Date: 02/19/97 at 17:08:59 From: Cindy Smith Subject: Re: Functions I am currently studying functions and am not finding them terribly difficult. However, I do have a question about the reasoning behind the nature of functions. I understand the rules quite well that say, in order to be a function, a relation must pass the vertical line test. I also understand that for a function to be one-to-one, it must pass the horizontal line test and only functions that pass the horizontal line test can have inverses. What I don't understand is the reasoning behind the rules. My teacher said this is simply the definition of a function so I shouldn't worry about it. Can you explain to me why it is necessary for every domain value to have one range value, but one range value can have more than one domain value? I don't understand why these definitions were made for functions. It just doesn't make intuitive sense to me. Perhaps you can tell me what types of problems mathematicians use functions to solve that make these definitions necessary. The examples in the book don't really answer this question. That y is a function of x seems to be a law of physics in the math books I've consulted. Please don't tell me I don't know enough math to understand the answer; or, if you do, tell me what math I need to learn to understand it, at the very least, and I will look it up in the library. Thanks for your time, Cindy Smith
Date: 02/19/97 at 18:58:34 From: Doctor Ceeks Subject: Re: Functions Hi, The reason why functions must pass the vertical line test is, indeed, part of the definition of a function. But it is something worth thinking about. The notion of function is certainly one of the most important notions in all of mathematics and has its origins in some very concrete examples. Consider this situation: every item in a store has a cost, but no item has two different prices attached to it. When you ask: "what is the price of this object?" you can think of it as asking for the value of a certain function. This function is a function whose domain is the items in the store, and whose range is nonnegative numbers (usually, the store doesn't pay you when you buy something, which is why I'm saying nonnegative numbers!). You can actually say, let P be the function which gives the price of the object. Then P(soap) = 1.29, P(cereal) = 2.29, P(toothbrush) = 2.25 and so on. The "vertical line test," in the context of the above example, says that no item has two or more prices (or, in other words, every item has a unique price). The "horizontal line test," in the context of the above example, asks whether, for a given price, there can be more than one item. That is, can different items have the same price? And the answer is, sure they can. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the price of a sponge and the price of a box of tea bags were the same. The notion of function grew into its important place because people began recognizing functions everywhere. For example, in physics, they sometimes ask about the height of a falling ball as a function of time. In this example, the "vertical line test" asks whether at a given time, a ball can be in two different places. This is impossible! The "horizontal line test" asks whether the ball can be at a certain height at different times. If you think of a basketball going up, then down, you can see that yes, it can have the same height at two different times. -Doctor Ceeks, The Math Forum Check out our web site! http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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