Infinity and Inequalities
Date: 06/05/2002 at 20:56:00 From: Latasha Carter Subject: negative and positive infinity Dear Dr. Math, Hi, my name is Latasha Carter and I am having a problem understanding negative and positive infinity. Can you help me understand this problem with infinity? We have just begun this lesson and I already have homework on it. Can you break it down in simple terms so that I can memorize it and learn it better? Here's an example of the problem: 2x - 3 < 7 In this problem we are looking for the solution set using positive and negative infinity. Please e-mail me as soon as possible. Thank you, Troubled Math Student Latasha Carter
Date: 06/05/2002 at 23:32:23 From: Doctor Peterson Subject: Re: negative and positive infinity Hi, Latasha. Infinity, whether positive or negative, is not a number, but just sort of a signpost saying "keep going that way and never stop". (The word "infinite" actually means "no finish".) We indicate it on a number line by an arrow: <-----------------------+--------------------------> -oo 0 +oo We don't actually label the arrows that way, or think of them as actually representing infinity; we just know that the arrow means the line goes farther than any number in each direction. Now, we can solve your inequality by doing the same manipulations you do to solve an equation, as long as we don't multiply or divide by a negative number. (If you do, you have to reverse the direction of the inequality; the real no-no is to multiply or divide by something whose sign you don't know!) In this example, the left side says we multiply by 2 and then subtract 3, so we undo those in the opposite order, adding 3 and then dividing by 2. We do the same thing to both sides: 2x - 3 < 7 2x < 7 + 3 2x < 10 x < 10 / 2 x < 5 That's the solution, and it doesn't involve infinity. If we graph it, we see infinity start to come into play: <=======================+====o---------------------> -oo 0 5 +oo Any x less than 5 is a solution; and we can say in a sense that any x between negative infinity and 5 is a solution. I suspect that you are supposed to use infinity because you are using interval notation, where for example the numbers between 1 and 2 would be indicated as (1,2), and the round parentheses mean that 1 and 2 are not included. Using that notation, we can write our solution set as (-oo, 5) meaning that anything between negative infinity and 5 is a solution, NOT INCLUDING either -oo or 5. Note that infinity can NEVER be included in a solution, since it is not a number. You can think of negative infinity here as if it were something less than all numbers, that is put here in place of a number just to give us something to mark the left end of the interval. It really means, as I suggested at the start, "go all the way to the left without stopping", or "there is no left end to this interval". And that's all it means! - Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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