Tag Archives: quaternions

Polynomials and Commutativity


In high school, I came to know about the statement of the fundamental theorem of algebra:

Every polynomial of degree n with integer coefficients have exactly n complex roots (with appropriate multiplicity).

In high school, a polynomial = a polynomial in one variable. Then last year I learned 3 different proofs of the following statement of the fundamental theorem of algebra [involving, topology, complex analysis and Galois theory]:

Every non-zero, single-variable, degree n polynomial with complex coefficients has, counted with multiplicity, exactly n complex roots.

A more general statement about the number of roots of a polynomial in one variable is the Factor Theorem:

Let R be a commutative ring with identity and let p(x)\in R[x] be a polynomial with coefficients in R. The element a\in R is a root of p(x) if and only if (x-a) divides p(x).

A corollary of above theorem is that:

A polynomial f of degree n over a field F has at most n roots in F.

(In case you know undergraduate level algebra, recall that R[x] is a Principal Ideal Domain if and only if R is a field.)

The key fact that many times go unnoticed regarding the number of roots of a given polynomial (in one variable) is that the coefficients/solutions belong to a commutative ring (and \mathbb{C} is a field hence a commutative ring). The key step in the proof of all above theorems is the fact that the division algorithm holds only in some special commutative rings (like fields). I would like to illustrate my point with the following fact:

The equation X^2 + X + 1 has only 2 complex roots, namely \omega = \frac{-1+i\sqrt{3}}{2} and \omega^2 = \frac{-1-i\sqrt{3}}{2}. But if we want solutions over 2×2 matrices (non-commutative set) then we have at least  3 solutions (consider 1 as 2×2 identity matrix and 0 as the 2×2 zero matrix.)

\displaystyle{A=\begin{bmatrix} 0 & -1 \\1 & -1 \end{bmatrix}, B=\begin{bmatrix} \omega & 0 \\0 & \omega^2 \end{bmatrix}, C=\begin{bmatrix} \omega^2 & 0 \\0 & \omega \end{bmatrix}}

if we allow complex entries. This phenominona can also be illusttrated using a non-commutative number system, like quaternions. For more details refer to this Math.SE discussion.