Friday, September 27, 2002

Experience Mathematics # 15 : OR and AND

Suppose that your mom says that you can have either an Apple or a Banana. Can you have both? One of the most fundamental rules of logic says that the expression either $A$ or $B$ is true only if one of $A$ or $B$ is true. That is to say, you cannot have both the Apple and the Banana (assuming you wish to obey your mom.)

What if your mom says you can have an Apple or a Banana? In this case, you can have both.

Suppose your mom asks you if you have had an Apple or a Banana. Can you honestly say yes if you have had an Apple and an Orange? The answer is yes. If she asks you if you have had an Apple and a Banana, you can answer yes only if you have had both.

Suppose your mom insists that you should not have an Apple. Is it OK to have a Banana? How about Baked Beans? It depends. The alternatives to an Apple allowed by your mom depend on the context. For example, if the alternatives allowed consist of the other fruits in the house, you cannot have baked beans instead of the Apple, but you could have a Banana. However, if the context of discussion is the five servings of fruits and vegetables that you must have every day, then Baked Beans are allowed. In Mathematics, when we refer to a set $A$, then we must specify the universal set $U$ from where the elements of $A$ are picked. Then the complement of $A$ is the set of all the elements that are in $U$ but not in $A$. Then there is no confusion when we claim: $a$ is not an element of $A$. By this statement we mean that $a$ is an element of the complement of $A$.

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