Understanding Analysis (Undergraduate Texts in Mathematics)

Understanding Analysis (Undergraduate Texts in Mathematics)
  • Author: Stephen Abbott
    Publisher: Springer
    Genres: Mathematics
    Publish Date: August 22, 2016
    ISBN-10: 1493927116
    Pages: 312
    File Type: PDF
    Language: English

Book Preface

My primary goal in writing Understanding Analysis was to create an elementary one-semester book that exposes students to the rich rewards inherent in taking a mathematically rigorous approach to the study of functions of a real variable. The aim of a course in real analysis should be to challenge and improve mathematical intuition rather than to verify it. There is a tendency, however, to center an introductory course too closely around the familiar theorems of the standard calculus sequence. Producing a rigorous argument that polynomials are continuous is good evidence for a well-chosen definition of continuity, but it is not the reason the subject was created and certainly not the reason it should be required study. By shifting the focus to topics where an untrained intuition is severely disadvantaged (e.g., rearrangements of infiniteseries, nowhere-differentiable continuous functions, Fourier series), my intent is to restore an intellectual liveliness to this course by offering the beginning student access to some truly significant achievements of the subject.

The Main Objectives

In recent years, the standard undergraduate curriculum in mathematics has been subjected to steady pressure from several different sources. As computers and technology become more ubiquitous, so do the areas where mathematical thinking can be a valuable asset. Rather than preparing themselves for graduate study in pure mathematics, the present majority of mathematics majors look forward to careers in banking, medicine, law, and numerous other fields where analytical skills are desirable. Another strong influence on college mathematics is the ongoing calculus reform effort, now well over ten years old. At the core of this movement is the justifiable goal of presenting calculus in a more intuitive way, emphasizing geometric arguments over symbolic ones. Despite these various trends—or perhaps because of them—nearly every undergraduate mathematics program continues to require at least one semester of real analysis.

The result is that instructors today are faced with the task of teaching a difficult, abstract course to a more diverse audience less familiar with the nature of axiomatic arguments.

The crux of the matter is that any prevailing sentiment in favor of marketing mathematics to larger groups must at some point be reconciled with the fact that theoretical analysis is extremely challenging and even intimidating for some.

One unfortunate resolution of this dilemma has been to make the course easier by making it less interesting. The omitted material is inevitably what gives analysis its true flavor. A better solution is to find a way to make the more advanced topics accessible and worth the effort.

I see three essential goals that a semester of real analysis should try to meet:

1. Students, especially those emerging from a reform approach to calculus, need to be convinced of the need for a more rigorous study of functions. The necessity of precise definitions and an axiomatic approach must be carefully motivated.
2. Having seen mainly graphical, numerical, or intuitive arguments, students need to learn what constitutes a rigorous mathematical proof and how to write one.
3. There needs to be significant reward for the difficult work of firming up the logical structure of limits. Specifically, real analysis should not be just an elaborate reworking of standard introductory calculus. Students should be exposed to the tantalizing complexities of the real line, to the subtleties of different flavors of convergence, and to the intellectual delights hidden in the paradoxes of the infinite.

The philosophy of Understanding Analysis is to focus attention on questions that give analysis its inherent fascination. Does the Cantor set contain any irrational numbers? Can the set of points where a function is discontinuous be arbitrary? Are derivatives continuous? Are derivatives integrable? Is an infinitely differentiable function necessarily the limit of its Taylor series? In giving these topics center stage, the hard work of a rigorous study is justified by the fact that they are inaccessible without it.

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