# Re: [xmca] a minus times a plus

I think I was hired as a maths teacher in London in 1973, even though I was the worst maths teacher in the world, because they needed to have *someone* in the maths department who could actually understand points like these, Michael. How could they teach transformations and mapping of functions to 13-year-old innumerate kids if they couldn't understand it themselves? I couldn't teach, but I could explain to the teachers what the stuff in the New Maths books meant.
```
Andy

Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:
```
```Hi Ed,
```
I think it is very helpful to think and look at similarities with other matrix operations, for example, to look at the determinant of the 1-dimensional matrix, which is -1, which means, the sense is inversed. Thus, when you take 1 and 5, 1 is the smaller, 5 the larger, then multiplying each with -1 you get the results inversed, -1 is larger than -5. Thus, even if it were not mathematical, we could learn a lot of looking at multiplication as a TRANSFORMATION, whereby some set of numbers comes to be mapped back onto itself. :-)
```
```
I think that the mathematical idea of transformation (mapping, function...) is one of the most powerful in our culture.
```Michael

On 27-Apr-09, at 5:59 PM, Ed Wall wrote:

Michael

```
The reason why a physicist's thinking works this way is because they are immersed in our number system and hence facts can be used to prove, in a sense, themselves. In writing A = -1 you are, in a sense, making such a move. The unfortunate thing is that when you do this you, in a sense, gloss over the very structure you are trying to uncover. There are also the equally unhelpful - and, please, note that these are my opinions - of the sort (they can be made somewhat nicer): you earn a negative five dollars for three days, what do you have at the end of 3 days. The negative times the negative stories are really arcane and I must admit to be unsure just what is going. I, by the have no problem with this physicist's take as illustrative of the consequence of the the structure of the naturals and their extension to the integers (and the next extension is, one might say, the rationals). However, it ignores, in a sense, the structure of the naturals and I happen to think that structure is crucial to children's understanding.
```
Ed

On Apr 27, 2009, at 8:34 PM, Wolff-Michael Roth wrote:

```
Can't you think like this---perhaps it is too much of a physicist's thinking. We can think of the following general function (operator in physics) that produces an image y of x operated upon by A.
```y = Ax

```
if x is from the domain of positive integers, then A = -1 would produce an image that is opposite to the one when A = +1, the identity operation.
```
```
Conceptually you would then not think in terms of a positive times a negative number, but in terms of a positive number that is projected opposite of the origin on a number line, and, if the number is unequal to 1, like -2, then it is also stretched.
```
The - would then not be interpreted in the same way as the +

Cheers,
Michael

On 27-Apr-09, at 4:16 PM, Ed Wall wrote:

Mike

```
It is simply (of course, it isn't simple by the way) because, the negative integers (and, if you wish, zero) were added to the natural numbers in a way that preserves (in a sense) their (the natural numbers) usual arithmetical regularities. It would be unfortunate if something that was true in the natural numbers was no longer true in the integers, which is a extension that includes them. Perhaps the easiest way to the negative x positive business is as follows (and, of course, this can be made opaquely precise - smile):
```
3 x 1 = 3
2 x 1 = 2
1 x 1 = 1
0 x 1 = 0

```
so what, given regularity in the naturals + zero) do you think happens next? This thinking works for, of course, for negative times negative. The opaque proof is more or less as follows.
```
```
Negative numbers are solutions to natural number equations of the form (I'm simplifying all this a little)
```
x + a = 0    ('a' a natural number)

```
and likewise positive numbers are solutions to natural number equations of the form
```
y = b          ('b' a natural number)

```
Multiplying these two equations in the usual fashion within the natural numbers gives
```

xy + ay = 0

or substituting for y

xy + ab = 0

so, by definition, xy is a negative number.

```
Notice how all this hinges on the structure of the natural numbers (which I've somewhat assumed in all this).
```
Ed

On Apr 27, 2009, at 6:47 PM, Mike Cole wrote:

```
```Since we have some mathematically literate folks on xmca, could someone
please post an explanation of why

multiplying a negative number by a positive numbers yields a negative
number? What I would really love is an explanation
```
that is representable in a manner understandable to old college professors
```and young high school students alike.

mike
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--
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Andy Blunden http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Hegel's Logic with a Foreword by Andy Blunden:
From Erythrós Press and Media <http://www.erythrospress.com/>.

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