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Proof, and Methods

of Mathematics

We have referred to proof. What is a proof? A proof is a

sequence of logical arguments showing that a conclusion is

consistent with a set of assumptions. These assumptions are

called axioms or postulates.

Logic and Axiomatic Systems

To understand proof, you will need to understand logic. Logic

is one of the basic methods of formal mathematics. Logic is

often used in mathematics to create what is called an axiomatic

system.

We have already discussed undefined technical terms. These

are technical terms that we understand, but are unable to define

exactly without resorting to a circular argument (using the idea

in its definition). Undefined terms may be used as arguments in

proofs, but there is the risk that such ambiguous terms will lead

to unclear proofs.

Stop Reading and Do Something #1: Go through

what we have covered in Chapter One and make a list

of undefined terms. Include a brief description of your

understanding of each term. Continue to add to this list

as we go.

A statement that is either true or false is called a

proposition. Propositions that contain only one part are called

atomic propositions. These are the indivisible atoms of logic that

allow use to build what we are studying. Propositions containing

several parts are called compound propositions. Usually we are trying

to prove a proposition.

Propositions that we assume to be true based on

experience are called axioms or postulates. Axioms and postulates

may be used as arguments in proofs.

Stop Reading and Do Something #2: Go through

what we have covered in Chapter One and make a list

of axioms/postulates. Include a complete description

of each axiom or postulate. Think about an argument

for the truth of each. Continue to add to this list as we

go.

Propositions that we believe to be true, but have not

been proved are called conjectures. Conjectures may be used as

arguments in proofs, but the proof will be undone should a

conjecture be disproved.

A conjecture that has been proved is called a theorem. A

theorem that is proven as part of a larger proof (as an

intermediate step) is called a lemma. A theorem that is a minor

extension of another theorem is called a corollary. Theorems,

lemmas, and corollaries may be used as arguments in a proof.

2 Chapter 2 Logic.nb

A conjecture that has been proved is called a theorem. A

theorem that is proven as part of a larger proof (as an

intermediate step) is called a lemma. A theorem that is a minor

extension of another theorem is called a corollary. Theorems,

lemmas, and corollaries may be used as arguments in a proof.

Technical terms that are built out of precise statements are

called formal definitions, or just definitions. Definitions may be used

as arguments in a proof.

Stop Reading and Do Something #3: Go through

what we have covered in Chapter One and make a list

of definitions. Include a complete description of each

definition. Continue to add to this list as we go.

It will be understood that a proposition will be

symbolized as p, q, r , s, . . . . All of these symbols may be used

in proofs.

We know that a proposition is either true or false. What

if we convert the proposition so that it then becomes false or

true, respectively. Such a process is called a negation. We use the

symbol ¬ for a negation, so for the negation of p we write ¬ p.

We can produce a table of all truth values. We will call

such a truth table. Here is the truth table for a proposition and its

negation, where T represents True, and F False:

p ¬ p

T F

F T

We could also use numbers, where 0 represents F, and 1

represents T:

Chapter 2 Logic.nb 3

p ¬ p

0 1

1 0

We can also combine propositions in a way that is

similar to combining sets. We can say that we will consider p

and q, this is called the conjunction and is symbolized .

Stop Reading and Do Something #4: Write the truth

table for the conjunction. Begin by writing the truth

values for p, then for q, then the truth value for p q.

This is true only if both p and q are true, otherwise it is

false.

p q p q

T T T

F T F

T F F

F F F

We can also combine them by saying p or q, called the

disjunction and symbolized .

Stop Reading and Do Something #5: Write the truth

table for the disjunction. Begin by writing the truth

values for p, then for q, then the truth value for p q.

This is true only if either p and q are true, otherwise it

is false.

We also have the exclusive or, XOR, or the exclusive

disjunction, p or q, but not both, symbolized by .

4 Chapter 2 Logic.nb

Stop Reading and Do Something #6: Write the truth

table for the exclusive disjunction. Begin by writing the

truth values for p, then for q, then the truth value for p

q. This is true only if either p and q are true—but not

both, otherwise it is false.

We can also say that if p is true, then q is true. This is called the

conditional, and we symbolize it =.

Stop Reading and Do Something #7: Write the truth

table for the conditional.

We can also turn a conditional around, saying if q is true then p

is true, called the converse.

Stop Reading and Do Something #8: Write the truth

table for the converse.

We can take the negation of the converse, saying if ¬ q is true

then ¬ p is true. This is called the contrapositive.

Stop Reading and Do Something #9: Write the truth

table for the contrapositive. Compare this with the truth

table for the conditional.

We can take a conditional, and state that it works both ways; if

p then q and if q then p. This is called the biconditional, it means

that p is true if and only if q is true. It is symbolized =.

Stop Reading and Do Something #10: Write the truth

table for the biconditional.

Chapter 2 Logic.nb 5

Stop Reading and Do Something #10: Write the truth

table for the biconditional.

From these symbols we can create logical formulas. The simplest

formula is just the statement of a proposition, for example p, or

if we are making a statement that a proposition p depends on

another idea, say x we would write px.

Here is the truth table for a somewhat complicated formula:

p q r p q r

p q

r

T T T T F T

F T T F F F

T T F T T T

F T F F T T

T F T F F F

F F T F F F

T F F F T T

F F F F T T

If two formulas have the same truth table result, then

they are said to be logically equivalent. We write p~q if p and q are

logically equivalent. If a formula is always true, then it is called a

tautology. If a formula is always false, then it is called a

contradiction.

The negation of a negation of a proposition, is just the

proposition. This is called a double negation, or a double negative.

(1) ¬ ¬ p = p.

Stop Reading and Do Something #11: Write the truth

table for the double negative. Show that it is logically

equivalent to p.

6 Chapter 2 Logic.nb

Stop Reading and Do Something #11: Write the truth

table for the double negative. Show that it is logically

equivalent to p.

Either something is true, or it is not. This is the law of the excluded

middle.

(2) p ¬ p.

If the order of the connective does not matter, we say it is

commutative,

(3) p - q =q - p.

Stop Reading and Do Something #12: Show that this

is true by comparing the two truth tables.

Here * means either or . We can apply this to formulas

involving parentheses, such that the order of parentheses is not

important,

(4) p - q - r = p - q - r .

This is called associativity.

Here we present the Law of the Contrapositive:

(5) p = q =¬ q = ¬ p.

This law states that the contrapositive is true if and only if the

conditional is true. In other words showing the contrapositive

to be true is another way of showing the conditional to be true.

We can also list a formula for what are called DeMorgan’s

Laws:

Chapter 2 Logic.nb 7

(6) ¬ p - q = ¬ p ¬ q.

Here we can choose * to be either or , and is then either

or , so long as it is not the same as *.

We can also distribute operations:

(7) p - qr = p - q p - r .

Predicate Logic

Not all mathematical statements are propositions. Indeed,

x

2

= 0, is neither true nor false as it is presented. It becomes a

proposition only if we define x in some way. To make this clear

I will introduce some language: A symbol that represents an

unspecified object that can be chosen from some set of objects

is called a variable. A statement containing one or more variables

that becomes a proposition when the variables are chosen is

called a predicate.

The statement, "For every ...," is symbolized by !, and

is called the universal quantifier. For example we can say that for

all natural numbers, symbolized by , x ± 0. We could also

write the symbolic statement saying the same thing:

! x x e x ± 0.

The statement, "There exists...," is symbolized by ¬, and

is called the existential quantifier. For example, we can say that

there exists some natural number such that x ± 0. We could

also write ¬ x x e x ± 0.

Stop Reading and Do Something #13: Rewrite the

definitions and axioms of Chapter One and this

Chapter up to now using the language of logic.

8 Chapter 2 Logic.nb

Stop Reading and Do Something #13: Rewrite the

definitions and axioms of Chapter One and this

Chapter up to now using the language of logic.

Proofs

In what follows, we will identify the starting proposition as the

hypothesis and symbolize it by p. The conjecture to be proved,

the conclusion, will be symbolized by q.

Proof by Truth Table

This is the most rudimentary style of proof. The primary

limitation is the amount of work it requires, and the ever-

expanding size of the resulting truth table. You begin by

producing the truth table for the hypothesis, and then the

conclusion; if they are the same, then they are logically

equivalent, thus the hypothesis if and only if the conclusion.

Direct proof

This is at once the most effective proof and the most difficult.

Here are the steps:

1. State the hypothesis.

2. Make your first logical argument in a sequence that will

bring you to the conclusion.

3. (this symbol indicates a variable number of steps).

4. Make your final argument.

5. State your conclusion.

Often this process is ended by writing Q.E.D. standing for quod

erat demonstrandum, meaning roughly, "Which was to be

demonstrated."

Chapter 2 Logic.nb 9

Proof by contrapositive

The contrapositive and the conditional are logically equivalent—

as shown in Eq. (5)—thus if we can prove the contrapositive,

we have proven the conditional. We begin this method of proof

by stating the conclusion.

1. State the conclusion.

2. Write the negation of the conclusion.

3. Make your first logical argument in a sequence that will

bring you to the hypothesis.

4. .

5. Make your final argument.

6. State the negation of the hypothesis.

7. Make the argument that by the contrapositive the

conditional must be true. Q.E.D.

Reductio ad absurdum (RAA)

Here we assume the negation of the conclusion and show that

this leads to a contradiction, thus the negation cannot be true;

thus the conclusion must be true:

1. State the hypothesis.

2. Assume that the hypothesis implies the negation of the

conclusion

3. Make your first logical argument in a sequence that will

show a contradiction.

4. .

5. Make your final argument.

6. Show that this implies that the negation of the

conclusion is both true and false, such a situation is

always false.

10 Chapter 2 Logic.nb

7. Since this is a contradiction, the negation of the

conclusion cannot be true.

8. The conclusion must then be true. Q.E.D.

Mathematical induction

This requires knowing that the natural numbers are 1, 2, 3, and

so on.

1. State the hypothesis.

2. Show that the conclusion is true for the case of a variable

equal to one. This is called the basis step.

3. Write your conclusion for the variable having an arbitrary

value for some unspecified natural number n.

4. Show that if the conclusion is true for n that the

conclusion is also true for n +1. This is called the inductive

step. It is possible to reverse 3 and 4, to assume the

conclusion true for n +1 and then show that it is true for

n.

5. By the Principle of Mathematical Induction the

conclusion must be true for all natural numbers (or for

all cases that can be listed by the natural numbers).

Q.E.D.

Proof by cases - divide and conquer

The final style of proof is given in the next two sections:

1. State the hypothesis.

2. Show that the conclusion requires a finite number of

cases.

3. Prove each case independently.

4. Thus the conclusion is true for each possible case. Q.E.D.

Proof by cases - Bootstrap

We continue with the second method for case analysis:

Chapter 2 Logic.nb 11

1. State the hypothesis.

2. Show that the conclusion requires a finite number of

cases.

3. Prove the first case.

4. Prove each case based on the proof of the previous case.

5. Thus the conclusion is true for each case. Q.E.D.

Counterexamples

Up to now we have considered how to construct a

mathematical proof. We can also disprove a conjecture by

showing a single case where the conclusion is not true. Such an

instance is called a counterexample of the conjecture.

Mathematical Discovery

Now we turn to the sticky issue of how we go about

discovering mathematics. The bald truth is that there is no

systematic method of mathematical discovery. What we have is

a set of guidelines that can be used to emphasize your inherent

talent.

You must think hard about what each object you are

considering really means in the context of what you are trying to

do. Then think about the relations between the objects, what do

they mean? Try to be as precise as possible. Bear in mind that

an object in one context may not be the same as in another

context. Expect these notions to change as your understanding

of the objects and/or relations becomes more sophisticated.

Beginning with objects and then their relations, ask

what their respective properties are. When you successfully

propose some property, then you must prove it to be true.

Sometimes you will want to create new structures or relations

from what you already have. Does this suggest formal

definitions?

12 Chapter 2 Logic.nb

Beginning with objects and then their relations, ask

what their respective properties are. When you successfully

propose some property, then you must prove it to be true.

Sometimes you will want to create new structures or relations

from what you already have. Does this suggest formal

definitions?

This leads to two broad types of problems. The first is a

problem to find something. This can be defining an object. It

can be performing a calculation. It can be constructing a new

object out of existing objects and their relations. Such problems

have three principal components: The object sought after, the

existing objects and relations, and the conditions that connect

them. What is the object you are trying to find?

The second is the problem to prove something. Here

you construct a conjecture and you prove it using a method

from the previous section.

In either type of problem it is wise to develop a plan of

attack. Think of a kind of strategy to solve the problem, or to

prove a conjecture.

Can you think of a way of substituting one or more

ideas for another? One set of symbols for another? Do the set

of existing objects or relations suggest a pattern?

Choose simple examples to get experience. Then

choose extreme cases (zero and infinity, for example). Then try

to identify significant cases where behavior might change. Do

the set of cases you are examining suggest a generalization? Can

you think of a new notation that might make things simpler?

Can you think of a way of using contradictory ideas that

arise from objects and/or relations in different contexts? Does

this allow you to change your view? Does it suggest a paradox—

a situation where something has two contradictory answers at

the same time?

Chapter 2 Logic.nb 13

Can you think of a way of using contradictory ideas that

arise from objects and/or relations in different contexts? Does

this allow you to change your view? Does it suggest a paradox—

a situation where something has two contradictory answers at

the same time?

As you carry out each step of your plan, make sure to

check your work. Estimate before you make a calculation, that

way you get some idea of what to expect.

When you are done, make sure to save your work. That

way you can use it later.

If you get stuck, try changing how you represent the

problem. Can you reword it? Can you develop a formula? Can

you make a diagram? Can you make a plot? What insights do

you gain from this? Can you think of a simpler problem that is

related to the problem that you are working on? Can you think

of another problem related by analogy or metaphor?

These are all broad strokes ideas that might not apply to

your specific problem. When you are working a problem try

them until you have exhausted the list, or until you have solve

the problem. Go over other problems you have done that are

similar, if there are any. How did you do it before? Has

someone else done it before? If so, how did they do it?

14 Chapter 2 Logic.nb

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