*(note: this post has been closed to comments; comments about it on other pages will be deleted!)*

Okay, this is going to be my last post on the topic of how .999...=1, started in this post, and continued here. I will engage in more refuting, but I have begun to see how useless the refutations are because many of the "non-believers" (and I use that word jokingly because, as I wrote here, I don't really consider it a matter of belief) don't bother to visit the refutations page or don't read it if they do. This blog has gotten over 70,000 hits since the original post was on the front page of digg. The discussion there and at numerous other small forums makes it clear that the refutations aren't being read. There have even been meta-discussions on how this fact can get a warning from digg about containing inaccurate information, even though every knowledgeable source of information agrees with me. The only reasonable criticism I found on the digg site is that this doesn't belong in the news because the proof has been around for so long that it ought not count as news. Unfortunately, enough people seem to disbelieve it that even old news needs to be explained *just one more time* in the hopes that a few people will come to understand the math better.

But on to the refutations. This time, I will do them in decreasing order of sophistication of the argument. This puts the most reasonable first. (And again, I give full credit to some of the comments for their help in refuting.)

Variations on: 1 - .999... = 1/infinity, which is greater than zero.

I already discussed this a little bit, but there's more to be said. While there are some mathematicians who have formalized the notion of infinitesimals, those systems require a very careful formal extension of the real numbers to what they call the hyperreal numbers. I admit that I am not versed in this stuff because it is way beyond my understanding. However, I understand enough to know that they are not meant to *replace* the real numbers, but to *extend* them. The inventors of hyperreal numbers and the algebra of infinitesimals assuredly still agree that within the real numbers (a caveat that I have been very careful to include ever since this objection arose) .999...=1.

Within the real numbers, 1/infinity (which I will represent in this essay with the variable E, for epsilon, a standard name for very small (but not infinitely small!) numbers) behaves just like the number zero. As an example of this, I will refute:

Variations on: .333... doesn't really equal 1/3. It is just slightly less than 1/3 in the same way that .999... is just slightly less than 1.

(Now remember, I have to put some words into objectors' mouths, since they do not present their objections precisely, which is the whole problem. I apologize if I mischaracterize an objection somehow.) The only way to make this consistent, I think, is to claim that:

1/3 = .333... + E (remember that E is 1/infinity)

This would mean that:

1 = 3/3 = 3(.333... + E) = .999... + 3E

So if you object like this, tell me about this 3E number. Is it greater than E? If it is, then .999... isn't really *as close as you can get* to 1, is it? "Aha, Mr. Polymath! You yourself said that you can't use normal algebra on infinity, so it's still possible that the 3E number (the residue from tripling 1/3) might be the smallest possible postive number!" Yes, indeed, I said that. But if you're going to say that E and 3E are really the same thing, then you are saying exactly what I'm saying. If E and 3E are the same, then E is behaving *exactly like the number zero*. Or, if you don't like using algebra on this, we can just consider it like this: if .333... lacks something when it tries to be 1/3, and if .999... lacks the same thing when it tries to be 1, then either that lacking quantity is behaving just like the number 0, or .999... is actually *not* as close to 1 as you can get.

Variations on: Why do you insist that there be a number between .999... and 1? Can't .999... simply be the next number down from 1?

The real numbers have been **defined** in such a way as to guarantee that they are "dense". That means that between any two real numbers, you can always find another real number (infinitely many, actually, but certainly at least one). The easiest one to find is typically the average (x+y)/2. But whether you specifically refer to the density property or not, I would still challenge these objectors to tell me what happens if you add .999... and 1, and then divide by 2. I assume they would have to answer that 1+.999... = 1.999..., and then 1.999.../2 is what? .999...5? I covered in the last refutations essay how .999...5 is an abuse of notation and doesn't have any meaning because you can't tell me the denominator of the place value represented by the 5. Sooooo.....what is 1.999.../2? If it's something larger than .999..., then you've contradicted yourself since now .999... is not the "next number down" from 1. If you say it's less than .999..., then you've just completely ruined the idea of taking an average and ending up between the numbers you started with. And if you say it's equal to .999... then (using N for .999...) you're saying that:

(1 + N)/2 = N, which means (if you multiply both sides by 2):

1 + N = 2N, which means (if you subtract N from both sides):

1 = N, which is what I've been saying all along.

The only thing left for you to say is that the average of 1 and the "next number down" from 1 doesn't exist, since that average can't be less than, greater than or equal to .999.... And if the average doesn't exist, you'll have to deny the basic fact (called **closure**) that if you add two real numbers or divide a real number by 2, you'll end up with another real number. I suspect you're not really trying to deny the closure of the reals.

Variations on: .333... is an approximation of 1/3, but it's not actually equal to 1/3.

These objectors seem to think of the number .333... as having some independent existence from the number 1/3, and thus has the option of being the same or different from it. Actually, .333... is merely a notational description of what happens when you divide 3 into 1, which is the meaning of 1/3 (see below). If you do long division to determine the decimal equivalent of 1/8 (and I'm not going to demonstrate that here), you'll find that the tenths place contains a 1, the hundredths place contains a 2, and the thousandths place contains a 5, and the ten-thousandths place (and every place after that) contains a 0. We write that as 1/8=.125 with no problem (although it clearly could also be written as .125000...). When you try the same thing with the long division for 1/3, you'll find that the tenths place contains a 3, the hundredths place contains a 3, the thousandths place contains a 3, the ten-thousandths place contains a 3, and eventually you'll notice the pattern. *Every* place you might ask about contains a 3. How are we going to write that? We have decided to write it as .333.... That's all. It's just a notation. .333... *has to be* the same as 1/3 because it's merely a notation for the result of the dividing 1 by 3.

Variations on: 1/3 isn't really a number because you can't truly divide anything equally into 3 parts without a residue left over.

(Biiiiig breath here...) Wow. 1/3 isn't a number. This represents a pretty basic problem with the understanding of how numbers work, and explaining something this basic to someone who doesn't understand is probably futile, but here goes.

None of these objectors was really claiming that 1/2 isn't a number. They see that dividing 1 by 2 gives .5, but they claim that 3 doesn't really "fit" into 1 (they might be interested in my theory of remainders). While I can (sort of) see how you might give a special privilege to dividing something into halves that you don't want to give to dividing into thirds, do you really also want to give that special privilege to 1/5 (which also has a nice, easy decimal representation)? Or even 1/125? (Of course the reason some numbers make nice, easy decimals is the accident of our base 10 counting system. You can't easily take a third of a dollar, but you can take a third of 90 cents.)

The fact is, it's *so* possible to divide 1 by 3 that the very *meaning* of the symbol 1/3 is "the number you get when you divide 1 by 3". We *created* 1/3 to actually be the result of dividing 1 by 3, and we made up a symbol for it (namely, 1/3) that is supposed to remind you of it. If you don't think 1/3 is really a number, you'd better stop all those 2nd-grade kids who are learning about it.

(Whew, that's the best I can do at that one.)

(Actual quote from comments) "Is is NOT and WILL not EVER be exactly 1, because, by DEFINITION, it is LESS than 1. If you fail to understand this, then you simply fail to understand the definition of .9 repeating. I was sick in school, and never went on to uni and higher math, but

even I knowyou're waay wrong." (emphasis mine)

Of course, by now you'll know how I'm going to answer this person mathematically. The definition of .999... actually says that it is equal to 1. But that's not my point in bringing up this objection, which basically is just disagreement by intuition.

This (and other comments of which this is the most blatant) seem to imply the following:

"You mathematicians are just sooooo pointy-headed and obstinate that you have your little blinders on and you can't think outside the box. Out here in the real world, we know what's what, and we don't have to study your stupid Cauchy sequences or Dedekind cuts to know stuff about math. In fact, *not* having studied formal mathematics actually gives me *more* credibility, so you should believe what I say."

Along with this seems to come the notion that I am irresponsible for teaching this, and that people like me are what's wrong with education todayâ€”namely, a bunch of geeks who don't teach anything about the real world.

No, no, no, no, no. The thing that's wrong with education today is that so many people (not just kids) just want the shortcutting, life-applicable, "give me the bullet" answer without taking the time to *really think* about anything. Do you truly believe that in the thousands of years of brilliant, creative thinking about math, that no one noticed that .999... *seems at first* to be less than 1? The sun *seems* to be revolving around the earth, but we don't question the astronomers. Matter *seems* to be infinitely divisible, but we don't question atomic physicists. Consuming sugar *seems* to be the right thing to do when I feel that my blood-sugar level is low, but I didn't question my doctor when he (correctly) explained that this would (counterintuitively) just perpetuate the low-blood-sugar cycle. We trust professional chefs to make our restaurant food taste good, airline mechanics to fix our planes, architects to design our skyscrapers. All of these people have spent years and years studying their fields and they hold lifetimes of research and intuition in their heads. But mathematicians are just too dorky and clueless to understand a basic (although slightly counterintuitive) fact about representing numbers in our base 10 notation system? Give me a break.

I'm not claiming to be right on everything, just this fact about math. And I'm not claiming to be the greatest teacher in the world. But I'm not what's wrong with our education system. Your non-appreciation for rigorous math, and the centuries of thought that went into it, is what's wrong with our education system. Sticking your fingers in your ears and going La-La-La-La-I-Won't-Listen-To-Math-Geeks-La-La is what's wrong with our education system. Show some humility.

many people are reluctant to believe that 1/3 = .333... or 2/3 .666... because they do not believe that decimals can represent fractions. but it can. like someone said earlier, 0.5 is 5/10, 0.125 is 125/1000 and people have no problem accepting that. Consider that .5 is a "infinitesimal" in a way because there is an infinite amount of 0s trailing the number 5. That must be true in order for 0.5 to equal 5/10 exactly. If people can accept .500... = 5/10 exactly, then why can't they accept that .333... = 1/3 exactly??

Posted by: foo | November 17, 2006 at 11:35 PM

.333... or .3 with bar on top means EXACTLY 1/3. Because there is no way to write out the whole thing as a decimal, mathematicians use .333... or .3 with bar on top as a representation for it. Representations of a fraction do indeed equal the fraction they represent. In other words, .333... and 1/3 mean exactly the same thing just as "O-N-E" and "U-N-O"(one in Spanish) mean the same thing except they are spelled differently.

Posted by: foo | November 17, 2006 at 11:51 PM

It's surprising how difficult it is to convince people about this. As a mathematics major at university, i've had to do it quite often. the trouble is partly that people do not know what decimal expansion really is, and what 0.99...is defined to be, or why it needs to be defined.

Posted by: Niranjan Srinivas | November 22, 2006 at 02:17 AM

I was bored, so I wrote a little dialogue! Hope you enjoy.

--------------------------

"I'd like to prove to you that the mathematical object ##@@## equals 1."

"But what do you mean by ##@@## ? Please define it for me."

"Ok, don't worry, ##@@## is just notational shorthand for the limit, whatever it is, of the following sequence of real numbers (written in base-10):

0.9, 0.99, 0.999, 0.9999, ...

If you don't know what a limit is in this context, I'll briefly describe it to you: it's a number. Just one real number."

"OK, I think I follow you; basically, you've defined this thing ##@@## to be the limit of that sequence. But the limit of that sequence is defined to be a number, right? So basically, by a round-about sort of way, you've defined #@@## to be a number."

"That's right."

"Cool! I wonder which number? Is it 12? 23.4543?"

"Nope. It's 1. That's right, ##@@## = 1."

"Why?"

"Calculate the limit of the sequence I gave you (if you don't know how to do this, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limit_of_a_sequence)."

----------[interval]----------

"Gosh, the limit of the sequence is 1. But you defined ##@@## to be the limit of the sequence. So ##@@## is 1."

"Correct."

"But wait a minute. The sequence never actually reaches 1, it just gets closer and closer to 1."

"That's right. What's your point?"

"Well, if the sequence never reaches 1, ##@@## can only be an approximation to 1, because it will never reach 1".

"No. You're wrong there, pal. I didn't mention anything about the terms of the sequence when I defined ##@@##. I merely mentioned the limit, which is just one singe number. I don't care about what the terms of the sequence do, as long as they give me the right limit. If you like, I could redefine ##@@## as the limit of this sequence instead:

1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, ...

Since this also has limit 1, it doesn't make the tiniest difference whether I redefine ##@@## to be the limit of this sequence instead of the previous one. In fact, I might just do that - it makes no difference at all."

"But this new sequence has only 1's in it!"

"That's right."

"Hmm, I guess ##@@## must be 1, then."

"Yay, you got it."

----------------------

Now find-and-replace "##@@##" with "0.999..."

----------------------

Posted by: SL | December 24, 2006 at 09:40 AM

I'm not disagreeing with anybody, but I'm confused by your logic.

"Let x = .9999999..."

Wait...I thought an Infinite number couldn't equal anything...because it goes on forever. (Wait that doesn't sound right let me explain) So you couldn't multiply Infinite by ten because because you still don't know what Infinite is. Same thing is 1/3 = .333... you can multiply 1/3 by 3 to get 1, but you can't multiply .333... * 1 because you cant define .333... without rounding somewhere. All the calculations I see that get .333... * 3 = 1 Round .333... at some point.

Posted by: Ruben | December 27, 2006 at 10:31 PM

Polymath wrote:

"If you claim that "point 9 repeating" doesn't equal 1, then the burden falls on you to find me the number halfway between the two."

Response:

Why halfway? Why not just in between the two? Surely if it can be shown that B exists in between A and C, then A cannot equal C, right?

.99 is in between .9 and 1

.999 is in between .99 and 1

This goes on infinitely! Therefore .9 repeating does not equal 1!

Posted by: Jebudas | January 04, 2007 at 11:46 PM

jebudas,

i agree that any number in between will do. but i looked through your infinite list of numbers between numbers, and i'm afraid i didn't see .999... anywhere. every entry in that list has finitely many 9's.

read my arguments carefully...trying to find a number between .999... and 1 leads to some bizarre contradictions.

Posted by: Polymath | January 05, 2007 at 11:05 AM

I cannot argue about 1=.99... but I can at least prove that 1=2. If this is possible, anything can happen...

1 = 1 | *x

x = x | x^2

x^2 = x^2 | -x^2

x^2 - x^2 = x^2 - x^2 | 3. binom to the right

x(x-x) = (x+x)(x-x) | /(x-x)

x = (x+x)

x = 2x | /x

1 = 2

Next time someone will tell us that the world is NOT flatt and I'm hanging top down.

PS: feel free to reuse any kind of joke or sarkasm you can find in this comment ;-)

Posted by: Alexander | February 17, 2007 at 05:16 AM

Hi Polymath,

I have spent a lot of time reading many of these posts, but forgive me if the following has already been asked:

is it correct to say that 1-.999...=.000...(1)?

or could it be said to be more acurately represented as 1/oo?

if the latter, can it be shown that there does exist a distance b/w 1 & .999...?

here's what I'm thinking:

(1/oo)oo=1 where as 0*oo=0

Be gentle, i haven't been in a math class for almost a decade.

Cheers,

Phil

Posted by: Phil | March 12, 2007 at 12:50 AM

How can you nerds understand this stuff???

I am 54 and have been studying math everyday for the past 48 years.

Posted by: Caity | March 20, 2007 at 07:25 PM

I agree that 0.999...=1 and that 1-0.999..=0 but what is 1-0.888...= ?

Posted by: Denis | March 21, 2007 at 01:12 PM

And also.. if

2/3 = .666...

+

1/3 = .333...

=

1 = .999...

Therefore .444...=.333... because .666...+.444..=1 ?

Someone?

Posted by: Denis | March 23, 2007 at 05:54 AM

.6666...>.6, right?

.4444...>.4, right?

so if you add them, surely you get something greater than 1.

6/9 + 4/9 = 10/9 = 1.1111....

Posted by: Polymath | March 23, 2007 at 10:24 PM

Oh, my mistake. I'm sorry :)

but what about 1-.888...= ?

Posted by: Denis | March 24, 2007 at 06:05 AM

Denis, let's actually do the subtraction then:

*1.000...

-0.888...

_________

You know how to carry the one, right? I will use "T" to represent "10" as a single digit:

*0.T00...

-0.888...

_________

Repeat:

*0.9T000...

-0.88888...

_________

Couple more repeats:

*0.999999999T00...

-0.888888888888...

__________________

Well, it's obvious that we would be carrying the one for all eternity (i.e. the 9s will go on forever), so let's reflect that in our equation:

*0.999...

-0.888...

__________

Wait, did you notice something? The 1 just transformed into 0.999...! And since no subtraction has been performed yet (and carrying the one DOES NOT change the value either), 0.999... is equal in value to 1. Let's proceed with the actual subtraction:

*0.999...

-0.888...

_________

*0.111...

Now, what's the fractional representation of 0.111...? It's 1/9. And since the fractional representation of 0.888... is 8/9:

1-0.888... = 0.999...-0.888... = 0.111... = 1/9 = 9/9-8/9 = 1-8/9

Amazing how this all works out, huh?

Posted by: Monimonika | March 27, 2007 at 09:01 AM

i am getting a lot of spam on this post. i am closing it to comments for a while to see if that helps.

Posted by: Polymath | May 07, 2007 at 10:44 AM