# Boxing Pythagoras

### Philosophy from the mind of a fighter ## Wildberger says that Banach-Tarski is Nonsense

Dr. N.J. Wildberger has added a new video to his “Sociology and Mathematics” series in which he discusses the Banach-Tarski Paradox. If you are unfamiliar with this particular concept, it suffices to say that Banach-Tarski illustrates some very peculiar and counterintuitive properties of infinite sets. Fairly unsurprisingly for anyone familiar with Dr. Wildberger’s work, he considers the entire discussion undertaken by Banach-Tarski to be nothing but nonsense. In the video, Dr. Wildberger explicitly notes that he rejects the Axiom of Choice (one of the major axioms upon which Banach-Tarski relies) and I have discussed previously that he also rejects the Axiom of Infinity (which is similarly necessary for Banach-Tarski). Thus, Dr. Wildberger’s video (and his original blog post which inspired the video) seemed fairly curious to me.

Yes, of course the Banach-Tarski Paradox is nonsense if you reject the axioms upon which it depends. Any and every mathematical theorem in existence would be nonsensical to a person who rejected the axioms underlying that theorem.

## Classical Limits vs. Non-Standard Limits

One of the most important and fundamental concepts taught in modern Calculus classes is that of the Limit. I have discussed this idea once before, but I thought I would revisit it, here. In that first article, I noted that the classical definition for a Limit is fairly complex and that we can utilize a more intuitive notion of infinitesimals to accomplish the same task, insofar as derivatives are concerned. However, there are other uses and purposes for limits, in mathematics, so we would not want to simply omit them entirely, even using a non-standard approach to Calculus lessons.

Thankfully, even the very difficult and complex definition of “limit” can be simplified and made easier to understand by use of non-standard infinitesimals.

## Intuitionism and the Excluded Middle

Introductory lessons on Logic often make note of three basic, but powerful, principles which are so universally recognized that they are commonly referred to as the Laws of Logic. The first is the Law of Identity which states something like, “A thing is equal to itself.” The second is the Law of Non-Contradiction, sometimes phrased as, “A proposition cannot be both true and false at the same time.” The third is known as the Law of the Excluded Middle which declares, “Either a given proposition is true or else its negation is true.”

A classic example of the Law of Identity might be, “Socrates is Socrates.” An illustration of Non-Contradiction could be, “Socrates cannot both be mortal and not be mortal at the same time.” For the Excluded Middle, we would say, “Either Socrates is mortal or else Socrates is not mortal.” This all seems perfectly obvious and simple, even to complete beginners in the study of Logic.

However, one might be surprised to learn that the Law of Excluded Middle is actually a source of some controversy in philosophy– particularly in the Philosophy of Mathematics, where there exists a small but strong community which rejects this principle vehemently.

## The Axiom of Infinity

In my previous post introducing the concept of Set Theory, we discussed one method for constructing the Natural numbers– a method often referred to as a Von Neumann construction. Using that method, we start with the Empty Set ( $\emptyset$) and then systematically build the Natural numbers by following a rule. As described in that post, this was a step-wise process: look at a number, find its successor, look at the new number, find its successor, repeat ad infinitum. Now, obviously, given a finite amount of time there would be no way to perform this process enough times to generate every Natural number, since every new number we create would still have yet another number succeeding it.

But what if we want to discuss the whole set of Natural numbers?

As we just noted, we cannot construct the Natural numbers in a step-wise manner in order to get all of them. However, mathematicians like Ernst Zermelo, Abraham Fraenkel, and Thoralf Skolem devised a very clever way to take the very same ideas from our step-wise construction in order to discuss a whole, completed set. We refer to this notion as the Axiom of Infinity, and it is one of the premises which underlies the vast majority of modern mathematics.

## Theology and Indeterminate Infinity

Apologists often claim that actual infinites are logically impossible. One of the arguments which they utilize to support this claim deals with subtracting quantities from infinite quantities. One example of this comes from Blake Giunta’s Belief Map:

Infinity minus an infinity yields logically impossible scenarios. Notably, one can take away identical quantities from identical quantities and arrive at contradictory remainders.

On the face of it, this claim appeals to our intuitive understanding of subtraction. If I were to claim that there exists some Integer, $x$, such that $x-4=7$ and $x-4=19$, then we stumble upon the contradiction that $11=23$. Subtracting identical quantities from identical quantities should yield identical results.

## What do we mean by Numbers? A simple introduction to Set Theory

The vast majority of people never think about what they mean when they use numbers to describe things. The concept is so ingrained into our early development that we simply take for granted the fact that people understand us when we apply numbers to different things. For most people, numbers are simply numbers, and questions about the meaning of those numbers are confusing and seemingly nonsensical.

Mathematicians are not most people.

For quite a long time, now, mathematicians have recognized that there are at least two very distinct ways in which we use numbers to describe things. Being the scholarly, academic types that they are, mathematicians have assigned names to these two different types of numbers which sound heady and difficult to the average person: ordinal numbers and cardinal numbers. Indeed, even mathematics students sometimes need quite a bit of work and explanation in order to really grasp the difference between these two types of number; but I’m going to do my best to explain these things in a very simple way for a casual audience.

Ordinal and cardinal numbers roughly correspond to the ideas of value and size, respectively.

## On Wronski’s Definition of π

Joseph Nebus has recently written a couple of posts (here and here) in which he discusses an interesting attempt by Józef Maria Hoëne-Wronski to create a purely numerical definition of the mathematical constant π which is independent of the classical, geometric definition of “the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.” This has been a goal of many mathematicians, since the idea of π seems like it is more fundamental to mathematics than a definition based on circles would make it seem– as evidenced by the fact that it shows up in areas of mathematics which are seemingly unrelated to circles. Wronski’s idea, to this end, was the following formula: $\pi = \frac{4\infty}{\sqrt{-1}}\left\{ \left(1 + \sqrt{-1}\right)^{\frac{1}{\infty}} - \left(1 - \sqrt{-1}\right)^{\frac{1}{\infty}} \right\}$

At first glance, the formula seems inherently nonsensical. After all, $\infty$ is not a number, and therefore cannot be utilized in numerical operations in this way. However, one can get a sense of what Wronski may have intended by this equation. It appears that Wronski wanted to utilize $\infty$ to represent an infinite number, and modern mathematics actually gives us several tools for handling this sort of idea. One which might be of particular use, here, is Non-Standard Analysis with its infinite and infinitesimal Hyperreal numbers. In NSA, we have the ability to perform calculations with and upon infinite numbers perfectly consistently and reasonably.

## Theology and the Actually Infinite One of the common claims which is utilized in arguments for the existence of God is that actual infinities cannot exist, implying that there cannot be an infinite regress of causal events in the history of the universe. If there cannot be such an infinite regress, then there must be some First Cause. Theologians then put forth other arguments attempting to show that this First Cause must be God. Blake Giunta, a Christian apologist, has constructed a very interesting and quite useful website cataloging common lines of argumentation from both sides of the debate (color coded Green for Christian arguments and Red for opposing arguments), along with citations and documentation for those claims, called BeliefMap.org. It does not take very long for a fairly cursory perusal of Belief Map to bring one to this exact claim regarding the actually infinite.

While I disagree with Mr. Giunta on many of his views, I have a great deal of respect for him and I think that his work with Belief Map is absolutely fantastic. He truly does attempt to give an irenic and charitable view to the positions of his opposition, and he does sincerely want to discuss the actual arguments being made, instead of being content to knock down Straw Men. To that end, I would like to help Mr. Giunta add to his encyclopedia of apologetics by addressing the manner in which one might answer the claims about actual infinities.

## On Wildberger’s “Inconvenient Truths”

Dr. Norman Wildberger of the University of New South Wales has a wonderful and prolific YouTube channel in which he discusses a great deal of very interesting mathematics. I have discussed Dr. Wildberger before, regarding a very similar subject, but I wanted to take a moment to discuss a video from his Math Foundations series entitled, “Inconvenient truths about sqrt(2).”

In the video, Dr. Wildberger claims that there are three different ways in which $\sqrt{2}$ is commonly discussed: the Applied, the Algebraic, and the Analytical. He does a fairly good job of discussing the manner in which the ancient Greeks discovered that there exists no ratio of two whole numbers which can be equal to $\sqrt{2}$, which is a topic I have covered here, as well. He then explains what he means by each of the above three categories.

## Infinitesimal Calculus 2: The Changes in Change

The mathematics of change are quite interesting. In a naive sense, we can often describe a change by a simple collection of data points. For example, let’s think about a little boy rolling a ball across the floor. The boy pushes the ball, and four seconds later, the ball has come to be 2 meters away from him. Given these data points, we may attempt to connect them in some meaningful analytical manner– perhaps by saying that the ball rolled at a speed of half a meter per second. But even this is a somewhat naive bit of information, as it only really tells us something about the completed journey. Mathematicians are greedy, however; they want to be able to know about every point of the ball’s travel, at any arbitrary moment in time.

We can use a function for just such a purpose. A function is a specific mathematical tool which allows us to describe an entire set of data points all at once which we symbolize as $f(x)$ (read “ $f$ of $x$“). We encode the data by means of a mathematical formula. For example, our exemplary rolling ball might well have been encoded by the function $f(x)=\frac{1}{2}x$, where the $x$ represents the time, in seconds, that the ball has been rolling, and the value of the function, $f(x)$ tells us the distance in meters which the ball has traveled in that time. In this particular function, the coefficient of $x$ tells us the rate at which distance changes as time passes– that is, $\frac{1}{2}$ a meter per second. When the boy first rolls it, the ball is traveling at $\frac{1}{2}$ a meter per second; when it finishes it had been traveling at $\frac{1}{2}$ a meter per second; and at any single point during the journey the ball is traveling at $\frac{1}{2}$ a meter per second.

However, this is a very simple example. It describes a situation involving a constant velocity. Things become a bit more muddied when the rate at which a change occurs is, itself, changing.