Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Vacuously true statements

You can think of a vacuously true statement as a sort of mathematical joke. For example, if Santa Claus does not have any pigs, it is mathematically true that “All of Santa’s pigs can fly”! Vacuously true statements can also play a role in mathematical fallacies, which are incorrect arguments that may look reasonable until you take a closer look at them.

You might want to review the previous posting on the meaning of "implies". The key to understanding vacuous statements is that if the “antecedent” (left side) of an implication is false, the whole statement is true no matter whether the right side (“consequent”) is reasonable or not. In our little example, it is true that all of Santa’s pigs can fly, even if no pig in the entire world can fly. And I guess all purple cows are math whizzes, too — unless of course there really is a purple cow somewhere.

In the truth table for the implication operator (P ⇒ Q), if you look at the rows where P is false, you will see that the whole implication is true regardless of whether Q is true or not. So any implication with "false" on the left side is true; and we say "false implies anything".

The definition of "⇒" gives just the results we need to do mathematics — just watch out for statements that are vacuously true!

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