The Banach-Tarski Paradox

Zaichen Lu October 2009

However. 4 The bizarre nature of infinity has been investigated since ancient times. regard this merely as an odd consequence of the uncountability of R (and Rn ) 4 . goes some way into showing the necessity of adopting restricted concepts of measure. is itself compact. Then there exists a function f : A → S∈A S. and only holds in Rn where n ≥ 3. such as Lebesgue’s construction. some of whom cited it as reason to reject the Axiom of Choice. such as the Tychonoff Theorem5 in general topology. 2 Banach. Examples include Zeno’s Paradox. Someone with a background in mathematics. Stefan. and the appearance of AC in many different branches of mathematics. Initially. The function f is referred to as the choice function. such that f (x) ∈ x. However. might. 1 Hereafter 1 . which follows as a simple corollary to the original theorem. and cannot be proven nor disproven in ZF. but where B and A are ‘of the same first time. published in 1924 by Stefan Banach and Alfred Tarski2 . This result. after a little thought. who is meeting the paradox for the The paradox plays on the idea of a proper subset B ⊂ A. many important results. Alfred (1924). the whole story is much more interesting. Hilbert’s Hotel. 3 Jan Mycielski in his Foreword to Wagon’s The Banach-Tarski Paradox. upon which the paradox depended. also referred to as BTP. lead to its common acceptance amongst most mathematicians. from the list of basic axioms of set theory. and also shows our conception of sets not to be wholly intuitive. “Sur la décomposition des ensembles de points en parties respectivement congruentes” Fundamenta Mathematicae 6: 244–277. It has been described by some mathematicians as “the most surprising result of theoretical mathematics” 3 . the Banach-Tarski paradox caused a stir amongst mathematicians. In a bid to eliminate such highly counter-intuitive results. and the range f(A) is called the choice set.” This is sometimes rather fancifully described as cutting up a pea and reassembling the pieces into a ball the size of the sun. ∀x ∈ A. many mathematicians also proposed weaker forms of AC. but still allowed for many of the same positive results as Choice. The following is the one common formulation of the axiom: Axiom Of Choice (AC): Let A be a family of non-empty sets. ones which were not strong enough to imply BTP. The analogous theorem in R2 would require the weaker condition of partitioning into countable pieces. size’ in some sense. Furthermore. Tarski. with seemingly paradoxical consequences. Cantor’s theory of cardinality.Introduction The Banach-Tarski Paradox1 is generally quoted as stating: “It is possible to partition a solid ball in R3 into finitely many disjoint parts and rearrange them through rigid motions to form two identical copies of the original. still required AC in full generality. 5 The product of any collection of compact topological spaces. BTP requires the Axiom of Choice (AC). and of course BTP. as the paradox calls on rigid transformations.

. denoted A ∼ B. .j = hj (Yi. such that A ≈G B and B ≈G C. . . B ⊆ X. . B= i=1 Bi with Ai ∩ Aj = Bi ∩ Bj = Ø whenever i = j. hn ∈ G Let Yi. B. B1 . such that ∀g. h ∈ G and x ∈ X. . . . such such that Cj = hj (Bj ). j Yi. where 1 denotes the identity element in G. Proposition 1. Definition 1. Furthermore. . ∃g1 .the special orthogonal group. Definition 2. βn ⊆ B and C1 .j = (h ◦ g)(Xi. . I shall present some of the definitions and theorems I shall be using in the proof of the Banach-Tarski Paradox. . . Clearly the collection of Yi.j = Bi ∩ βj . .The group of all isometries. . . . . if A and B can be partitioned into finite disjoint unions of pairwise congruent Ai . By definition. this means that Bi = gi (Ai ).Background In this section.j } partitions C.j = gi (Yi. Am ⊆ A. and Zi.j also partitions B. A= i=1 n n G-equidecomposable. We shall be using the geometric concept of equidecomposability to represent this idea more technically. That is. if there is some isometry = n n f : R → R such that f (A) = B. we have Over the course of this paper. I shall be using the following notational conventions for groups acting on Rn : • En . gm ∈ G. j. Let G be a group acting on a set X and suppose A. . gn ∈ G such that Bi = gi (Ai ). Let X be a set. and transitivity doesn’t require much more effort.j = βj for each j. the crux of the paradox is to generate two sets of identical ‘size’ as the original. . We define A and B to be subsets. there corresponds a bijection. and 2 . . Two sets A. .j = Bi for Zi. Bm ⊆ B and rigid motions g1 . • SOn . each i. . As mentioned in the introduction. The relation ≈G is an equivalence relation. . Definition 3. also denoted g : X ↔ X. B ⊆ Rn are congruent. Cn ⊆ C and h1 . C ⊆ Rn . . We denote this A ≈G B. and let G be a group. . Proof. g(h(x)) = (gh)(x) and 1(x) = x. i Yi. . . and similarly Transitivity: Suppose A.j ).j } partitions A. and that ∀ 1 ≤ i ≤ n. that there exists partitions A1 . and {Zi.j ). Then. −1 Let Xi. {Xi. . There are also partitions β1 .j ) for each i. G is said to act on X if to every g ∈ G. Reflexivity and symmetry are trivial. In R3 this consists of the rotations around the origin.

The identity of F will be denoted 1. s. we can understand BTP in the more general setting of paradoxical sets. and G a subgroup of En . if for some A. it is of particular interest when G is En or SOn . We can now phrase the Banach-Tarski Paradox using this terminology: BTP: S 2 is SO3 -paradoxical. no two reduced words are Figure 1: Cayley graph of free group on two generators. and called the empty word: clearly σσ −1 = σ −1 σ = 1. and A ≈G E ≈G B With this definition. Over the course of this paper we shall investigate certain particular cases when X is some Euclidean space. We define E to be Gparadoxical if E is G-equidecomposable with two disjoint copies of itself. Clearly. A ∩ B = Ø. since only rigid motions are then allowed. A word is reduced if equivalent. ∀σ ∈ M all adjacent pairs of letters of the form σσ −1 or σ −1 σ are removed. The center represents the empty word. That is. and suppose E ⊆ X.t. B ⊆ E. Let G be a group acting on a set X. The free group F with generating set M is the group of all finite reduced words using letters from {σ. σ −1 : σ ∈ M } under composition. each vertex representing a unique reduced word. Definition 5. τ ±1 . and moving along a branch represents multiplying by one of σ ±1 . Let M be a set. Thus. 3 .Definition 4.

for example. τ W (τ −1 ). . Suppose therefore. for n ≥ 3. where F acts on itself by left multiplication. Proof. and transformations which witness that G is paradoxical. that is. . . which is based on the realisation of the free group on two generators as a group of isometries in Rn .Theorem 1. Let G be a paradoxical group acting on a set X without nontrivial fixed points. . no non-identity element of the group fixes a point of the set. It is also useful to talk of groups having the property of being paradoxical. . and g1 . gives a word beginning with ρ. Hence SOn has a free subgroup of rank 2. τ are the two generators of F. For the following theorem. . σ and τ . . then they are independent. α and β generate a free group of rank 2. gm . Here. . Note that as G acts without nontrivial fixed 4 . we obtain a word beginning with σσ −1 ρ . We define the orbit of p under G by o(p) := {g(p) : g ∈ G}. . τ ±1 . we need the extra condition that the group acts without nontrivial fixed points.e of rank 2) is F-paradoxical. . Proof. that A1 . and also uses the idea of transferring a paradox from a group to a set upon which it acts. Am . . hn ∈ G are subsets Let p ∈ X. was shown to be paradoxical. Recall that a group is paradoxical if it is equidecomposable with two disjoint copies of itself. . which upon reduction. Suppose σ. . Proof. where the group acts on itself by left multiplication. where ρ is one of σ ±1 . note that if we pre-multiply an element in W (σ −1 ) by σ. A free group F on two generators (i. if α and β are two rotations of the same irrational angle θ (in degrees). This result is important to our dealing with BTP. Theorem 2 (AC).e. but through perpendicular axes. B1 . . it is the set of set for a free group H ≤ G. such that no non-trivial sequence of compositions results in the identity rotation. We denote the set of words in F whose first letter is ρ as W (ρ). i. Bn ⊆ G. about axes through the origin in R3 . . . h1 . we define a subset S of a group G to be independent if S is a generating to the empty word. which by Theorem 1. We can then partition F into five sets: F = {1} W (σ) W (σ −1 ) W (τ ) W (τ −1 ) However. There exists two independent rotations. It is clear to see that. To transfer the paradoxical quality from a group to a set upon which it acts. That is: σW (σ −1 ) = {1} W (σ −1 ) W (τ ) We therefore obtain that: W (σ) σ(W σ −1 ) = F = W (τ ) W (τ −1 ) = F \ W (σ). . Proposition 2. Consequently. we shall be considering rotations in R3 . . This means that no non-trivial word composed of elements of S corresponds all points that can be reached from p by action from G. Then X is G-paradoxical. where ρ is one of σ −1 . τ ±1 .

5 . Then {g(M ) : g ∈ G} partitions X.points. without nontrivial fixed points. by the paradoxical decomposition i m i=1 gi (Ai ) of G. Then G is paradoxical. Hence. n m gi (A∗ ) = X = i i=1 j=1 ∗ hj (Bj ) Corollary. any two orbits are either identical or disjoint. Then. if we consider the group of rotations about the origin in R2 . where we restrict attention to exclude nontrivial fixed points. because G acts without nontrivial fixed points. G is H -paradoxical. we have that =G= n j=1 hj (Bj ). we can see that all rotations leave the origin as fixed. An immediate problem we encounter is that groups often have non-trivial fixed points. X partitions into a disjoint union of orbits. Proof. Hausdorff’s Paradox presents a precursor to BTP. Suppose H is a paradoxical subgroup of G. G is G-paradoxical. Then. Hence. For example. Formally. A subgroup H of a group G acts by left multiplication on the whole group. there exists a choice set M containing one element from each G-orbit in X. ∗ Let A∗ = {g(M ) : g ∈ Ai } and Bj = {g(M ) : g ∈ Bj }. any group with a free subgroup of rank 2 is paradoxical. Therefore. Let G be a group. By Theorem 3.

it is useful to first consider a corresponding theorem in R2 . they can be placed in 1-1 correspondence. since for each r ∈ R. countable. We can therefore. it cannot be applied without modification. R := {rn : n ∈ N} consists of one point from each equivalence class. This theorem gives us a taste for the style of proof required in the Banach-Tarski Paradox. i. namely the intersection of the axis of rotation with S 2 . we have that Mi ∼ Mj by rotation. Proof. = the reverse rotation r−1 ∈ R. AC). hence can be ennumerated thus: Let Mn = rn (M ). the set of rotations R is also countable. and clearly each nonidentity word fixes two points in S 2 . he constructed the following paradox: Theorem 4 (Hausdorff Paradox. so D is also . In fact. Theorem 3 (AC). and also with the positive odd integers. We have done most of the hard work with Theorem 2 and its corollary. the unit circle in R2 is countably SO2 -paradoxical. F acts on S 2 \D without nontrivial fixed points. Since Q is countable. Suppose σ and τ are two independent rotations about axes through the origin in R3 . obtained from the other by a rotation about the origin through 2πq radians for some q ∈ Q. To do so. Felix Hausdorff proved that there is no finitely additive. j ∈ N. Let R Proof. as we require a paradoxical group that acts without nontrivial fixed points. all subsets of a sphere. for each i. Now. and so theorem 2 can be applied. Clearly {Mn : n ∈ N} partitions S 1 . the set obtained after rotating M by some rn ∈ R. we can rotate each of the sets in the remaining {Mn : n is odd} to obtain S 1 . As F is countable. Let F be the free group generated by the two rotations. We shall also return to these in a later discussion about measure. where for any a. Similarly. and a simpler result known as the Hausdorff Paradox. a ∼ b if one can be be the set of all such rotations. M by AC). However. b ∈ S 1 .The Banach-Tarski Paradox Before we tackle the proof of BTP. There is a countable subset D ⊂ S 2 such that S 2 \ D is SO3 -paradoxical. and so we would like to use it here. In 1914. and provides us with an example of a paradoxical set which only requires rigid motions. Let M be a choice set for the equivalence classes given by ∼. Furthermore. such that congruent pieces have equal measure. the proof can be streamlined by using Theorem 3. We therefore need to remove the troublesome points. S 1 . 6 Let D be the set of all points which are fixed by some g ∈ F.e. rotate each of the sets in {Mn : n is even} to obtain the entire of S 1 . That is. Define ∼ to be an equivalence relation on S 1 . rotation-invariant measure on ℘(S 2 ). as picked out by some choice function (which exists We now note that the Naturals are equinumerous with the positive even integers.

. by 7 . Let ∆ = ∞ n=0 A is countable. B such that A ≈G E and B ≈G E. We only require 2 pieces for this decomposition. Then consider the set A of all angles θ. ρm (D) ∩ ρn (D) = Ø. . ρ2 (D). E is G-paradoxical iff E contains disjoint subsets A. We can then decompose and rotate in Proof of Theorem 5. but to get to BTP we still have to account for the countable subset D. and that S 1 ≈ S 1 \{x}. Let A = {eiθ+n : n ∈ Z} the set of all points reached from x by anti-clockwise rotation through a positive whole number of radians. a theorem to show that as D is countable. Such a line exists because D is countable. Note that this proof is a variation of the famous Hilbert’s Hotel. To better appreciate how this proof works. C ≈G E ≈G D. . D ⊆ E such that A ≈G C and B ≈G D. S 2 and S 2 \ D are SO3 -equidecomposable. Suppose G acts on X. is to find some rotation ρ of S 2 . the rotation of x around l by nθ gives another point in D. The crux of the argument for Theorem 5. Identify R2 with C in the usual way. By irrationality of 2π. Proof. We recall that equidecomposability is an equivalence relation (refer back to Proposition 1). Then: S 2 = ∆ ∪ (S 2 \ ∆) ≈ ρ(∆) ∪ (S 2 \ ∆) = S 2 \ D Theorem 6. definition. with corresponding rotation ρ about l. ρ(D).This is close to our goal. Let l be a line through the origin that doesn’t intersect D. Firstly. such that a similar way to the above example to obtain the desired result. Theorem 5.} are all pairwise disjoint. We transitivity. so we can choose some angle φ ∈ A. E ⊆ X such that E ≈G E . it will act as our axis of rotation. all the points in A are unique. Let B = S 1 \ A. . / ρn (D). Proof. ρn (D). and to shift from S 2 to the unit ball. then so is E’. rotate A by 1 radian anti-clockwise. Leaving B fixed. By use the fact that A ∩ B = Ø and E ≈G E to see that there exists disjoint subsets C. . such that for some x ∈ D and n ∈ Z \ {0}. By simple application of the transitivity of ≈G we have that A ≈G E and B ≈G E . Then. Suppose that for some θ. then. . to obtain that A ≈ A\{x}. and E. S 2 is still paradoxical. so then S 1 = B ∪ A. x = eiθ . S 1 \ {x} and S 1 are SO2 -equidecomposable for any point x ∈ S 1 . If E is G-paradoxical. . it is useful to first consider a similar example: Proposition 3. {D. Again. we have that for any 0 ≤ m < n. by our careful choice of ρ.

Applying Theorem 6. Simply extend the correspondence by setting up a radial correspondence between S 2 and R3 \{0} as opposed to just B \ {0}. Consequently. Everything else then follows in a similar fashion to the above. and translating the radial points in relation to the rotation of P . Proof. i. S 2 \ D is SO3 -paradoxical. with radius 1 and center ( 1 . a circle C. identifying every point P on the surface of the sphere with the set of points {αP : 0 < α ≤ 1}. Next. AC). we can write B = C ∪ (B \ C) = B \ {0} ≈ (C \ {0}) ∪ (B \ C) Therefore. As C ⊆ B. by applying Proposition 3 we obtain that 2 2 C ≈ C \ {0}. we have that S 2 is SO3 -paradoxical. Corollary. Since 0 ∈ C. we have that any ball in R3 is paradoxical. B is E3 -paradoxical. by simply considering. through the origin. It then suffices to show that B ≈ B \ {0}. by Theorem 6. any solid ball in R3 is E3 -paradoxical. S 2 is SO3 -paradoxical. say. we have that B \ {0} is G3 -paradoxical.Theorem 7 (Banach-Tarski Paradox. 0. 4) showed that there exists a countable subset D ⊂ S 2 for which with all the points directly below it along a radius. 8 .e. We can use the same idea as in Proposition 3. The Hausdorff Paradox (Thm. 0). Since E3 includes translation. and nothing in the proof has required a limit on the size of the ball. we consider the unit ball B in R3 . By setting up a correspondence between a point P ∈ S 2 Proof. R3 is E3 -paradoxical. By Theorem 5 we have that S 2 ≈SO3 S 2 \ D.

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