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Baire space (set theory). For the computing datatype, see

Floating-point number.

In mathematics, a real number is a value that repreReal numbers can be thought of as points on an innitely long

number line

unique complete totally ordered eld (R ; + ; ; <), up

to an isomorphism,[lower-alpha 1] whereas popular constructive denitions of real numbers include declaring them as

equivalence classes of Cauchy sequences of rational numbers, Dedekind cuts, or certain innite decimal representations, together with precise interpretations for the

arithmetic operations and the order relation. These denitions are equivalent in the realm of classical mathematics.

The reals are uncountable; that is: while both the set of all

natural numbers and the set of all real numbers are innite

sets, there can be no one-to-one function from the real

numbers to the natural numbers: the cardinality of the

set of all real numbers (denoted c and called cardinality

of the continuum) is strictly greater than the cardinality of

the set of all natural numbers (denoted 0 'aleph-naught').

The statement that there is no subset of the reals with cardinality strictly greater than 0 and strictly smaller than c

is known as the continuum hypothesis (CH). It is known

to be neither provable nor refutable using the axioms of

ZermeloFraenkel set theory and the axiom of choice

(ZFC), the standard foundation of modern mathematics,

in the sense that some models of ZFC satisfy CH, while

others violate it.

context was introduced in the 17th century by Descartes,

who distinguished between real and imaginary roots of

polynomials.

The real numbers include all the rational numbers, such

as the integer 5 and the fraction 4/3, and all the irrational

numbers, such as 2 (1.41421356, the square root

of 2, an irrational algebraic number). Included within

the irrationals are the transcendental numbers, such as

(3.14159265). Real numbers can be thought of as

points on an innitely long line called the number line or

real line, where the points corresponding to integers are

equally spaced. Any real number can be determined by

a possibly innite decimal representation, such as that of

8.632, where each consecutive digit is measured in units

one tenth the size of the previous one. The real line can

be thought of as a part of the complex plane, and complex

numbers include real numbers.

1 History

Simple fractions were used by the Egyptians around 1000

BC; the Vedic "Sulba Sutras" (The rules of chords)

in, c. 600 BC, include what may be the rst use of

irrational numbers. The concept of irrationality was implicitly accepted by early Indian mathematicians since

Manava (c. 750690 BC), who were aware that the

square roots of certain numbers such as 2 and 61 could

not be exactly determined.[1] Around 500 BC, the Greek

mathematicians led by Pythagoras realized the need for

irrational numbers, in particular the irrationality of the

square root of 2.

rigorous by the modern standards of pure mathematics.

The discovery of a suitably rigorous denition of the real

numbers indeed, the realization that a better denition

was needed was one of the most important developments of 19th century mathematics. The current stan- The Middle Ages brought the acceptance of zero,

1

Real numbers (R) include the rational (Q), which include the integers (Z), which include the natural numbers (N)

DEFINITION

entire set of real numbers without having dened them

cleanly. The rst rigorous denition was given by Georg

Cantor in 1871. In 1874, he showed that the set of all real

numbers is uncountably innite but the set of all algebraic

numbers is countably innite. Contrary to widely held

beliefs, his rst method was not his famous diagonal argument, which he published in 1891. See Cantors rst

uncountability proof.

2 Denition

Main article: Construction of the real numbers

axiomatically up to an isomorphism, which is described

hereafter. There are also many ways to construct the

real number system, for example, starting from natural

numbers, then dening rational numbers algebraically,

and nally dening real numbers as equivalence classes

of their Cauchy sequences or as Dedekind cuts, which

are certain subsets of rational numbers. Another possibility is to start from some rigorous axiomatization of

Euclidean geometry (Hilbert, Tarski, etc.) and then dene the real number system geometrically. From the

In the 16th century, Simon Stevin created the basis for structuralist point of view all these constructions are on

modern decimal notation, and insisted that there is no dif- equal footing.

ference between rational and irrational numbers in this

regard.

2.1 Axiomatic approach

negative, integral, and fractional numbers, rst by Indian

and Chinese mathematicians, and then by Arabic mathematicians, who were also the rst to treat irrational numbers as algebraic objects,[2] which was made possible

by the development of algebra. Arabic mathematicians

merged the concepts of "number" and "magnitude" into

a more general idea of real numbers.[3] The Egyptian

mathematician Ab Kmil Shuj ibn Aslam (c. 850930)

was the rst to accept irrational numbers as solutions to

quadratic equations or as coecients in an equation, often

in the form of square roots, cube roots and fourth roots.[4]

to describe roots of a polynomial, distinguishing them Let denote the set of all real numbers. Then:

from imaginary ones.

The set is a eld, meaning that addition and

In the 18th and 19th centuries, there was much work on

multiplication are dened and have the usual propirrational and transcendental numbers. Johann Heinrich

erties.

Lambert (1761) gave the rst awed proof that cannot

be rational; Adrien-Marie Legendre (1794) completed

the proof,[5] and showed that is not the square root of a

rational number.[6] Paolo Runi (1799) and Niels Henrik

Abel (1842) both constructed proofs of the AbelRuni

theorem: that the general quintic or higher equations cannot be solved by a general formula involving only arithmetical operations and roots.

variste Galois (1832) developed techniques for determining whether a given equation could be solved by radicals, which gave rise to the eld of Galois theory. Joseph

Liouville (1840) showed that neither e nor e2 can be a

root of an integer quadratic equation, and then established

the existence of transcendental numbers; Georg Cantor (1873) extended and greatly simplied this proof.[7]

Charles Hermite (1873) rst proved that e is transcendental, and Ferdinand von Lindemann (1882), showed that

is transcendental. Lindemanns proof was much simplied by Weierstrass (1885), still further by David Hilbert

(1893), and has nally been made elementary by Adolf

Hurwitz and Paul Gordan.

order such that, for all real numbers x, y and z:

if x y then x + z y + z;

if x 0 and y 0 then xy 0.

The order is Dedekind-complete; that is: every nonempty subset S of with an upper bound in has

a least upper bound (also called supremum) in .

The last property is what dierentiates the reals from the

rationals. For example, the set of rationals with square

less than 2 has a rational upper bound (e.g., 1.5) but no

rational least upper bound, because the square root of 2

is not rational.

The real numbers are uniquely specied by the above

properties. More precisely, given any two Dedekindcomplete ordered elds 1 and 2 , there exists a unique

eld isomorphism from 1 to 2 , allowing us to think of

them as essentially the same mathematical object.

3.3

For another axiomatization of , see Tarskis axiomati- the Dedekind completeness of the order in the previous

zation of the reals.

section). This is formally dened in the following way:

A sequence (xn) of real numbers is called a Cauchy sequence if for any > 0 there exists an integer N (possibly

2.2 Construction from the rational num- depending on ) such that the distance |xn xm| is less

bers

than for all n and m that are both greater than N. In

other words, a sequence is a Cauchy sequence if its eleThe real numbers can be constructed as a completion of ments xn eventually come and remain arbitrarily close to

the rational numbers in such a way that a sequence de- each other.

ned by a decimal or binary expansion like (3; 3.1; 3.14;

A sequence (xn) converges to the limit x if for any > 0

3.141; 3.1415; ) converges to a unique real number, in

there exists an integer N (possibly depending on ) such

this case . For details and other constructions of real

that the distance |xn x| is less than provided that n is

numbers, see construction of the real numbers.

greater than N. In other words, a sequence has limit x if

its elements eventually come and remain arbitrarily close

to x.

3.1

Properties

Notice that every convergent sequence is a Cauchy sequence. The converse is also true:

Basic properties

algebraic or transcendental; and either positive, negative,

or zero. Real numbers are used to measure continuous

quantities. They may be expressed by decimal representations that have an innite sequence of digits to the right

of the decimal point; these are often represented in the

same form as 324.823122147 The ellipsis (three dots)

indicates that there would still be more digits to come.

That is: the reals are complete.

the sequence (1; 1.4; 1.41; 1.414; 1.4142; 1.41421),

where each term adds a digit of the decimal expansion of

the positive square root of 2, is Cauchy but it does not

converge to a rational number. (In the real numbers, in

More formally, real numbers have the two basic proper- contrast, it converges to the positive square root of 2.)

ties of being an ordered eld, and having the least upper The existence of limits of Cauchy sequences is what

bound property. The rst says that real numbers comprise makes calculus work and is of great practical use. The

a eld, with addition and multiplication as well as division standard numerical test to determine if a sequence has a

by non-zero numbers, which can be totally ordered on a limit is to test if it is a Cauchy sequence, as the limit is

number line in a way compatible with addition and mul- typically not known in advance.

tiplication. The second says that, if a non-empty set of

For example, the standard series of the exponential funcreal numbers has an upper bound, then it has a real least

tion

upper bound. The second condition distinguishes the real

numbers from the rational numbers: for example, the set

xn

x

with an upper bound (e.g. 1.5) but no (rational) least up- e =

n!

n=0

per bound: hence the rational numbers do not satisfy the

least upper bound property.

converges to a real number because for every x the sums

3.2

Completeness

xn

n!

n=N

large. This proves that the sequence is Cauchy, so we

A main reason for using real numbers is that the reals know that the sequence converges even if the limit is not

contain all limits. More precisely, every sequence of real known in advance.

numbers having the property that consecutive terms of

the sequence become arbitrarily close to each other necessarily has the property that after some term in the se- 3.3 The complete ordered eld

quence the remaining terms are arbitrarily close to some

specic real number. In mathematical terminology, this The real numbers are often described as the complete

means that the reals are complete (in the sense of metric ordered eld, a phrase that can be interpreted in several

spaces or uniform spaces, which is a dierent sense than ways.

4

First, an order can be lattice-complete. It is easy to see

that no ordered eld can be lattice-complete, because it

can have no largest element (given any element z, z + 1 is

larger), so this is not the sense that is meant.

Additionally, an order can be Dedekind-complete, as dened in the section Axioms. The uniqueness result at the

end of that section justies using the word the in the

phrase complete ordered eld when this is the sense of

complete that is meant. This sense of completeness is

most closely related to the construction of the reals from

Dedekind cuts, since that construction starts from an ordered eld (the rationals) and then forms the Dedekindcompletion of it in a standard way.

3 PROPERTIES

numbers, and Cantors diagonal argument states that the

latter sets cardinality is strictly greater than the cardinality of N. Since the set of algebraic numbers is countable,

almost all real numbers are transcendental. The nonexistence of a subset of the reals with cardinality strictly

between that of the integers and the reals is known as the

continuum hypothesis. The continuum hypothesis can

neither be proved nor be disproved; it is independent from

the axioms of set theory.

This is because the set of rationals, which is countable, is

dense in the real numbers. The irrational numbers are also

dense in the real numbers, however they are uncountable

These two notions of completeness ignore the eld struc- and have the same cardinality as the reals.

ture. However, an ordered group (in this case, the addi- The real numbers form a metric space: the distance betive group of the eld) denes a uniform structure, and tween x and y is dened as the absolute value |x y|.

uniform structures have a notion of completeness (topol- By virtue of being a totally ordered set, they also carry

ogy); the description in the previous section Complete- an order topology; the topology arising from the metness is a special case. (We refer to the notion of com- ric and the one arising from the order are identical, but

pleteness in uniform spaces rather than the related and yield dierent presentations for the topology in the orbetter known notion for metric spaces, since the deni- der topology as ordered intervals, in the metric topology

tion of metric space relies on already having a character- as epsilon-balls. The Dedekind cuts construction uses

ization of the real numbers.) It is not true that R is the the order topology presentation, while the Cauchy seonly uniformly complete ordered eld, but it is the only quences construction uses the metric topology presentauniformly complete Archimedean eld, and indeed one tion. The reals are a contractible (hence connected and

often hears the phrase complete Archimedean eld in- simply connected), separable and complete metric space

stead of complete ordered eld. Every uniformly com- of Hausdor dimension 1. The real numbers are locally

plete Archimedean eld must also be Dedekind-complete compact but not compact. There are various properties

(and vice versa, of course), justifying using the in the that uniquely specify them; for instance, all unbounded,

phrase the complete Archimedean eld. This sense connected, and separable order topologies are necessarily

of completeness is most closely related to the construc- homeomorphic to the reals.

tion of the reals from Cauchy sequences (the construction Every nonnegative real number has a square root in R,

carried out in full in this article), since it starts with an although no negative number does. This shows that the

Archimedean eld (the rationals) and forms the uniform order on R is determined by its algebraic structure. Also,

completion of it in a standard way.

every polynomial of odd degree admits at least one real

But the original use of the phrase complete

Archimedean eld was by David Hilbert, who meant

still something else by it. He meant that the real numbers

form the largest Archimedean eld in the sense that every

other Archimedean eld is a subeld of R. Thus R is

complete in the sense that nothing further can be added

to it without making it no longer an Archimedean eld.

This sense of completeness is most closely related to the

construction of the reals from surreal numbers, since

that construction starts with a proper class that contains

every ordered eld (the surreals) and then selects from it

the largest Archimedean subeld.

of a real closed eld. Proving this is the rst half of one

proof of the fundamental theorem of algebra.

The reals carry a canonical measure, the Lebesgue measure, which is the Haar measure on their structure as a

topological group normalized such that the unit interval

[0;1] has measure 1. There exist sets of real numbers

that are not Lebesgue measurable, e.g. Vitali sets.

the reals and is therefore a second-order logical statement. It is not possible to characterize the reals with rstorder logic alone: the LwenheimSkolem theorem implies that there exists a countable dense subset of the real

numbers satisfying exactly the same sentences in rst3.4 Advanced properties

order logic as the real numbers themselves. The set of

hyperreal numbers satises the same rst order sentences

See also: Real line

as R. Ordered elds that satisfy the same rst-order sentences as R are called nonstandard models of R. This is

The reals are uncountable; that is: there are strictly more

what makes nonstandard analysis work; by proving a rstreal numbers than natural numbers, even though both sets

order statement in some nonstandard model (which may

are innite. In fact, the cardinality of the reals equals that

be easier than proving it in R), we know that the same

of the set of subsets (i.e. the power set) of the natural

4.2

In physics

4.2 In physics

eld Q of rational numbers, and R can therefore be seen

as a vector space over Q. ZermeloFraenkel set theory

with the axiom of choice guarantees the existence of a

basis of this vector space: there exists a set B of real numbers such that every real number can be written uniquely

as a nite linear combination of elements of this set, using rational coecients only, and such that no element

of B is a rational linear combination of the others. However, this existence theorem is purely theoretical, as such

a base has never been explicitly described.

as the universal gravitational constant, and physical variables, such as position, mass, speed, and electric charge,

are modeled using real numbers. In fact, the fundamental physical theories such as classical mechanics,

electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, general relativity

and the standard model are described using mathematical

structures, typically smooth manifolds or Hilbert spaces,

that are based on the real numbers, although actual measurements of physical quantities are of nite accuracy and

The well-ordering theorem implies that the real numbers precision.

can be well-ordered if the axiom of choice is assumed: In some recent developments of theoretical physics stemthere exists a total order on R with the property that every ming from the holographic principle, the Universe is seen

non-empty subset of R has a least element in this order- fundamentally as an information store, essentially zeroes

ing. (The standard ordering of the real numbers is not and ones, organized in much less geometrical fashion and

a well-ordering since e.g. an open interval does not con- manifesting itself as space-time and particle elds only

tain a least element in this ordering.) Again, the existence on a more supercial level. This approach removes the

of such a well-ordering is purely theoretical, as it has not real number system from its foundational role in physics

been explicitly described. If V=L is assumed in addition and even prohibits the existence of innite precision real

to the axioms of ZF, a well ordering of the real numbers numbers in the physical universe by considerations based

can be shown to be explicitly denable by a formula.[8]

on the Bekenstein bound.[10]

4

4.1

other areas

Real numbers and logic

4.3 In computation

ZermeloFraenkel axiomatization of set theory, but some

mathematicians study the real numbers with other logical foundations of mathematics. In particular, the real

numbers are also studied in reverse mathematics and in

constructive mathematics.[9]

With some exceptions, most calculators do not operate on real numbers. Instead, they work with niteprecision approximations called oating-point numbers.

In fact, most scientic computation uses oating-point

arithmetic. Real numbers satisfy the usual rules of arithmetic, but oating-point numbers do not.

Abraham Robinson and others extend the set of the real

numbers by introducing innitesimal and innite numbers, allowing for building innitesimal calculus in a way

closer to the original intuitions of Leibniz, Euler, Cauchy

and others.

with innitely many digits.

The precision is limited by the number of bits allocated

to store a number, whether as oating-point numbers or

arbitrary precision numbers. However, computer algebra systems can operate on irrational quantities

exactly

( 2by)

manipulating formulas for them (such as 2 , arcsin 23

1

, or 0 xx dx ) rather than their rational or decimal

approximation;[11] however, it is not in general possible

to determine whether two such expressions are equal (the

constant problem).

ZermeloFraenkel set theory syntactically by introducing a unary predicate standard. In this approach,

innitesimals are (non-"standard) elements of the set

of the real numbers (rather than being elements of an

extension thereof, as in Robinsons theory).

A real number is called computable if there exists an

The continuum hypothesis posits that the cardinality of algorithm that yields its digits. Because there are only

the set of the real numbers is 1 ; i.e. the smallest innite countably many algorithms,[12] but an uncountable numcardinal number after 0 , the cardinality of the integers. ber of reals, almost all real numbers fail to be computable.

Paul Cohen proved in 1963 that it is an axiom indepen- Moreover, the equality of two computable numbers is an

dent of the other axioms of set theory; that is: one may undecidable problem. Some constructivists accept the exchoose either the continuum hypothesis or its negation as istence of only those reals that are computable. The set

an axiom of set theory, without contradiction.

of denable numbers is broader, but still only countable.

9 FOOTNOTES

4.4

space is used as a surrogate for the real numbers since the

latter have some topological properties (connectedness)

that are a technical inconvenience. Elements of Baire

space are referred to as reals.

the letter R in blackboard bold (encoded in Unicode as

U+211D DOUBLE-STRUCK CAPITAL R (HTML

ℝ)), to represent the set of all real numbers. As

this set is naturally endowed with the structure of a eld,

the expression eld of real numbers is frequently used

when its algebraic properties are under consideration.

The sets of positive real numbers and negative real numbers are often noted R+ and R ,[13] respectively; R and

R are also used.[14] The non-negative real numbers can

be noted R but one often sees this set noted R+

{0}.[13] In French mathematics, the positive real numbers and negative real numbers commonly include zero,

and these sets are noted respectively and .[14] In

this understanding, the respective sets without zero are

called strictly positive real numbers and strictly negative

real numbers, and are noted * and *.[14]

The notation Rn refers to the cartesian product of n copies

of R, which is an n-dimensional vector space over the eld

of the real numbers; this vector space may be identied to

the n-dimensional space of Euclidean geometry as soon

as a coordinate system has been chosen in the latter. For

example, a value from R3 consists of three real numbers

and species the coordinates of a point in 3dimensional

space.

In mathematics, real is used as an adjective, meaning that

the underlying eld is the eld of the real numbers (or

the real eld). For example, real matrix, real polynomial

and real Lie algebra. The word is also used as a noun,

meaning a real number (as in the set of all reals).

The real numbers can be generalized and extended in several dierent directions:

The complex numbers contain solutions to all

polynomial equations and hence are an algebraically

closed eld unlike the real numbers. However, the

complex numbers are not an ordered eld.

The anely extended real number system adds two

elements + and . It is a compact space. It is no

longer a eld, not even an additive group, but it still

has a total order; moreover, it is a complete lattice.

also a compact space. Again, it is no longer a eld,

not even an additive group. However, it allows division of a non-zero element by zero. It has cyclic

order described by a separation relation.

The long real line pastes together 1 * + 1 copies

of the real line plus a single point (here 1 * denotes the reversed ordering of 1 ) to create an ordered set that is locally identical to the real numbers, but somehow longer; for instance, there is an

order-preserving embedding of 1 in the long real

line but not in the real numbers. The long real line

is the largest ordered set that is complete and locally

Archimedean. As with the previous two examples,

this set is no longer a eld or additive group.

Ordered elds extending the reals are the hyperreal

numbers and the surreal numbers; both of them contain innitesimal and innitely large numbers and

are therefore non-Archimedean ordered elds.

Self-adjoint operators on a Hilbert space (for example, self-adjoint square complex matrices) generalize the reals in many respects: they can be ordered (though not totally ordered), they are complete, all their eigenvalues are real and they form a

real associative algebra. Positive-denite operators

correspond to the positive reals and normal operators correspond to the complex numbers.

7 See also

Continued fraction

Real analysis

8 Notes

[1] More precisely, given two complete totally ordered elds,

there is a unique isomorphism between them. This implies

that the identity is the unique eld automorphism of the

reals that is compatible with the ordering.

9 Footnotes

[1] T. K. Puttaswamy, The Accomplishments of Ancient Indian Mathematicians, pp. 4101. In: Selin, Helaine;

D'Ambrosio, Ubiratan, eds. (2000), Mathematics Across

Cultures: The History of Non-western Mathematics,

Springer, ISBN 1-4020-0260-2.

[2] O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., Arabic

mathematics: forgotten brilliance?", MacTutor History of

Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews.

Irrationals in Medieval Oriental Mathematics, Annals of

the New York Academy of Sciences, 500: 253277 [254],

doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1987.tb37206.x

[4] Jacques Sesiano, Islamic mathematics, p. 148, in

Selin, Helaine; D'Ambrosio, Ubiratan (2000), Mathematics Across Cultures: The History of Non-western Mathematics, Springer, ISBN 1-4020-0260-2

[5] Beckmann, Petr (1993), A History of Pi, Dorset Classic Reprints, Barnes & Noble Publishing, p. 170, ISBN

9780880294188.

[6] Arndt, Jrg; Haenel, Christoph (2001), Pi Unleashed,

Springer, p. 192, ISBN 9783540665724.

[7] Dunham, William (2015), The Calculus Gallery: Masterpieces from Newton to Lebesgue, Princeton University

Press, p. 127, ISBN 9781400866793, Cantor found a remarkable shortcut to reach Liouvilles conclusion with a

fraction of the work

[8] Moschovakis, Yiannis N. (1980), Descriptive set theory, Studies in Logic and the Foundations of Mathematics,

Amsterdam - New York: North-Holland Publishing Co.,

100, pp. xii, 637, ISBN 0-444-85305-7, chapter V.

[9] Bishop, Errett; Bridges, Douglas (1985), Constructive analysis, Grundlehren der Mathematischen Wissenschaften [Fundamental Principles of Mathematical

Sciences], 279, Berlin, New York: Springer-Verlag, ISBN

978-3-540-15066-4, chapter 2.

[10] Aaronson, Scott (March 2005), NP-complete Problems

and Physical Reality, ACM SIGACT News, 36 (1): 3052,

arXiv:quant-ph/0502072

[11] Cohen, Joel S. (2002), Computer algebra and symbolic

computation: elementary algorithms, 1, A K Peters, p. 32,

ISBN 978-1-56881-158-1

[12] Hein, James L. (2010), 14.1.1, Discrete Structures,

Logic, and Computability (3 ed.), Sudbury, Massachusetts,

USA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers

[13] Schumacher 1996, pp. 114-115

[14] cole Normale Suprieure of Paris, Nombres rels

(Real numbers), p. 6

10

References

Georg Cantor, 1874, "ber eine Eigenschaft des Inbegries aller reellen algebraischen Zahlen", Journal fr die Reine und Angewandte Mathematik, volume 77, pages 258262.

Solomon Feferman, 1989, The Number Systems:

Foundations of Algebra and Analysis, AMS Chelsea,

ISBN 0-8218-2915-7.

Robert Katz, 1964, Axiomatic Analysis, D. C. Heath

and Company.

Foundations of Analysis, American Mathematical

Society.

Howie, John M., Real Analysis, Springer, 2005,

ISBN 1-85233-314-6.

Schumacher, Carol (1996), ChapterZero / Fundamental Notions of Abstract Mathematics, AddisonWesley, ISBN 0-201-82653-4.

11 External links

Hazewinkel, Michiel, ed. (2001), Real number,

Encyclopedia of Mathematics, Springer, ISBN 9781-55608-010-4

The real numbers: Pythagoras to Stevin

The real numbers: Stevin to Hilbert

The real numbers: Attempts to understand

What are the real numbers, really?

12

12

12.1

Text

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