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Invalid proof

In mathematics, there are numerous "proofs" that show impossible results. These proofs, while seemingly valid to the casual observer, always contains an invalid step where a principle of mathematics is violated. These are normally regarded as mere curiosities, but can be used to show the importance of rigour in mathematics.

Table of contents
1 Examples


Proof that 1 equals −1

We start with

Then we convert these into fractions

Applying square roots on both sides gives

Which is equal to

But since (see imaginary number), we can substitute, obtaining

By rearranging the equation to remove the fractions, we get

And since , we therefore have


This proof is invalid since it applies the following principle for square roots wrongly:

This principle is only correct when both x and y are positive numbers. In the "proof" above, one is a negative number, thus making the whole proof invalid.

Proof that 1 is less than 0

Let us suppose that

Now we will take the logarithm on both sides. As long as x > 0, we can do this because logarithms are monotonically increasing. Observing that the logarithm of 1 is 0, we get

Dividing by ln x gives


The violation is found in the last step, the division. This step is wrong because the number we are dividing by is negative, which in turn is because the argument to the logarithm is less than 1, our original assumption. A multiplication with or division by a negative number flips the inequality sign; in other words, we should obtain 1 > 0, which is indeed correct.

Proof that 2 equals 1

Suppose that

Multiplying by gives

Subtracting gives

Factoring out ,

then cancelling the common factor gives

But since , we can substitute for


As is arbitrary it can be cancelled from both sides, therefore,


The violation is found in the step where the common factor is cancelled. This step is wrong because that factor is equal to zero, and in cancelling it, an implicit division by zero is made. This invalidates the succeeding steps and the proof is no longer valid. Before that last step, it can be said that we proved x×0=0.