Tag Archives: element

Subsets (⊂) and Partitions

Lets look at two more fundamental relationships of sets that are closely related: subsets and partitions.

In the Venn Diagram on the left, I am visually representing three fundamental insights.  (1)  All the elements of set A are also elements of set C. (2) All the elements of set B are also elements of set C. (3)  There are elements in set C that are not elements of A or B.  Thus, set A and B are subsets of set C.  The symbol for subset is ⊂.

Now, in the Venn Diagram on the right, we have a slightly different relationship.  Statements (1) and (2) are still accurate.  However, there are no elements in set C that are not elements of A or B.  In other words, all elements of C are either elements of A or B (but not both of them).  In this case, sets A and B are partitions of set C.  They are unique forms of subsets.

You may not realize this, but the most common use of subsets and partitions can be found in the visual display of organizational charts.  Most of the time, such relationships are represented as flow charts.  Although they can tell you which individual (“element”) is part of which group (“set”), they tend to visually emphasize the hierarchy of authority to the audience.  I personally believe  organizational relationships can be best represented as subsets and partitions.

For example, If Manager John Doe manages office A and B, I can show Office A and B as the subset of Manager John Doe.  This relationship would show that both manager and the workers in Office A and B have certain responsibilities in common with each other.  It would also show that Manager John Doe is responsible for things that are outside the scope of the employees in Office A and B.  Now if Manager John Doe’s only responsibilities is to manage the work of Office A and B, then this relationship should be visually displayed as a partition.

The development of this and other concepts of set theory can be traced back to one man: Georg Cantor (1845-1918), a German mathematician.  Cantor published a six part treatise on set theory from the years 1879 to 1884.  These publications defined most of the concepts of set theory we teach in secondary school and college.  He accomplished much during his career, despite much opposition to his ideas from prominent colleagues.  Explore his interesting life.

In the entrance lounge of the institute for mathematics of the Martin-Luther University at Halle-Wittenberg in Germany. There, you will find a display of a bust representing Georg Cantor.  He was a professor of mathematics at this institution from 1879 to 1913. His work on set theory was among his many contributions to math he made during his time there.

Although Georg Cantor is considered a German mathematician, he was actually born in Russia.  A plaque also marks the place of his birth on Vasilievsky Island in Saint Petersburg. “In this building was born and lived from 1845 till 1854 the great mathematician and creator of set theory Georg Cantor.”

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Sets and Elements

Human beings love to categorize things. Just look at all the nouns we have to describe groups of things in many ways. Our ability to categorize objects evolves out of our mental ability to notice the differences and similarities between two objects. The somewhat unconscious application of this skill gives us a chance to mentally focus on and communicate about many things at once. There is a visually mathematical way of representing the concept. A “collection of well-defined and distinct objects” is referred to as a set (B,C). It’s like the collections of marbles within the white circle (A).  Each of the objects within a given set is  an element. We can express these collections as a rule which describes the attributes common to all elements of the set. Visually, we traditionally use circles or ellipses (I believe any closed shape can be used) to represent the relationships between multiple sets. The resulting diagram is commonly known as a Venn diagram (D). The rectangle enclosing the sets represents the universal set. We’ll explore the most common relationships between sets in a future blog….

Mathematics, like most subjects, is rich in terms and vocabulary. In many cases, there is some fascinating history behind the words we commonly use to express ourselves mathematically. For example, the Venn diagram is named after John Venn (1834-1923), a British logician and philosopher, and a fellow of the Royal Society. Among the many things he did during his life, he published three texts on the subject of logic and he introduced Venn diagrams in his second book Symbolic Logic (1881).

This work was uniquely commemorated in a stained glass window which is on display in the dining hall of his alma mater, Gonville and Caius College, a college in the University of Cambridge, England. Read about his life online and explore his accomplishments. You will find out that he, like most mathematicians, are interested in a variety of things.

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