## Monday, October 6, 2008

### Intermediate Value Theorem

A theorem is a statement that is always true because it has been proved. Theorems are usually stated as implications. That is, they usually are stated as "If [something is true], then [something else is true]." However, this does not mean that the hypothesis (what appears as [something is true]) is actually true. Nor does it mean that the conclusion (the statement instead of [something else is true]) is true. It means that you are guaranteed to know that the conclusion is true whenever the hypothesis is true.

When applying a theorem, it is your task to establish that the hypothesis is true. Then, by stating the theorem, you are allowed to state that the conclusion is also true.

Here is an example using the Intermediate Value Theorem. Recall that the theorem states that if you have a function f that is continuous on a closed interval [a,b] (where a and b can be any numbers with a < b), then for any y-value C between the values f(a) and f(b), you are guaranteed to be able to find a value x such that a < x < c and f(x) = C.

Here is a hypothetical situation. My car holds 12 gallons of gasoline. (That is not the hypothetical part -- I have actually filled the tank :-) I have installed an automated gas-tank tracking system that records the amount of gas as a function of the car's mileage. (Yep, that's the hypothetical part) If you ask me how much gas I had when the car was at 97,034 miles, then I can tell you it had exactly 5.93 gallons of gasoline.

Last week, I filled up my tank when the car was at 98,012 miles. This morning, I checked my car and it now records the tank as having 1.45 gallons and 98,143 miles. (All figures are also hypothetical, including mileage) So here is a question: will I actually be able to identify a mileage on the car when between that last fill up and today when the car contained exactly 4.7 gallons?

Hmm. Let's see. Imagine that we use the variable x to represent the mileage on the car. Also, let f be a function that measures the gallons in the car f(x) when the mileage is x. We know that f(98,012) = 12 and f(98,143) = 1.45. So C=4.7 is between f(98,012) and f(98,143). What does the Intermediate Value Theorem say?

Now, before you go on, I need to tell you a story. On Friday, I needed to mow the lawn. My backyard is pretty large, so it takes a while. Funny thing! I ran out of gas. I knew I had recently filled the car, so I found my gas siphon and pumped a gallon out of the car's tank and into my gas can. Phew! Glad that was available! Finished the lawn with nary a problem.