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Published by Meena Bhagavathula

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Published by: Meena Bhagavathula on Mar 12, 2011
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This is an extremely powerful method and is widely used to make proofs
short and simple to follow. To prove that the statement “P → Q” is true
using this method, we start by assuming that P is true but Q is false. If
this assumption leads to a contradiction, it means that our assumption that
“Q is false” must be wrong, and hence Q must follow from P. This method
is based on the following logical reasoning. If we know that P → Q is true
and Q is false, then P must be false. So, if we assume at the beginning
that P is true, Q is false, and reach the conclusion that P is false, then we
have that P is both true and false. But P cannot be both true and false,
and hence this is a contradiction. Thus, we conclude that our assumption
that Q is false is wrong, and it must be the case that Q is true after all.
It should be noted that this is not the only contradiction that may result;
for example, after assuming that P is true and Q is false, we may reach
the conclusion that, say, 1 = −1. The following example illustrates this
method of proof. In this example, we make use of the following theorem.
If a,b and c are integers such that a divides both b and c, then a divides
their difference, that is, a divides b−c.

Example 2.7 We prove the assertion: There are infinitely many primes. We

Proof Methods


proceed to prove this assertion by contradiction as follows. Suppose to the con-

trary that there are only k primes p1,p2,...,pk, where p1 = 2,p2 = 3,p3 = 5, etc.

and that all other integers greater than 1 are composite. Let n = p1p2...pk + 1

and let p be a prime divisor of n (recall that n is not a prime by assumption since

it is larger than pk). Since n is not a prime, one of p1,p2,...,pk must divide n.

That is, p is one of the numbers p1,p2,...,pk, and hence p divides p1p2...pk.

Consequently, p divides n−p1p2...pk. But n−p1p2...pk = 1, and p does not

divide 1 since it is greater than 1, by definition of a prime number. This is a

contradiction. It follows that the number of primes is infinite.

The proof of Theorem 2.3 provides an excellent example of the method
of proof by contradiction.

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