The Monster That Expands Our Mathematical Imaginations

On a recent episode of our podcast My Favored Theorem, my cohost Kevin Knudson and I experienced the possibility to talk with Ben Orlin, a math educator and author of the preferred blog Math With Undesirable Drawings as properly as two books, Math With Undesirable Drawings and Change Is the Only Consistent. You can listen to the episode listed here or at, exactly where there is also a transcript.

Orlin decided to talk not about a theorem but about a favorite mathematical object, Weierstrass’s perform. This perform, occasionally identified as a “monster,” answers the question of how carefully continuity and differentiability are similar. In arithmetic, continuity is approximately what you could assume it really should be: a perform is constant if nearby inputs are sent to nearby outputs. (Is there a more rigorous definition? Of course! Here, if you insist.) A perform is differentiable if at every position, you can come across a tangent line, a straight line that approximates the function’s route near that position.

In rough terms, when you assume about graphs of functions, a constant perform is 1 that doesn’t have jumps, and a differentiable perform is 1 that doesn’t have corners or spikes. It appears crystal clear that a perform will have to be constant in purchase to be differentiable A perform with 1 corner in it—an example is the complete benefit perform f(x)=|x|, exactly where |x|=x if x is greater than or equivalent to and |x|= −x if x is fewer than 0—is constant in all places and differentiable in all places except at x=, exactly where it has that corner.

It’s not too tough to prepare dinner up a perform that has a ton of corners like that. You can make a sawtooth perform with a peak or valley at every integer, for instance. That perform would be differentiable in all places except at those people isolated points, which are infinite in amount but politely spaced out. Weierstrass desired to know no matter whether there was a restrict to how not differentiable a constant perform could be, and this instance reveals that it can be quite darn non-differentiable! Even though the perform is constant in all places, it is not differentiable at any position.

An illustration of the Weierstrass perform, exhibiting the way its cragginess reveals up at every scale. Credit rating: Eeyore22 Wikimedia

To be pedantic, it is not fairly exact to say the Weierstrass perform. Weierstrass’s initial development allowed for two parameters to be selected, so there is a whole household of these functions. Due to the fact Weierstrass 1st published his curves, other mathematicians have described more this kind of monsters, and even proved that in a perception, most continuous curves are nowhere-differentiable. It’s a blow to those people of us who like our math neat and tidy, but perhaps we can assume of it as an invitation to assume greater and weirder about what we really should assume in arithmetic.

In each and every episode of My Favored Theorem, we question our guest to pair their theorem with some thing. You will have to examine out the episode to see why Orlin thinks molecular gastronomy is the suitable accompaniment to Weierstrass’s perform.