## A Summer 2015 Mathematics A To Z: dual

And now to start my second week of this summer mathematics A to Z challenge. This time I’ve got another word that just appears all over the mathematics world.

## Dual.

The word “dual” turns up in a lot of fields. The details of what the dual is depend on which field of mathematics we’re talking about. But the general idea is the same. Start with some mathematical construct. The dual is some new mathematical thing, which is based on the thing you started with.

For example, for the box (or die) you create the dual this way. At the center of each of the flat surfaces (the faces, in the lingo) put a dot. That’s a corner (a vertex) of a new shape. You should have six of them when you’re done. Now imagine drawing in new edges between the corners. The rule is that you put an edge in from one corner to another only if the surfaces those corners come from were adjacent. And on your new shape you put in a surface, a face, between the new edges if the old edges shared a corner. If you’ve done this right, you should get out of it an eight-sided shape, with triangular surfaces, and six corners. It’s known as an octahedron, although you might know it better as an eight-sided die.

And now a neat thing. You can take the dual *again,* building another mathematical construct based on this thing you created. It’ll be whatever thing you started with.

Take the eight-sided, six-cornered figure and follow the same old rules about making a dual. You’ll get back a box, just like you started with. Well, it might be smaller, but it’ll be the same shape. Just sit closer to it and you can’t tell it from the original.

Now you probably wonder, why do this? What is the *point*?

Here the example of boxes betrayed me. The dual of a solid shape like that is a solid shape and while some of these new shapes are interesting, there doesn’t seem to be much you can do with the dual that you can’t do with the original shape. But in general, the dual to a mathematical object will be a *different kind* of mathematical object. And there’s the point.

It can happen that something we want to do is awkward or clumsy or tedious if we try doing it to one kind of mathematical object, but is easy on some other kind of object. If the kinds of objects are duals, then, joy! Instead of the original problem that’s hard, we look at the dual, where the problem is easy. Then once we’ve found the solution, using the dual, we take the dual of *that* and we have the answer.

This sort of shifting between kinds of mathematical objects, looking for the ones that make a problem easy, is another of the stock tricks of the mathematician.

Meanwhile, drawing solid shapes and working out their duals is a fun pastime. If you need inspiration, try working from a set of tabletop gaming dice, or the Platonic solids. At least one of these shapes is its own dual.

## howardat58 4:09 pm

onMonday, 1 June, 2015 Permalink |Did you see my post on duality?

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## Joseph Nebus 8:58 pm

onMonday, 1 June, 2015 Permalink |I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t. I’ve been out of my normal routine the past couple weeks, unfortunately. Could you offer a link, please, for myself and for people stumbling across this post sometime well after June 2015?

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## howardat58 2:03 pm

onThursday, 4 June, 2015 Permalink |Here you are:

https://howardat58.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/duality-fundamental-and-profound-but-heres-a-starter-for-you-2/

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## Joseph Nebus 10:42 pm

onFriday, 5 June, 2015 Permalink |Thank you most kindly. It’s been a bit of a frantic couple weeks around these parts. Not sure if I’ll be able to turn the story of why into any good posts here.

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## Duality, fundamental and profound, but here’s a starter for you. | nebusresearch 10:39 pm

onSaturday, 6 June, 2015 Permalink |[…] week in the mathematics A-To-Z I’ve been writing I mentioned duals. I asserted there were duals all over mathematics, but gave only one example, that of turning solid s… It happens that two weeks ago HowardAt58’s “Saving School Math” blog ran a post, […]

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## A Summer 2015 Mathematics A To Z: unbounded | nebusresearch 2:55 pm

onFriday, 10 July, 2015 Permalink |[…] it with the function whose rule is “1 / (x2 + 1)”, which is bounded, above and below. As with duals, this is a way we can turn one problem into another, that we might be able to solve more […]

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## A Summer 2015 Mathematics A to Z Roundup | nebusresearch 3:03 pm

onFriday, 24 July, 2015 Permalink |[…] Dual. […]

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## Mathematics A to Z: Part 1 | Mean Green Math 11:03 am

onFriday, 11 September, 2015 Permalink |[…] D is for dual, a common notion in graph theory. See also the follow-up post referring to this article on Saving School Math. […]

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## The Set Tour, Part 6: One Big One Plus Some Rubble | nebusresearch 12:00 pm

onThursday, 29 October, 2015 Permalink |[…] associate superscript * symbols with some operations involving complex-valued numbers and with the duals of sets, neither of which is in play here. But it’s not like he’s wrong and I’m right. If […]

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## To Apply Both My A To Z Essays All At Once | nebusresearch 3:01 pm

onSunday, 24 April, 2016 Permalink |[…] and the Leap Day 2016 A To Z I’ve had the chance to talk about a bunch of concepts including duals and Riemann spheres and nontrivial subsets of things. Baking And Math, which combines discussions […]

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## Excuses, But Classed Up Some | nebusresearch 6:05 pm

onThursday, 11 May, 2017 Permalink |[…] to change, which is to say, anytime you’re looking at something not boring. It’s one of mathematics’s uses of “duals”, letting you swap between the function you’re interested in and what you know about how the […]

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