Mathematics is unique in that it claims a certainty that is beyond all possible doubt or argument. A mathematical proof shows how some result follows by logic alone from a given set of assumptions, and once the result has been proven, it is as solid as the foundations of logic themselves. Of course, mathematics achieves this certainty by restricting itself to an artificial, mathematical world, and its application to the real world does not carry the same degree of certainty.Within the world of mathematics, consequences follow from assumptions with the force of logic, and a proof is just a way of pointing out logical consequences. Of course, the fact that mathematical results follow logically does not mean that they are obvious in any normal sense. Proofs are convincing once they are discovered, but finding them is often very difficult. They are written in a language and style that can seem obscure to the uninitiated. Often, a proof builds on a long series of definitions and previous results,and while each step along the way might be ‘obvious’ the end result can be surprising and powerful. This is what makes the search for proofs worthwhile.In this chapter, we’ll look at some approaches and techniques that can be used for proving mathematical results, including two important proof techniques known as proof by contradiction and mathematical induction. Along the way, we’ll encounter a few new definitions and notations. Hopefully, you will be left with a higher level of confidence for exploring the mathematical world on your own.
- 2.4: Proof by Contradiction
- A sequence of statements that can be proved from those assumptions, and suppose that we derive a statement that we know to be false. When the laws of logic are applied to true statements, the statements that are derived will also be true. If we derive a false statement by applying rules of logic to a set of assumptions, then at least one of the assumptions must be false. This observation leads to a powerful proof technique, which is known as proof by contradiction.