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# Riffs on the infinite ping-pong ball conundrum

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## Abstract

This article presents a novel re-conceptualisation to a well-known problem – The Ping-Pong Ball Conundrum. We introduce a variant of this super-task by considering it through the lens of ‘measuring infinity’ – a conceptualisation of infinity that extrapolates measuring properties of numbers, rather than cardinal properties. This approach is consistent with a nonstandard analysis approach to infinite numbers, and gives credence to the intuitive (but otherwise normatively incorrect) resolution. We explore the mathematical motivation and consequences of this variant, as well as offer further ‘riffs’ on the infinite ball problem for consideration.
International Journal of Mathematical Education in
Science and Technology, Vol. 42, No. 5, 15 July 2011, 615–623
Riffs on the infinite ping-pong ball conundrum
Ami Mamolo
a
*and Tristram Bogart
b
a
Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC V5A
b
Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Queen’s University, 99
University Avenue, Kingston, ON K7L 3N6, Canada
problem – The Ping-Pong Ball Conundrum. We introduce a variant of
this super-task by considering it through the lens of ‘measuring infinity’ – a
conceptualisation of infinity that extrapolates measuring properties of
numbers, rather than cardinal properties. This approach is consistent with
a nonstandard analysis approach to infinite numbers, and gives credence to
the intuitive (but otherwise normatively incorrect) resolution. We explore
the mathematical motivation and consequences of this variant, as well as
offer further ‘riffs’ on the infinite ball problem for consideration.
Keywords: infinity; measuring infinity; ping-pong balls; variations
1. Introduction
Imagine the following scenario:
You have an infinite set of numbered ping-pong balls and a very large barrel and you are
about to embark on an experiment,which lasts 60 seconds.In 30 seconds,you place the
first 10 balls into the barrel and remove the ball numbered 1. In half of the remaining time,
you place the next 10 balls into the barrel and remove ball number 2. Again,in half the
remaining time (and working more and more quickly), you place balls numbered 21 to 30 in
the barrel and remove ball number 3and so on.After the experiment is over,at the end of
the 60 seconds,how many ping-pong balls remain in the barrel?
This thought experiment is a task which occurs within a finite interval of time, yet
which involves infinitely many steps – a phenomenon known as a super-task. The
complexity of this super-task, and the challenges that university students face when
addressing it have been explored in current mathematics education research [1].
In this article, we explore some variations on the ping-pong ball conundrum,
focusing on one in particular which presents and resolves the paradox in a
‘nonstandard’ way. We begin with a detailed resolution of the paradox.
*Corresponding author. Email: amamolo@sfu.ca
ISSN 0020–739X print/ISSN 1464–5211 online
ß2011 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/0020739X.2011.562317
http://www.informaworld.com
2. The ping-pong ball conundrum resolution
The answer may come as a bit of a surprise: at the end of 60 seconds, zero ping-pong
balls remain in the barrel. Why?
The question ‘how many?’ is one of cardinality. That is, ‘how many balls
remain in the barrel?’ is interpreted as ‘what is the cardinality of the set of balls which
are not removed from the barrel?’ To compare the cardinalities of infinite sets, we
rely on the work of Cantor [2], who defined two sets to have the same cardinality if
and only if they can be put in one-to-one correspondence. Unpacking the
experiment, we see there are three infinite sets to consider: the in-going ping-pong
balls, the out-going ping-pong balls and the intervals of time. To answer the
question ‘how many’ we look to the existence (or not) of correspondences
between pairs of sets.
We use the following notation: let Arepresent the set of balls added to the barrel,
Rthe set of balls removed from the barrel, Bthe set of balls remaining in the barrel
and Tthe set of time intervals. To determine the number of balls which are not
removed from the barrel (the cardinality of B) we begin by comparing the
cardinalities of A,R, and T.
The sets Aand R, numbered as they are, both correspond to the set of natural
numbers. The set of balls removed and the set of time intervals can be represented,
respectively, as
R¼f1, 2, 3, ...g,T¼f1=2, 1=4, 1=8, ...g
(where each element in Tcorresponds to the length of the time interval in minutes).
These two sets can be put into one-to-one correspondence by pairing each n2Rwith
(1/2)
n
2T. This correspondence assures us that a ball is removed at each of the time
intervals.
These facts are necessary but not sufficient to resolve the paradox. An essential
feature of this thought experiment is the ordering of the out-going balls. In order for
the barrel to be empty at the end of the experiment, the ping-pong balls must be
removed consecutively, beginning from ball numbered 1. Consequently, there will be
a specific time at which each in-going ball is removed: ball numbered nis removed at
time (1/2)
n
, for all n2N. Thus, at the end of the experiment the barrel will indeed
be empty.
Now, what if we change the order of the out-going balls?
3. A minor riff
This experiment begins in the same way as the last,with one slight difference:In 30
seconds,the first 10 balls are placed in the barrel and the ball numbered 1is removed.In
half of the remaining time,the next 10 balls are placed in the barrel and the ball numbered
11 is removed.Again,in half the remaining time,balls numbered 21 to 30 are placed in the
barrel,and the ball numbered 21 is removed,and so on.At the end of the 60-second period,
how many ping-pong balls remain in the barrel?
In this variation, the ping-pong balls are not removed in consecutive order.
Instead, the ball numbered 1 is removed during the time interval with length 1/2, ball
11 during the time interval with length 1/4, ball 21 during the time interval with
length 1/8 and so on. There is no time interval in which balls 2 to 10, 12 to 20, 22 to
616 A. Mamolo and T. Bogart
30, and so on, are removed. Thus, despite the one-to-one correspondence between
the natural numbers, the powers of 1/2, and the set {1, 11, 21, ...}, infinitely many
balls remain in the barrel at the end of the 60 seconds. The seemingly minor
distinction between removing balls consecutively versus removing them in a different
order profoundly changes the resolution of the problems: while in one instance zero
balls remain in the barrel, in the other infinitely many remain.
4. Approaches to infinity
There are several challenges associated with comparing cardinalities of infinite sets,
many of which stem from inappropriate generalisations of properties that hold true
for finite sets [3]. The most notable example relates to the ‘part-whole’ line of
reasoning. With finite sets, a natural way to compare cardinalities is with a ‘part-
whole’ argument: if one set is a ‘part’ of another (the ‘whole’) then it is a proper
subset of the latter and will necessarily have a smaller cardinality. With finite sets,
comparisons by ‘part-whole’ arguments are consistent with comparisons by one-to-
one correspondence. However, the same cannot be said for infinite sets. Take as an
example the set of natural numbers and the set of all even natural numbers. The
latter is a proper subset of the former, yet the two can be put into one-to-one
correspondence. This inconsistency was a source of controversy for Galilei [4],
Bolzano [5], and others and was first resolved by Cantor, who introduced rigour to
infinite set comparisons by relying entirely on correspondences to determine relative
cardinalities.
One particular challenge in understanding the ping-pong ball experiment relates
to the different rates of in-going and out-going balls. As discussed in [1], a frequent
response to the (original version of the) problem draws on the fact that in each time
interval, ten balls go into the barrel while only one ball is removed. The associated
intuition is that the number of balls remaining in the barrel must be a multiple of
nine, or ‘91’. This line of reasoning was noted to be both persuasive and coercive.
Despite sophisticated mathematical backgrounds, despite an understanding of the
normative resolution provided in Section 2, and despite a recognition that
‘infinity does not quite behave the same way as finite numbers’, the idea that
more balls should remain in the barrel than were removed persisted for many
undergraduate and graduate students. Mamolo and Zazkis [1] observed that it was
difficult for students to accept that although for every natural number n,9nballs
remain in the barrel at the end of the nth interval, this property fails at the
completion of the experiment.
The persuasiveness of the idea that ‘91’ balls remain in the barrel at the end of
the experiment struck our interest, and we found ourselves wondering whether it
would be possible to reframe the paradox in such a way that this intuitive response
would be correct. Thus arises a new variant of the infinite ball problem, which we
present in the following section.
To give credence to the intuition that more balls added to the barrel than
removed from the barrel would yield a ‘larger infinite’ number of balls at the end of
the experiment, we look, as suggested by Tall [6], to extrapolate measuring properties
of numbers, rather than cardinal properties. Tall observes that certain properties of
infinity which are false from a perspective of cardinal numbers can be understood as
true from a measuring point of view. He explains further that such an interpretation
International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology 617
may be given a formal foundation by considering nonstandard number systems that
contain infinite and infinitesimal numbers.
Tall considers the case of two line segments, one twice as long as the other. If a
line segment is considered as a set of points, such as a real interval
½a,b¼fx2R:axbg,
then the notion of cardinality does not capture the difference between two segments:
both have the same cardinality. Measure theory provides one solution, but Tall
suggests a less elaborate approach via the notion of an infinitesimal ruler. In the next
few paragraphs we describe this approach, though with a somewhat different
emphasis than Tall’s.
A typical way of measuring length is to use a ruler: if one segment is twice as long
as the other and both are much longer than the distance between ticks on the ruler,
then the difference between the two will be roughly captured. But only roughly: if the
ticks are one centimetre apart and the segments are exactly 26.283 centimetres
and 412.567 centimetres long, what does the measurement tell us? One possibility
is to round off the lengths, estimating them to be 6 and 13 centimetres. But then we
incorrectly perceive the second interval to be more than twice as long as the first.
A better way to use the ruler is to accept the uncertainty: that is, conclude from our
measurements only that the length of the first segment is between b26 and
d27 centimetres, and similarly that the length of the second is between b412
and d413 centimetres. (the notations bxcand dxe, respectively, denote the largest
integer less than or equal to xand the smallest integer greater than or equal to x).
The amount of uncertainty is not a fundamental feature of the two segments, but
depends on the precision of the ruler. To decrease the uncertainty, we could use a
more sensitive ruler with more ticks, perhaps spaced one millimetre apart. We
would then determine the shorter interval to be between b10(2)62 and
d10(2)63 millimetres long, and the longer to be between b10(4)124
and d10(4)125. The ratio between the two is then known to be at least 124/
63 1.968 and at most 125/62 2.016. The ratio is now bounded in a smaller range
that still contains the correct ratio of exactly two.
Taking this idea to its logical conclusion, consider a ruler with infinitesimally
spaced ticks. That is, suppose the distance between ticks is a ‘number’ that is
greater than zero, but less than any positive real number. Approximating the length
of each interval as before, we obtain by analogy that the first interval is between
b2/cand d2/eand the second between b4/cand d4/eticks long. To estimate
the ratio between the two lengths, note that bxcx1 and dxexþ1 for any
number. So the ratio is at least
4= 1
2= þ1¼4
2þ¼23
2þ423
2ð1Þ
and at most
4= þ1
2= 1¼4þ
2¼2þ3
2
52þ3
2ð2Þ
But if we know the two lengths to be real numbers, then the ratio between them is
also real. Since our lower bound for the ratio is infinitesimally less than 2 and the
618 A. Mamolo and T. Bogart
upper bound infinitesimally greater than 2, we can now conclude that the true ratio,
being real, must be exactly 2.
In this argument, we used quantities that are discrete, though infinitesimal, in
order to solve a continuous problem of length. Section 6 employs a twist on this idea:
we will use continuous notions to solve a problem about quantities that are discrete,
though infinite.
5. A ‘hyper’ riff
Does a number system exist that can give meaning to such calculations as (1) and (2)?
What is needed is an ordered extension field of Rthat contains infinitesimals. If there
is such a field, it must also contain infinite quantities: if is positive but less than
every positive real number, then 1/is greater than every positive real; i.e. it is
infinite. In fact there are many such number systems. Among them are the hyperreal
numbers of Abraham Robinson [7], which we denote by R*. Just as the set of
hyperreals extends R, there is a set of hyperintegers that extends the set Zof integers.
Any positive hyperinteger that is not already in Zis called an infinite integer.
Using these numbers, we propose the following ‘hyper’ riff on the infinite-ball
problem:
Let W be any infinite integer and suppose that you have a collection of balls numbered by
the hyperintegers’ 1,2,3,...,10W.As before,begin by placing balls numbered 1through
10 in a barrel and removing ball number 1in the first thirty seconds.Then place balls
numbered 11 through 20 in the barrel and remove ball number 2in the next fifteen seconds.
Now continue this process up to step W:for every hyperinteger n less than or equal to W,at
time (1/2)
n
from the end of a minute,place balls numbered 10n9, 10n8, ...,10n1,
10n in the barrel and remove the ball numbered n.At the end of the experiment,how many
balls remain in the barrel ?
In this variation, we again have an experiment where infinitely many balls are
added to and removed from a barrel. However, in the context of R* we have a new
way to talk sensibly (and rigorously) about infinity without being restricted to the
notions of cardinality and correspondences. We can talk in terms of measurement,
and in this context, comparisons take on a new ‘look’. This shift has important
consequences that arise in sharp contrast to the first two formulations of the
problem, as we will see in the resolution. However, before resolving this variant of
the ping-pong ball conundrum, we must first develop some key properties of
hyperreal numbers.
Recall that a (positive) hyperreal xis said to be infinitesimal if 0 5x5yfor every
positive real number y,orinfinite if x4yfor every real number y. There are also
elements of R* that are neither infinite nor infinitesimal and yet are not real
numbers. For instance, if 2R* is infinitesimal, then 1 þis such an element,
and so is the quantity 2 ð3=2Þthat we encountered in the context of an
infinitesimal ruler. There are also many different infinite and infinitesimal quantities
in R*. For example, if M2R* is infinite, then so are Mþ1, Mþ500, M3,
2Mand M/2.
Hyperreals were introduced for the purpose of nonstandard analysis, in which
limits are replaced by the use of infinitesimals and infinite sums. In this theory,
derivatives are defined to be quotients of infinitesimals and Riemann integrals to be
infinite sums taken over infinitesimal intervals. Keisler published a calculus textbook
[8] that takes this approach. The main idea of nonstandard analysis is not to
International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology 619
demonstrate bizarre properties of R* (of which it has many, beginning with its totally
disconnected topology), but to use R* in new and perhaps more intuitive proofs
of properties of R,R
n
, and other standard spaces. For this purpose as well as for our
own, two properties of R* are essential, the extension principle and the transfer
principle.
Informally speaking, the extension principle allows us to generalise the metaphor
of the real number line to the hyperreal line. More specifically, it allows sets,
functions, and relations to be extended from Rto R*. For example, the interval
½a,b¼fx2R:axbg
is extended to the set
fx2R:axbg:
Since aand bare still real numbers, this extended interval does not contain any
infinite quantities, but it does contain the real numbers in the original interval along
with infinitely close neighbours such as aþb
2þfor any infinitesimal epsilon.
The integers Zextend to the hyperintegers Z*, some of which are infinite. The
nonnegative hyperintegers will likewise be denoted by N*. The function f:R!R
given by f(x)¼2xextends to a function f:R*!R*, thus making sense of quantities
such as 2. Since addition and multiplication are functions from RRto R, they
also extend to the hyperreals, making arithmetic possible in the new context.
Extending the order relation on Rmakes R* an ordered field. This is one of many
properties shared by Rand R* but not by more common extensions such as the
complex field Cor the rational function field R(t).
Shifting our attention back to hyperintegers, we can also, for instance, construct
factorials: n!:¼Qn
i¼1ifor any positive hyperinteger n. Then we may go on to
construct binomial coefficients: n
k
¼n!
k!ðnkÞ!for any positive hyperintegers nand k.
The transfer principle guarantees that these extended sets, functions and relations
continue to behave in familiar ways. Specifically, it states that all first-order
properties carry over from Rto R*. A first-order property is one that can be defined
by quantifying only over elements, not over sets. For example, the commutativity
8x,y2R:xþy¼yþx
is first-order, so it applies to R* as well. So do associativity and distributivity, and it
is an easy but important consequence of the transfer principle that R* is in fact a
field. The transfer principle also tells us that the binomial theorem
ðxþ1Þn¼X
n
i¼0
n
k

xk,
once proved for ordinary numbers, also holds for any hyperreal xand
positive hyperinteger n, whether finite or infinite. Properties of Rthat are not
shared by R*, such as connectivity, are not first-order (recall, a set Sis defined to be
connected if there do not exist two nonempty disjoint open subsets of Swhose
union is S).
The calculations at the end of Section 4 implicitly rely on both of these principles.
The extension principle allows us to construct all of the infinite and infinitesimal
620 A. Mamolo and T. Bogart
quantities that are considered, and the transfer principle justifies the arithmetic
in (1) and (2).
6. Solution to the ‘hyper’ riff
We are now in position to solve the nonstandard variation of the infinite-ball
problem. The solution has three basic parts: a description in terms of nonstandard
analysis of the sets of balls, an interpretation of quantity in terms of nonstandard
analysis and an application of that form of quantification to our specific situation.
We first describe the set Aof all balls that are added to the barrel during the
procedure. Recall that at the nth step, we add balls labelled 10n9,
10n8, ...,10n1, 10n. We do this for every hyperinteger nfrom 1 up to W.
Since Wis infinite, this includes one step for every ordinary positive integer, but also
one step for every infinite integer less than or equal to W. As we have seen, there are
many such infinite integers, such as Witself, W1, W2, W10
100
and bW/2c.
To understand the desired set
A¼[
W
n¼1
f10n9, 10n8, ...,10n1, 10ng,
we must use the transfer principle. We begin with the division algorithm on the
ordinary natural numbers. This states that if aand bare natural numbers, then there
exist unique natural numbers qand rsuch that a¼bq þrand 0 rb1. For
example, if a¼56 and b¼12, we would write 56 ¼412 þ8; that is, q¼4 and r¼8.
The division algorithm is a first-order statement about the natural numbers, so by
the transfer principle, exactly the same holds for hypernatural numbers. So to
produce an element of A, we can take b¼10 and any 1 a10W, and conclude that
a¼10qþrfor some unique q2N* and rbetween 0 and 9. Therefore, every
hypernatural number abetween 1 and 10Warises exactly once in the union above,
so, A¼{1, 2, ...,10W1, 10W}.
Next, we must understand the set Rof all balls that are removed from the barrel.
This is easier: for each hypernatural number nfrom 1 to W, we remove ball nat
stage n.SoR¼{1, 2, ...,W1, W}. Thus the set Bof balls that remain at the end of
the procedure is
AnR¼f1, 2, ...,10W1, 10Wgnf1, 2, ...,W1, Wg
¼fWþ1, Wþ2, ...,2W,2Wþ1, ...,3W,...,10W1, 10Wg:
Before we complete the solution by analysing the set A\R, let us pause to observe
that there are similarities between this situation and the ‘minor’ riff presented in
Section 3. In both cases, there is an infinite set of balls that have not been removed
from the barrel. In Section 3, the question ‘how many remain?’ required a
comparison of cardinality via one-to-one correspondence. This yielded the
conclusion that the same ‘number’ of balls remain in the barrel as were removed,
despite the intuition that the former is nine times larger than the latter.
Now that we have moved away from the realm of cardinalities, we will find a
more intuitive conclusion – though one not without its own caveat. Namely, we
might be tempted to compare the sets by observing that 10Wballs were added and W
were removed, and thus 10WW¼9Wballs should remain. While the equation
International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology 621
10WW¼9W
is certainly true in R*, it is not sufficient to answer our question. The numbers W,
9W, and 10Ware not cardinalities, but merely elements in the field R*,
so determining differences is not a meaningful way to describe how many balls
remain in the barrel.
introduced in Section 4. Specifically, instead of counting the elements in the sets A,R
and AnR, we measure the intervals [0, 10W], [0, W] and [W,10W] that they,
respectively, span. The length of an interval [a,b]Ris ba. By an appropriate
application of the transfer principle [7, Section 5.1], the same holds for intervals in
R*, both finite and infinite. In particular, the length of the interval [W,10W]is9W
and the length of [0, W]isW. Lengths (i.e. measures), unlike cardinalities, are
additive in the usual way. Thus it makes perfect sense to say that the first interval is
nine times as long as the second, even though both ‘lengths’ are infinite hyperreals.
In other words, we can informally say that the measure of removed balls is ‘1’ and
the measure of remaining balls is ‘91’.
In fact, the situation is quite similar to that described by Tall. He divides finite
intervals into infinitesimal pieces, while we divide infinite intervals into finite pieces.
But if we scale everything down by a factor of W, we return to the former situation,
with the infinitesimal 1/Wplaying the role of , and with the variation that one
interval is nine times as long as the other, rather than twice as long. Furthermore, our
substitution of the intervals [0, W] and [W,10W] for the discrete sets R¼{1, 2,
3, ...,W1, W}and B¼{Wþ1, Wþ2, ...,10W1, 10W} is the reverse of Tall’s
process of using a discrete set (the ruler ticks) to measure a continuous interval.
An interesting feature of the hyperreal ball problem is that although we perform
more steps of adding and removing balls than in the original version (one step for
each hyperinteger from 1 to W, rather than just one for each natural number), the
last step ends 2
W
seconds before the end of a minute. So the process takes
(infinitesimally) less time than in the original version, which requires exactly a
minute. This is consistent with the common intuition that the experiment should
‘never really reach 60 seconds’ [1].
7. More riffs
We end with some further variations on the infinite ball problem for you to consider.
(a) Begin by placing balls numbered 1 through 9 in a barrel in the first thirty
seconds. Instead of removing a ball, however, simply renumber ball 1 as ball
10. In the next fifteen seconds, add balls numbered 11 through 19 to the
barrel, and renumber ball 2 as ball 20. Continue in this way. At the end of the
experiment, how many balls remain in the barrel? Can you name which ones?
(b) Consider balls numbered by the natural numbers, and place them in the
barrel by exactly the same procedure as in the first two versions of the
problem. However, remove them from the barrel randomly: e.g. at the end of
the first stage, randomly remove one of the balls 1, 2, ..., 10 that were just
placed in the barrel. At the end of the second stage, randomly remove one of
the nineteen balls in the barrel and so on. What is the probability that ball
1 is removed from the barrel at some stage? What about ball 11? What is the
622 A. Mamolo and T. Bogart
expected value of the number of balls remaining in the barrel at the end of the
experiment?
(c) An easier version of the previous riff is to place only two balls, rather than
ten, in the barrel at each stage. Again randomly remove one ball from the
barrel at the end of each stage. What is the probability that ball 1 is removed
at some point during the experiment? What is the expected number of balls
remaining at the barrel at the end of the experiment?
(d) Start with a countably infinite collection of unnumbered balls. In the first
thirty seconds, place ten balls in a barrel and remove one ball. In the next
fifteen seconds, place ten more balls in the barrel and remove one more.
Continue as usual. At the end of the minute, how many balls are in the
barrel? Is this process well-defined?
References
[1] A. Mamolo and R. Zazkis, Paradoxes as a window to infinity, Res. Math. Educ. 10(2)
(2008), pp. 167–182.
[2] G. Cantor, Contributions to the Founding of the Theory of Tranfinite Numbers, (Translated
by P. Jourdain), Dover Publications, New York, 1955.
[3] E. Fischbein, Tacit models of infinity, Educ. Studies Math. 28 (2001), pp. 309–329.
[4] G. Galilei, Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences, (Translated by H. Crew and A. de
Salvio), Dover Publications Inc, New York, 1914. Available at http://www.knovel.com.
proxy.lib.sfu.ca/knovel2/Toc.jsp?BookID=449
[5] B. Bolzano, Paradoxes of the Infinite (Translated by F. Prihonsky, Introduction by
D. Steele), Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, London, 1950.
[6] D. Tall, The notion of infinite measuring number and its relevance in the intuition of infinity,
Educ. Studies Math. 11 (1980), pp. 271–284.
[7] A. Robinson, Non-Standard Analysis, revised ed., North-Holland Publishing Company,
Amsterdam, 1974.
[8] H.J. Keisler, Elementary Calculus: An Infinitesimal Approach, Prindle, Weber, and Schmidt
(1976). Available at http://www.math.wisc.edu/keisler/calc.html
International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology 623
... Both paradoxes (and similar alternatives, such as the tennis ball problem) can be interpreted through a variety of lenses and are not without controversy. Mamolo and Bogart (2011) frame the paradoxes in terms of nonstandard analysis, an area in which students' intuitions about infinity seem to align with its formal treatment (Ely, 2011), and Radu and Weber (2011) analyzed variants of the conundrum in terms of infinite iterative processes and proposed a definition for the state at infinity. Allis and Koetsier (1995) applied what they call the "abstract continuity principle" to handle a variant of the paradox in terms of sequences of actions and address some of the controversy (Van Bendegem, 1994) around tasks that require letting go of physical restraints such as speed and acceleration. ...
... However, she also noted that "intuition frequently fails us when it comes to the infinite" and thus indicated a preference to reason deductively in order to explain properties of transfinite subtraction. Though this intuition was given credence in a recent paper by Mamolo and Bogart (2011), who interpreted the conundrum and variation in terms of nonstandard analysis, such an approach is inconsistent with the set theoretic lens through which Jan was reasoning. Jan's inferences and deductions were made from specific concepts of set theory, suggesting that she recognized that she was working within a certain paradigm and that she needed to remain there. ...
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This article investigates some of the specific features involved in accommodating the idea of actual infinity as it appears in set theory. It focuses on the conceptions of two individuals with sophisticated mathematics background, as manifested in their engagement with variations of a well-known paradox: the ping-pong ball conundrum. The APOS theory is used as a framework to interpret participants’ efforts to resolve the paradoxes. The cases discussed focus on how transfinite subtraction may be conceptualized, and they suggest that there is more to accommodating the idea of actual infinity than the ability to act on a completed object—rather, it is the manner in which objects are acted upon that is also significant. Résumé Cet article se penche sur certains traits spécifiques qui entrent en jeu lorsqu’il s’agit d’accorder une place à l’infini tel qu’il apparaît dans la théorie des ensembles. L’article est centré sur les conceptions de deux personnes hautement qualifiées dans le domaine des mathématiques, telles que ces conceptions se manifestent dans les variations apportées à un paradoxe bien connu: celui des balles de ping-pong. La théorie APOS est utilisée comme cadre pour interpréter les efforts des participants lorsqu’ils tentent de résoudre les paradoxes. Les cas analysés sont centrés sur les façons dont la soustraction transfinie peut être conceptualisée, et suggèrent que le concept d’infini réel implique plus qu’une simple capacité ‘d’agir’ sur un objet complété: la manière dont se produit l’action sur les objets serait également significative.
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This study examines approaches to infinity of two groups of university students with different mathematical background: undergraduate students in Liberal Arts Programmes and graduate students in a Mathematics Education Master's Programme. Our data are drawn from students’ engagement with two well-known paradoxes – Hilbert's Grand Hotel and the Ping-Pong Ball Conundrum – before, during, and after instruction. While graduate students found the resolution of Hilbert's Grand Hotel paradox unproblematic, responses of students in both groups to the Ping-Pong Ball Conundrum were surprisingly similar. Consistent with prior research, the work of participants in our study revealed that they perceive infinity as an ongoing process, rather than a completed one, and fail to notice conflicting ideas. Our contribution is in describing specific challenging features of these paradoxes that might influence students’ understanding of infinity, as well as the persuasive factors in students’ reasoning, that have not been unveiled by other means.
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In this paper a concept of infinity is described which extrapolates themeasuring properties of number rather thancounting aspects (which lead to cardinal number theory). Infinite measuring numbers are part of a coherent number system extending the real numbers, including both infinitely large and infinitely small quantities. A suitable extension is the superreal number system described here; an alternative extension is the hyperreal number field used in non-standard analysis which is also mentioned. Various theorems are proved in careful detail to illustrate that certain properties of infinity which might be considered ‘false’ in a cardinal sense are ‘true’ in a measuring sense. Thus cardinal infinity is now only one of a choice of possible extensions of the number concept to the infinite case. It is therefore inappropriate to judge the ‘correctness’ of intuitions of infinity within a cardinal framework alone, especially those intuitions which relate to measurement rather than one-one correspondence. The same comments apply in general to the analysis of naive intuitions within an extrapolated formal framework.
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The paper analyses several examples of tacit influences exerted by mental models on the interpretation of various mathematical concepts in the domain of actual infinity. The influences of the respective tacit models, being generally uncontrolled consciously, may lead to erroneous interpretations, to contradictions and paradoxes. The paper deals especially with the unconscious effect of the figural-pictorial models of statements related to the infinite sets of geometrical points (on a segment, a square, or a cube) related to the concepts of function and derivative and to the spatial interpretation of time and motion in Zeno's paradoxes.
*, it is not sufficient to answer our question. The numbers W, 9W, and 10W are not cardinalities, but merely elements in the field R*, so determining differences is not a meaningful way to describe how many balls remain in the barrel
• W 9w
10W À W ¼ 9W is certainly true in R*, it is not sufficient to answer our question. The numbers W, 9W, and 10W are not cardinalities, but merely elements in the field R*, so determining differences is not a meaningful way to describe how many balls remain in the barrel.
Paradoxes of the Infinite (Translated by F. Prihonsky, Introduction by
• B Bolzano
B. Bolzano, Paradoxes of the Infinite (Translated by F. Prihonsky, Introduction by D. Steele), Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, London, 1950.
Crew and A. de Salvio)
• G Galilei