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1.4. Natural Numbers, Integers, and Rational Numbers

In this section we will define some number systems based on those numbers that anyone is familiar with: the natural numbers. In a course on logic and foundation even the natural numbers can be defined rigorously. In this course, however, we will take the numbers {1, 2, 3, 4, ...} and their basic operations of addition and multiplication for granted. Actually, the most basic properties of the natural numbers are called the Peano Axioms, and are defined (being axioms they need not be derived) as follows:

Definition 1.4.1: Peano Axioms
 
  • 1 is a natural number
  • For every natural number x there exists another natural number x called the successor of x.
  • 1 # x for every natural number x (x being the successor of x)
  • If x = y then x = y
  • If Q is a property such that:
    1. 1 has the property Q
    2. if x has property Q then x has property Q
  • then the property Q holds for all natural numbers.
The last property is called the Principle of Induction and it will be treated in more detail in the next chapter. Right now we want to use the natural numbers to define a new number system using equivalence classes, discussed in the previous section.
Theorem 1.4.2: The Integers
  Let A be the set N x N and define a relation r on N x N by saying that (a,b) is related to (a,b) if a + b = a + b. Then this relation is an equivalence relation.

If [(a,b)] and [(a, b)] denote the equivalence classes containing (a, b) and (a, b), respectively, and if we define addition and multiplication of those equivalence classes as:

  1. [(a,b)] + [(a',b')] = [(a + a', b + b')]
  2. [(a,b)] * [(a, b)] = [(a * b + b * a, a * a + b * b)]
then these operations are well-defined and the resulting set of all equivalence classes has all of the familiar properties of the integers (it therefore serves to define the integers based only on the natural numbers).

When defining operations on equivalent classes, one must prove that the operation is well-defined. That means, because the operation is usually defined by picking particular representatives of a class, one needs to show that the result is independent of these particular representatives. Check the above proof for details.

The above proof is in fact rather abstract. The basic question, however, is: why would anyone even get this idea of defining those classes and their operations, and what does this really mean, if anything ? In particular, why is the theorem entitled The Integers ? Try to go through the few examples below:

Examples 1.4.3:
 
  • Which elements are contained in the equivalence classes of, say, [(1, 2)], [(0,0)] and of [(1, 0)] ? Which of the pairs (1, 5), (5, 1), (10, 14), (7, 3) are in the same equivalence classes ?
  • What do you get when adding, say, [(1,2)] + [(4, 6)] ? How about [(3,1)] + [(1,3)] ? What about multiplying [(5,4)] * [(7, 4)] and [(1,2)] * [(2,1)] ?
  • Can you think of a better notation for denoting the classes containing, say, (5, 7) ? How about the class containing (7, 5) ? Do you see why the above theorem is called 'The Integers' ?
An obvious question about multiplication is: why did we not define It certainly looks a lot easier. But, keep in mind that all pair (a,b) are in the same class, if their difference b - a is the same. Hence, we think of the class [(a,b)] as represented by b - a and of the class [(a, b)] as the class represented by b - a. Then, in view of the fact that our original definition of multiplication does make some sense.

Incidentally, now it is clear why multiplying two negative numbers together does give a positive number: it is precisely the above operation on equivalent classes that induces this interpretation. For example:

This now has a precise mathematical interpretation. One such pair representing the whole class is, for example, (4, 2). But then, according to our definition of multiplication, we have: and the appropriate notation for that class is 40 - 32 = 8. Hence, we now understand completely why (-2) * (-4) = +8.

Next, we will define the rational numbers in much the same way, leaving the proof as an exercise. To motivate the next theorem, think about the following:

Theorem 1.4.4: The Rationals
  Let A be the set N x N - {0} and define a relation r on N x N - {0} by saying that (a, b) is related to (a, b) if a * b = a * b. Then this relation is an equivalence relation.

If [(a, b)] and [(a, b)] denotes the equivalence classes containing (a, b) and (a, b), respectively, and if we define the operations

  1. [(a, b)] + [(a', b')] = [(a * b' + a * b, b * b')]
  2. [(a, b)] * [(a, b)] = [(a * a, b * b)]
then these operations are well-defined and the resulting set of all equivalence classes has all of the familiar properties of the rational numbers (it therefore serves to define the rationals based only on the natural numbers).

Note that the second component of a pair of integers can not be zero (otherwise the relation would not be an equivalence relation). As before, this will yield, in a mathematically rigorous way, a new set of equivalence classes commonly called the 'rational numbers'. The individual equivalent classes [(a,b)] are commonly denoted by the symbol a / b, and are often called a 'fraction'. The requirement that the second component should not be zero is the familiar restriction on fractions that their denominator not be zero.

As a matter of fact, the rational numbers are much nicer than the integers or the natural numbers:

Example 1.4.5:
  So, why would anyone bother introducing more complicated numbers, such as the real (or even complex) numbers ? Find as many reasons as you can.

The example above should provide plenty of motivation to introduce a number system more advanced and capable than the rationals. Another reason you might find interesting is the following fact, which makes for a good homework assignment.

Example 1.4.6:
  Prove that if p is a prime number, then p1/n, where n > 1, is not rational.
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