Real numbers

In mathematics, real numbers are values that represent a quantities along a continuous line. The real numbers include all the rational numbers, such as the integer −5 and the fraction 4/3, and all the irrational numbers such as √2 (1.41421356… the square root of two, an irrational algebraic number) and π (3.14159265…, a transcendental number).

The symbol for the set of all real numbers

Real numbers sit on a infinitely long line

Real numbers can be thought of as points on an infinitely long line called the number line or real line, where the points corresponding to integers are equally spaced.

Any real number can be determined by a possibly infinite decimal representation such as that of 8.632, where each consecutive digit is measured in units one tenth the size of the previous one. The real line can be thought of as a part of the complex plane, and complex numbers include real numbers.

Further definitions

These descriptions of the real numbers are not sufficiently rigorous by the modern standards of pure mathematics. The discovery of a suitably rigorous definition of the real numbers – indeed, the realization that a better definition was needed – was one of the most important developments of 19th century mathematics.

The currently standard axiomatic definition is that real numbers form the unique Archimedean complete totally ordered field (R ; + ; · ; <), up to an isomorphism, whereas popular constructive definitions of real numbers include declaring them as equivalence classes of Cauchy sequences of rational numbers, Dedekind cuts, or certain infinite "decimal representations", together with precise interpretations for the arithmetic operations and the order relation. These definitions are equivalent in the realm of classical mathematics.

The set of real numbers are uncountable (this is pretty complicated)

The reals are uncountable; that is: while both the set of all natural numbers and the set of all real numbers are infinite sets, there can be no one-to-one function from the real numbers to the natural numbers: the cardinality of the set of all real numbers (denoted \mathfrak c and called cardinality of the continuum) is strictly greater than the cardinality of the set of all natural numbers (denoted \aleph_0).

The statement that there is no subset of the reals with cardinality strictly greater than \aleph_0 and strictly smaller than \mathfrak c is known as the continuum hypothesis. It is known to be neither provable nor refutable using the axioms of Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory, the standard foundation of modern mathematics, provided ZF set theory is consistent.