Vectors can describe any quantity with magnitude and direction.
In fact, vectors are often defined by these properties and are used to solve important problems such as the physics of motion.
But there's so much more to being a “vector,” and if we broaden our view, we can use vectors to solve a much wider range of problems.
So, what exactly is a vector then? By the end of this quiz, we'll know!
Let's start by looking at arrows in the plane, which have both magnitude and direction.
The velocity of a bug as it walks along a tabletop is a good example. In this case, it's natural to imagine the arrow carried by the bug as it goes. Set the speed and click the play button to watch it go!
Moving arrows around the plane doesn't change their meaning at all. In fact, moving two arrows together is a natural way to add them together.
The sum is the arrow from the tail of to the tip of if we move without rotating it so that its tail sits at the tip of
For example, let's say there are three islands labeled and A boat travels from to and then from to
In other words, it first moves along and then along
on the other hand, tells us where the boat starts off and where it finally stops. How is related to and
Now let's take a closer look at the sum rule.
To add and together, we move 's tail to 's tip; is the arrow joining 's tail to 's tip.
Do we get a different result if we instead move 's tail to 's tip?
We just saw that and are the same arrow; this means So the order doesn't matter, just as when we add numbers.
But suppose we add the three arrows and together. Does the order of addition matter now?
To recap, arrow sums obey the "common sense" rules of commutativity and associativity just like real numbers.
It's hard to imagine arithmetic without these properties, so let's make them an essential aspect of "being a vector":
Vectors obey associativity and commutativity when they’re added.
To define vectors properly, we need more than just a means of adding them together; we also need a way of multiplying them by numbers.
Take planar arrows, for instance. There's a natural way of scaling them:
The scalar multiplication rules for arrows are as follows:
- If then points in the same direction as but has times its length.
- If then points in the opposite direction as but has times its length.
Given what we know about arrow addition, how do we interpret
So it follows that every arrow has an opposite where In many ways the zero arrow plays the same role that does for real numbers.
What other properties about and arrow scalar multiplication are true?
Select all that apply.
We now extract the full definition of "vector" from all the lessons we learned studying planar arrows.
Suppose a set has the following properties:
- has addition and scalar multiplication operations that are commutative, associative, and distributive.
- has a zero vector, which is an object that can be added to anything in without changing it, just like the real number 0.
- Multiplying any element in by the real number doesn't change that element.
In other words, has all the same algebraic properties as planar arrows. Then we call a vector space and its elements vectors.
In the next quiz, we'll look at an example of a vector space that may just surprise you.