Infinite Sets and Cardinality
The Size of a Finite Set
When deciding how large finite sets are, we generally count the number of elements in the set, and say two sets are the same size if they have the same number of elements. This approach doesn't work too well if the sets are infinite, however, because we can't count the number of elements in an infinite set.
However, there is another way to define when two sets have the same size that works equally well for finite and infinite sets. We say that two sets and have the same size if we can define a function which satisfies the following properties:
- is defined for every .
- , such that . We say that f is onto or surjective.
- , . We say that f is one-to-one or injective.
Functions which satisfy these properties are called bijections.
The sets and both have three elements. We can define a bijection between them like this: .
The set of all positive integers, is the same size as the set of nonnegative integers, . Let , and more generally .
Prove that the above function is a bijection.
Often it is difficult to construct an explicit bijection between two sets of the same cardinality, so the following theorem can come in handy:
See proof at Cantor–Bernstein–Schroeder theorem
If and are two sets and there exist injective functions and , then there exists a bijection between and .