ 0

Taken together, the properties of Q discussed in the previous paragraph
essentially make up the definition of what is called a field. More formally stated,
a field is any set where addition and multiplication are well-defined operations
that are commutative, associative, and obey the familiar distributive property
a (b+ c) = ab+ ac. There must be an additive identity, and every element must
have an additive inverse. Finally, there must be a multiplicative identity, and
multiplicative inverses must exist for all non zero elements of the field. Neither
Z nor N is a field. The finite set is a field when addition and
multiplication are computed modulo 5. This is not immediately obvious but
makes an interesting exercise (Exercise 1.3.1).

The set Q also has a natural order defined on it. Given any two rational
numbers r and s, exactly one of the following is true:

r < s, r = s, or r > s.

This ordering is transitive in the sense that if r < s and s < t, then r < t, so
we are conveniently led to a mental picture of the rational numbers as being
laid out from left to right along a number line. Unlike Z, there are no intervals
of empty space. Given any two rational numbers r < s, the rational number

Figure 1.2: Approximating with rational numbers.

(r+ s)/2 sits halfway in between, implying that the rational numbers are densely
nestled together.

With the field properties of Q allowing us to safely carry out the algebraic
operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, let’s remind
ourselves just what it is that Q is lacking. By Theorem 1.1.1, it is apparent
that we cannot always take square roots. The problem, however, is actually
more fundamental than this. Using only rational numbers, it is possible to
approximate quite well (Fig. 1.2). For instance, 1.4142 = 1:999396. By
adding more decimal places to our approximation, we can get even closer to
a value for , but, even so, we are now well aware that there is a “hole” in
the rational number line where ought to be. Of course, there are quite a
few other holes—at and for example. Returning to the dilemma of the
ancient Greek mathematicians, if we want every length along the number line to
correspond to an actual number, then another extension to our number system
is in order. Thus, to the chain   we append the real numbers R.

The question of how to actually construct R from Q is rather complicated
business. It is discussed in Section 1.3, and then again in more detail in Section
8.4. For the moment, it is not too inaccurate to say that R is obtained by
filling in the gaps in Q. Wherever there is a hole, a new irrational number is
defined and placed into the ordering that already exists on Q. The real numbers
are then the union of these irrational numbers together with the more familiar
rational ones. What properties does the set of irrational numbers have? How
do the sets of rational and irrational numbers fit together? Is there a kind
of symmetry between the rationals and the irrationals, or is there some sense
in which we can argue that one type of real number is more common than the
other? The one method we have seen so far for generating examples of irrational
numbers is through square roots. Not too surprisingly, other roots such as
or   are most often irrational. Can all irrational numbers be expressed as
algebraic combinations of nth roots and rational numbers, or are there still
other irrational numbers beyond those of this form?

1.2 Some Preliminaries

The vocabulary necessary for the ensuing development comes from set theory
and the theory of functions. This should be familiar territory, but a brief review

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