Joh-RiemannSphere01

The Riemann Sphere

The Riemann Sphere is a fantastic glimpse of where geometry can take you when you escape from the constraints of Euclidean Geometry – the geometry of circles and lines taught at school.  Riemann, the German 19th Century mathematician, devised a way of representing every point on a plane as a point on a sphere.  He did this by first centering a sphere on the origin – as shown in the diagram above.  Next he took a point on the complex plane (z = x + iy ) and joined up this point to the North pole of the sphere (marked W).  This created a straight line which intersected the sphere at a single point at the surface of the sphere (say at z’).  Therefore every point on the complex plane (z) can be represented as a unique point on the sphere (z’) – in mathematical language, there is a one-to-one mapping between the two.  The only point on the sphere which does not equate to a point on the complex plane is that of the North pole itself (W).  This is because no line touching W and another point on the sphere surface can ever reach the complex plane.  Therefore Riemann assigned the value of infinity to the North pole, and therefore the the sphere is a 1-1 mapping of all the points in the complex plane (and infinity).

Riemann 2

So what does this new way of representing the two dimensional (complex) plane actually allow us to see?  Well, it turns on its head our conventional notions about “straight” lines.  A straight line on the complex plane is projected to a circle going through North on the Riemann sphere (as illustrated above).  Because North itself represents the point at infinity, this allows a line of infinite length to be represented on the sphere.

riemann sphere

Equally, a circle drawn on the Riemann sphere not passing through North will project to a circle in the complex plane (as shown in the diagram above).  So, on the Riemann sphere – which remember is isomorphic (mathematically identical) to the extended complex plane, straight lines and circles differ only in their position on the sphere surface.  And this is where it starts to get really interesting – when we have two isometric spaces there is no way an inhabitant could actually know which one is his own reality.  For a two dimensional being living on a Riemann sphere,  travel in what he regarded as straight lines would in fact be geodesic (a curved line joining up A and B on the sphere with minimum distance).

By the same logic, our own 3 dimensional reality is isomorphic to the projection onto a 4 dimensional sphere (hypersphere) – and so our 3 dimensional universe is indistinguishable from a a curved 3D space which is the surface of a hypersphere.  This is not just science fiction – indeed Albert Einstein was one to suggest this as a possible explanation for the structure of the universe.  Indeed, such a scenario would allow there to be an infinite number of 3D universes floating in the 4th dimension – each bounded by the surface of their own personal hypersphere.  Now that’s a bit more interesting than the Euclidean world of straight lines and circle theorems.

If you liked this you might also like:

Imagining the 4th Dimension. How mathematics can help us explore the notion that there may be more than 3 spatial dimensions.

The Riemann Hypothesis Explained. What is the Riemann Hypothesis – and how solving it can win you $1 million

Are You Living in a Computer Simulation? Nick Bostrom uses logic and probability to make a case about our experience of reality.

IB Revision

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 4.35.19 PM

If you’re already thinking about your coursework then it’s probably also time to start planning some revision, either for the end of Year 12 school exams or Year 13 final exams. There’s a really great website that I would strongly recommend students use – you choose your subject (HL/SL/Studies if your exam is in 2020 or Applications/Analysis if your exam is in 2021), and then have the following resources:

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 4.42.05 PM.pngThe Questionbank takes you to a breakdown of each main subject area (e.g. Algebra, Calculus etc) and each area then has a number of graded questions. What I like about this is that you are given a difficulty rating, as well as a mark scheme and also a worked video tutorial.  Really useful!

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 10.02.40 AM

The Practice Exams section takes you to ready made exams on each topic – again with worked solutions.  This also has some harder exams for those students aiming for 6s and 7s and the Past IB Exams section takes you to full video worked solutions to every question on every past paper – and you can also get a prediction exam for the upcoming year.

I would really recommend everyone making use of this – there is a mixture of a lot of free content as well as premium content so have a look and see what you think.