Infinity or Undefined?
Date: 06/21/97 at 02:30:41 From: Luke Hawkins Subject: Tan90=infinity, doesn't it? Dear Dr. Math, I have read your explanation of why tan(90) is undefined. Wouldn't it be infinity? I can always divide nothing into something. Also, on the tangent graph, when you reach 90 and 270, the point is plotted at infinity. Thanks, Luke Hawkins
Date: 06/22/97 at 15:43:30 From: Doctor Mike Subject: Re: Tan90=infinity, doesn't it? Hi Luke, I understand why you would think this. But here is the reason why we say "undefined" instead of "equals infinity." Each of the trig functions is a "real function." A real function gives a way (a rule) to start out with a REAL NUMBER and wind up with another REAL NUMBER. An easy example: F(x) = 4*x This is the "four times" function. For every real number x you can easily find the number 4*x. It always makes sense to talk about "the number that is four times another number," right? The trouble with the function: T(x) = tan(x) is that "the number that is the tangent of x" does not always make sense. This is because "infinity" is not a real number, it is more of an idea that is "way out there beyond any real numbers." You can't do things with infinity the way you can with real numbers. You cannot subtract 10 from it and get something smaller. You cannot multiply it by zero and get zero, etc. So, the tangent of a real number angle is a very useful function for most angles, but it doesn't make sense for all of them. For those angles, like 90 degrees, we just say as much as we can, namely that as the angle gets closer and closer to 90 degrees, the tangent of that sequence of angles gets bigger and bigger in absolute value. Notice that I cannot just say "bigger and bigger". A much different thing happens for the tangents of the angles that are just a bit smaller than 90, versus the angles just a bit larger. Try it. Find the tangents of: 89 89.9 89.99 89.999 89.9999 89.99999 .... Then find the tangents of: 91 90.1 90.01 90.001 90.0001 90.00001 ... I hope this helps you to understand the terminology. -Doctor Mike, The Math Forum Check out our web site! http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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