Huntington’s Red-Blue Set

Standard

While reading Lillian Lieber’s book on infinity, I came across an astonishing example of infinite set (on pp. 207). Let’s call the property of existence of a rational number between given two rational number to be “beauty” (a random word introduced by me to make arguments clearer).

The set of rational numbers between 0 and 1 are arranged in ascending order of magnitude, and all of them are coloured blue. This is clearly a beautiful set. Then another another set of rational numbers between 0 and 1 is taken and arrange in ascending order of magnitude, but all of them are coloured red. This is also a beautiful set. Now, put these two sets together in such a way that each blue number is immediately followed by the corresponding red number. For example, 1/2 is immediately followed by 1/2 etc.  It appears that if we interlace two beautiful sets, the resulting set should be even more beautiful. But since each blue number has an immediate successor, namely the corresponding red number, so that between these two we can’t find even a single other rational number, red or blue, the resulting set is NOT beautiful.

The set created above is called Huntington’s Red-Blue set. It is an ingenious invention, where two beautiful sets combined together lead to loss of beauty. For more details, read the original paper:

Huntington, Edward V. “The Continuum as A Type of Order: An Exposition of the Modern Theory.” Annals of Mathematics, Second Series, 7, no. 1 (1905): 15-43. doi:10.2307/1967192.