Category Archives: abstract

Negative numbers, the minus sign, abstract algebra.

I was pondering the reality of negative numbers and after figuring out that a sequence of dots on a line can be extended in each of the two directions, and then arbitrarily selecting one dot as “the zero”. The line can be further labelled as 1, 2, 3, … to one side and -1, -2, -3, … on the other side.
(better to label the 1, 2, 3, … as +1, +2, +3, … and consider the lot as “signed numbers”)

Soon proceeding towards arithmetic I concluded that 7-3 is 4, and also 8-4 is 4, and therefore 13-9 is 4, and then 3-7 is -4, and -2-2 is -4. It was then observed that if a-b=c then a-y-(b-y) is also equal to c, regardless of the signs of the specific numbers involved.
This of course is stunningly obvious when looking at the signed difference of the first and the second number as an extended number line diagram.

The outcome of all this was an arithmetic for 0, 1, 2 modulo 3, and  the signed difference x-y is a binary operation diff(x,y) with table:

…x  … 0     1     2
0         0     1     2
1         2      0    1
2         1      2    0

Example: 1-2 is -1, which is 2 modulo 3

So a non abelian, non associative algebra with a not quite identity satisfies the conditions, where A=1, B=2 and C=0
There are three objects and an operation called “doesn’t have a name”.
Two are similar, and the third is a bit different
They are paired to yield a single object as follows:

AA = BB = CC = C
AB = BC = CA = B
AC = CB = BA = A

Notice that BC and CB are different, so non-abelian.
Worse is that (AC)A = C and A(CA) = B are different, so non-associative.
And consequently A and B and C are different.

Interestingly, and maybe separately, the minus sign behaves very differently from the plus sign:

a-(-b) is a+b, but there is no way of writing a-b using only addition.

This means that all expressions can be written with “minus” alone.


Filed under abstract, algebra, arithmetic, Uncategorized

Minimal Abstract Algebra

This is a challenge !!!!!

There are three objects, A, B, and C, and an operation called “doesn’t have a name”.
Two are similar, and the third is a bit different
They are paired to yield a single object as follows:

AA = BB = CC = C
AB = BC = CA = B
AC = CB = BA = A

Notice that BC and CB are different, so non-abelian.
Worse is that (AC)A = C and A(CA) = B are different, so non-associative.
And consequently A and B and C are different.

Your job is to identify (model, in current jargon) the objects and the operation.”

The next post will be “the solution”.

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Filed under abstract, algebra, Uncategorized

What exactly is Base 10 arithmetic ?

Teacher: “Now we’re going to learn about base 10 arithmetic”.
Wise guy: “Is that where 3 + 4 = 12, or is it where 3 x 4 = 12 ?”.

I did a search on the net and found the term “base 10” all over the place. What does it mean?

An apparently annoying question:
“Does the 1 in 10 stand for the number 10’s in 10?”.

The interpretation of 10 in the system described as “Base 10” depends on the base of the system, so what is it? How do I find out?

We have here a logical problem. The term “Base 10” as a definition is self referential. It is more subtle than this definition of a straight line:

“A straight line is a line which is straight”.

The problem arises from the almost universal confusion between the two things:
1: The name of a number, in this case “ten” is supposedly implied
2: The symbols representing a number, in this case 10 in the base ten system”

So the answers to the questions “What is it? How do I find out?” above are “Unknown” and “You can’t”

Writing “Base 10” when you mean “Base ten” is probably the first step in making math meaningless.



Filed under abstract, arithmetic, confusion, definitions, language in math, math, teaching

A. N. Whitehead on negative numbers (1911)

This is really worth reading. It is from his book, “Introduction to Mathematics”, published in 1911.

whitehead intro to math negative nos





Filed under abstract, arithmetic, Number systems, teaching, Uncategorized

Political correctness in K-12 math

This is definitely worth a read.

Here is a quote:

“High schools focus on elementary applications of advanced mathematics whereas most people really make more use of sophisticated applications of elementary mathematics. This accounts for much of the disconnect noted above, as well as the common complaint from employers that graduates don’t know any math. Many who master high school mathematics cannot think clearly about percentages or ratios.”

And here is the link:

Link found on f(t)’s blog

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Filed under abstract, algebra, CCSS, Common Core, depth, education, K-12, math, standards, teaching, tests

Complex Numbers via Rigid Motions

Complex numbers via rigid motions
Just a bit mathematical !

I wrote this in response to a post by Michael Pershan:

The way I have presented it is showing how mathematicians think. Get an idea, try it out, if it appears to work then attempt to produce a logical and mathematically sound derivation.
(This last part I have not included)
The idea is that wherever you have operations on things, and one operation can be followed by another of the same type, then you can consider the combinations of the operations separately from the things being operated on. The result is a new type of algebra, in this case the algebra of rotations.
Read on . . .

Rotations around the origin.
angle 180 deg or pi
Y = -y, and X = -x —> coordinate transformation
so (1,0) goes to (-1,0) and (-1,0) goes to (1,0)
Let us call this transformation H (for a half turn)

angle 90 deg or pi/2
Y = x, and X = -y
so (1,0) goes to (0,1) and (-1,0) goes to (0,-1)
and (0,1) goes to (-1,0) and (0,-1) goes to (1,0)
Let us call this transformation Q (for a quarter turn)

Then H(x,y) = (-x,-y)
and Q(x,y) = (-y,x)

Applying H twice we have H(H(x,y)) = (x,y) and if we are bold we can write HH(x,y) = (x,y)
and then HH = I, where I is the identity or do nothing transformation.
In the same way we find QQ = H

Now I is like multiplying the coodinates by 1
and H is like multiplying the coordinates by -1
This is not too outrageous, as a dilation can be seen as a multiplication of the coordinates by a number <> 1

So, continuing into uncharted territory,
we have H squared = 1 (fits with (-1)*(-1) = 1
and Q squared = -1 (fits with QQ = H, at least)

So what is Q ?
Let us suppose that it is some sort of a number, definitely not a normal one,
and let its value be called k.
What we can be fairly sure of is that k does not multiply each of the coordinates.
This appears to be meaningful only for the normal numbers.

Now the “number” k describes a rotation of 90, so we would expect that the square root of k to describe a rotation of 45

At this point it helps if the reader is familiar with extending the rational numbers by the introduction of the square root of 2 (a surd, although this jargon seems to have disappeared).

Let us assume that sqrt(k) is a simple combination of a normal number and a multiple of k:
sqrt(k) = a + bk
Then k = sqr(a) + sqr(b)*sqr(k) + 2abk, and sqr(k) = -1
which gives k = sqr(a)-sqr(b) + 2abk and then (2ab-1)k = sqr(a) – sqr(b)

From this, since k is not a normal number, 2ab = 1 and sqr(a) = sqr(b)
which gives a = b and then a = b = 1/root(2)

Now we have a “number” representing a 45 degree rotation. namely
(1/root(2)*(1 + k)

If we plot this and the other rotation numbers as points on a coordinate axis grid with ordinary numbers horizontally and k numbers vertically we see that all the points are on the unit circle, at positions corresponding to the rotation angles they describe.

OMG there must be something in this ! ! !

The continuation is left to the reader (as in some Victorian novels)

ps. root() and sqrt() are square root functions, and sqr() is the squaring function .

pps. Diagrams may be drawn at your leisure !


Filed under abstract, algebra, education, geometry, operations, teaching

Commutative, distributive, illustrative-ly

Here they all are, apart from associative, as it belongs to algebra.

gif commutative add

gif commutative mult

gif distributive law


Filed under abstract, arithmetic, language in math, operations, teaching

The Distributive Law, again !

The formal statement of the distributive law should read as follows:

If a, b, c and d are numbers, or algebraic expressions (same thing really) and b = c + d then ab = ac + ad

It is a by-product of the law that it tells you how to expand an expression with a bracketed factor.

In any case, what’s the big deal ?

gif distributive law


Filed under abstract, algebra, arithmetic, language in math, teaching

The mean ? Which mean ? With interesting ratios.

Playing around with the Harmonic Mean of two numbers I stumbled on an interesting ratio, and looked at the others as well.

Here are the definitions, for numbers a and b


If we use m for the mean, then

for the arithmetic mean we have the ratio (b-m)/(m-a) = 1

for the geometric mean we have b/m = m/a

for the harmonic mean we have (b-m)/(m-a) = b/a

and for the RMS mean we have (b2 – m2)/( m2 – a2) = 1

I am quite sure that there is a way of seeing these which ties them all together, perhaps Mr. Joseph Nebus can find it !

The harmonic mean can be used to explain the harmonic tuning of a keyboard instrument (as opposed to equal temper tuning). I am planning a post on this for later.

The formula I gave for the harmonic mean is not the usual one – use a bit of algebra ! – but it is easier to calculate with.

The RMS mean is used extensively in Statistics, Rigid Body Dynamics and Electrical Engineering. The well known 110 volts in your house electric system is the RMS mean of the alternating voltage actually supplied. The Standard Deviation is the RMS average of the distances of the data values from the arithmetic mean value.

A non formal view of these means (the first three) is that the arithmetic mean is about the positions of the two numbers, the geometric mean is about the absolute sizes of the numbers and the harmonic mean is about the relative sizes of the numbers.

if we take the zero, the two numbers, and the harmonic mean the four values have a cross ratio of -1 (see part 3 of the Christmas Tale)

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Filed under abstract, engineering, statistics, teaching

More bad language in math

Here is another horror which I found recently:

The distributive law of addition: a(b + c) = ab + ac (OK, it’s a definition)

distributive property really

The current school math explanation:
You take the a and distribute it to the b to get ab
and then you distribute the a to the c to get ac
and then you add them together to get ab + ac

I have come across this explanation in several places, and once again real damage is done to the language, and real confusion sown. “Distribute” means “to spread or share out” as in “The Arts Council distributed its funds unevenly, as usual. Opera got the lion’s share.” So it is NOT the a that is distributed. I tried to find a definition of the term in wordy form as it applies to algebra systems but failed. Heavy thinking produced the “answer”. What is being distributed is the second factor on the left.
Take 3 x 7. We know that the value of this is 21
Distribute, or spread out, the 7 as 2 + 5 . . . . . . . . the b + c
Then 3 x (2 + 5) has the value 21
But so does 3 x 2 + 3 x 5. To check, get out the blocks !
So 3 x (2 + 5) = 3 x 2 + 3 x 5 ……… The Law !

Regarding the “second” version of the distributive property, a(b – c) = ab – ac, this cannot just be stated, and you won’t find it in any abstract algebra texts. Since the students are looking at this before they have encountered the signed number system, a proof must not involve negative numbers, as a, b and c are all natural numbers. It can be done, and here it is:

set b – c equal to w (why not!)
then b = c + w
multiply both sides by a
ab = a(c + w)
expand the right hand side by the distributive law
ab = ac + aw
subtract ac from both sides
ab – ac = aw
replace w by b – c, and then
ab – ac = a(b – c)
done !


Filed under abstract, arithmetic, language in math, teaching