Cardinality of the continuum

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Cardinality of the continuum

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cardinality or size of the set of real numbers R , sometimes called the continuum. It is an innite cardinal num- 0 < c.

ber and is denoted by |R| or c (a lowercase fraktur script

In other words, there are strictly more real numbers than

c).

there are integers. Cantor proved this statement in several

The real numbers R are more numerous than the natural dierent ways. See Cantors rst uncountability proof and

numbers N . Moreover, R has the same number of ele- Cantors diagonal argument.

ments as the power set of N . Symbolically, if the cardinality of N is denoted as 0 , the cardinality of the continuum is

1.2 Cardinal equalities

A variation on Cantors diagonal argument can be used to

prove Cantors theorem which states that the cardinality

c = 2 > 0 .

of any set is strictly less than that of its power set, i.e. |A| <

|A|

This was proven by Georg Cantor in his 1874 uncount- 2 , and so the power set P(N) of the natural numbers N is

ability proof, part of his groundbreaking study of dier- uncountable. In fact, it can be shown that the cardinality

ent innities, and later more simply in his diagonal ar- of P(N) is equal to c :

gument. Cantor dened cardinality in terms of bijective

1. Dene a map f : R P(Q) from the reals to the

functions: two sets have the same cardinality if and only

power set of the rationals by sending each real numif there exists a bijective function between them.

ber x to the set {q Q | q x} of all rationals less

Between any two real numbers a < b, no matter how close

than or equal to x (with the reals viewed as Dedekind

they are to each other, there are always innitely many

cuts, this is nothing other than the inclusion map in

other real numbers, and Cantor showed that they are as

the set of sets of rationals). This map is injective

many as those contained in the whole set of real numbers.

since the rationals are dense in R. Since the ratioIn other words, the open interval (a,b) is equinumerous

nals are countable we have that c 20 .

with R. This is also true for several other innite sets,

such as any n-dimensional Euclidean space Rn (see space

2. Let {0,2}N be the set of innite sequences with vallling curve). That is,

ues in set {0,2}. This set clearly has cardinality 20

(the natural bijection between the set of binary sequences and P(N) is given by the indicator function).

Now associate to each such sequence (ai) the unique

|(a, b)| = |R| = |Rn |.

real number in the interval [0,1] with the ternaryexpansion given by the digits (ai), i.e. the i-th digit

The smallest innite cardinal number is 0 (alephafter

the decimal point is ai. The image of this map

naught). The second smallest is 1 (aleph-one). The

is

called

the Cantor set. It is not hard to see that this

continuum hypothesis, which asserts that there are no sets

map

is

injective,

for by avoiding points with the digit

whose cardinality is strictly between 0 and c , implies

1

in

their

ternary

expansion we avoid conicts crethat c = 1 .

ated by the fact that the ternary-expansion of a real

number is not unique. We then have that 20 c .

0

1

1.1

Properties

Uncountability

c = |P (N)| = 20 .

compare the sizes of innite sets. He famously showed

that the set of real numbers is uncountably innite; i.e. c

is strictly greater than the cardinality of the natural numbers, 0 :

argument. This proof constructs a bijection from {0,1}N

to R.)

1

cardinal arithmetic:

2 Beth numbers

Main article: Beth number

c2 = (20 )2 = 220 = 20 = c.

By using the rules of cardinal arithmetic one can also 0 and k+1 = 2k . So c is the second beth number,

show that

beth-one:

c0 = 0 0 = n0 = cn = 0 c = nc = c,

c = 1 .

The third beth number, beth-two, is the cardinality of the

power set of R (i.e. the set of all subsets of the real line):

cc = (20 )c = 2c0 = 2c ,

where 2c is the cardinality of the power set of R, and 2c = .

2

2c > c .

1.3

Every real number has at least one innite decimal ex- Main article: Continuum hypothesis

pansion. For example,

1/2 = 0.50000...

1/3 = 0.33333...

= 3.14159....

(This is true even when the expansion repeats as in the

rst two examples.) In any given case, the number of

digits is countable since they can be put into a one-to-one

correspondence with the set of natural numbers N . This

fact makes it sensible to talk about (for example) the rst,

the one-hundredth, or the millionth digit of . Since the

natural numbers have cardinality 0 , each real number

has 0 digits in its expansion.

second aleph number 1 . In other words, the continuum

hypothesis states that there is no set A whose cardinality

lies strictly between 0 and c

This statement is now known to be independent of the axioms of ZermeloFraenkel set theory with the axiom of

choice (ZFC). That is, both the hypothesis and its negation are consistent with these axioms. In fact, for every

nonzero natural number n, the equality c = n is indepenSince each real number can be broken into an integer part dent of ZFC (the case n = 1 is the continuum hypothesis). The same is true for most other alephs, although in

and a decimal fraction, we get

some cases equality can be ruled out by Knigs theorem

on the grounds of conality, e.g., c = . In particular, c

0

0

4 0

0 +40

0

could

be either 1 or 1 , where 1 is the rst uncountc 0 10 2 (2 ) = 2

=2

able ordinal, so it could be either a successor cardinal or

since

a limit cardinal, and either a regular cardinal or a singular

cardinal.

0 + 4 0 = 0 .

consider that decimal fractions containing only 3 or 7 are

only a part of the real numbers, then we get

0

c.

A great many sets studied in mathematics have cardinality

equal to c . Some common examples are the following:

and thus

c = 20 .

(such as the unit interval [0, 1] )

3

For instance, for all a, b R such that a < b

we can dene the bijection

sets in Rn )

f : R (a, b)

arctan x + 2

(b a) + a

x 7

Now we show the cardinality of an innite interval. For all a R we can dene the bijection

f : R (a, )

{

arctan x + 2 + a if x < 0

x 7

if x 0

x + 2 + a

sets in R ).

f : R (, b)

{

x 2 + b

x 7

arctan x

if x < 0

+ b if x 0

the transcendental numbers

We note that the set of real algebraic numbers

is countably innite (assign to each formula its

Gdel number.) So the cardinality of the real

algebraic numbers is 0 . Furthermore, the

real algebraic numbers and the real transcendental numbers are disjoint sets whose union

is R . Thus, since the cardinality of R is c ,

the cardinality of the real transcendental numbers is c 0 = c . A similar result follows

for complex transcendental numbers, once we

have proved that |C| = c .

the Cantor set

Euclidean space Rn [1]

the complex numbers C

We note that, per Cantors proof

of the cardinality of Euclidean space,[1] R2 = c . By definition, any c C can be uniquely expressed

as a + bi for some a, b R . We therefore

dene the bijection

f : R2 C

(a, b) 7 a + bi

the power set of the natural numbers P(N) (the set

of all subsets of the natural numbers)

the set of sequences of integers (i.e. all functions

N Z , often denoted ZN )

the set of sequences of real numbers, RN

the set of all continuous functions from R to R

Sets with cardinality greater than c include:

the set of all subsets of R (i.e., power set P(R) )

the set 2R of indicator functions dened on subsets

of the reals (the set 2R is isomorphic to P(R) the

indicator function chooses elements of each subset

to include)

the set RR of all functions from R to R

the Lebesgue -algebra of R , i.e., the set of all

Lebesgue measurable sets in R .

the Stoneech compactications of N , Q and R

the set of all automorphisms of the eld of complex

numbers.

These all have cardinality 2c = 2 (beth two).

6 References

[1] Was Cantor Surprised?, Fernando Q. Gouva

D. Van Nostrand Company, 1960. Reprinted by

Springer-Verlag, New York, 1974. ISBN 0-38790092-6 (Springer-Verlag edition).

Jech, Thomas, 2003. Set Theory: The Third Millennium Edition, Revised and Expanded. Springer.

ISBN 3-540-44085-2.

Kunen, Kenneth, 1980. Set Theory: An Introduction to Independence Proofs. Elsevier. ISBN 0-44486839-9.

This article incorporates material from cardinality of the

continuum on PlanetMath, which is licensed under the

Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

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