The Physics Philes, lesson 29: Math, Discontinuously
In which discontinuity is removed, x-intercepts are determined, and physics is promised.
Happy New Year’s Eve, and I hope you all had a wonderful Newton-mas! Thanks for tolerating my half-assed post from last week. But I’m back and better than (actually, probably the same as) ever! Today I’m going to finish the discussion of continuity, as well as the Intermediate Value Theorem.
First, let’s talk about removable and nonremovable discontinuity.
Removable discontinuity is discontinuity that can be eliminated by redefining a finite number of points. Uh…what? This is basically just filling in the holes in a function. Still, what? Maybe it will become ore clear with an example. Let’s look at function f(x).
Since the limit of this function is f(x) = -9/11, there is point discontinuity at x = -1/3. But, if we redefine f(x) to be f(-1/3) = -9/11, then the limit equals the function value when x = -1/3 and f(x) is continuous there. The new function would then be:
So here’s my question: What is the difference between this function, in which we removed the discontinuity, and a completely different function? Does that make sense? This doesn’t seem like a “fixed” function, just a very similar but different function. Can anyone illuminate this?
If there can be removable discontinuity, it stands to reason that there can be nonremovable discontinuity. Nonremovable discontinuity is basically what it sounds like. There is no way to redefine a finite number of points to repair the discontinuity. This type of discontinuity occurs when a function has no general limit at a given x-value. Infinite and jump discontinuity are forms of nonremovable discontinuity. In the previous example, there is a vertical asymptote at x = -4. That means that no general limit exists at that point, thus it’s a nonremovable discontinuity.
This makes more sense to me than removable discontinuity. It’s pretty straight forward. Now it’s time for me to try to explain the Intermediate Value Theorem. Emphasis on try.
Here is the technical definition of this theorem: If a function f(x) is continuous on the closed interval [a,b], then for every real number d between f(a) and f(b) there exists a c between a and b such that f(x) = d.
Ooooooookay. What does this mean? I think it means that between any two x-values on a graph, we can know the graph reaches a certain height. (Is that right? Please tell me if it’s not right.)
This theorem does not claim to say where your function reaches that value or how many times it does so. It only claims that every height a function reaches on a specific x-interval boundary will be output at least once by some x within that interval.
Ah…I’m still not sure I understand. Let’s try to work though this. Explain why function g(x) = x^2 + 3x – 6 must have a root (x-intercept) on the closed interval [1,2].
Let’s just plug in 1 and 2 into the function:
g(1) = x^2 + 3x – 6
= 1^2 + 3(1) – 6
= 1 + 3 – 6
g(2) = x^2 + 3x – 6
= 2^2 + 3(2) – 6
= 4 + 6 – 6
If you’ll notice, 0 (which is an x-intercept) lies between -2 and 4. So in a mathy kind of way we’ve shown that the function has an x-intercept on the closed interval [1,2].
That’s it for discontinuity and the Intermediate Value Theorem. Ta-da!
You know, I’ve been focusing on math for a while now. I miss the physics. So next week you can look forward to a discussion of a physics topic to be determined later.
Featured image credit: Mikey Angels