Continuity and the Axiom of Choice

In my introductory Analysis course, we learned two definitions of continuity.

(1) A function f:EC is continuous at a if every sequence (zn)E such that zna satisfies f(zn)f(a).

(2) A function f:EC is continuous at a if ε>0,δ>0:zE,|za|<δ|f(z)f(a)|<ε.

The implication (2)(1) is trivial (though I will happily post a proof if there is sufficient interest). The proof of the implication (1)(2) is worth remarking on, though.

Proof that (1)(2):

Suppose on the contrary that ε>0:δ>0,zE:(|za|<δand|f(z)f(a)|ε). Let An be the set {zE:|za|<1nand|f(z)f(a)|ε}. Now use the Axiom of Choice to construct a sequence (zn) with znAnnN. But now a1n<zn<a+1nnN so zna. So f(zn)f(a). But |f(zn)f(a)|εnN, which is a contradiction.

You will have noticed that the above proof uses the Axiom of Choice (the lecturer didn't explicitly spell out the dependence, but it's definitely there). My question is: is it possible to prove that (1)(2) without using the Axiom of Choice. I strongly suspect that it isn't. In that case, can anyone prove that we have to use the Axiom of Choice? I can think of three ways to do this:

(A) Show that ((1)(2))AC. I suspect that this statement is untrue. This is definitely untrue, as Arthur points out, because I only used the axiom of countable choice, which is strictly weaker than AC.

(B) Show that (1)(2) is equivalent to some other statement known to require the Axiom of Choice (the obvious example being the well-ordering of the real numbers).

(C) Construct or show the existence of a model of ZF in which there exist sequences which satisfy (1) but not (2).

Of course, if anyone can think of another way, I would be very interested to hear about it.

One final note - I am aware that very many theorems in Analysis use the Axiom of Choice in one way or another, and that this is just one example of such a theorem. If there exists a model of ZF like the one described in (C), is the study of Analysis in that model interesting?


Part of your observation is indeed correct. The axiom of choice is needed, although not in its entire power.

The first model of ZF without the axiom of choice, known as Cohen's first model, is one where there exists an infinite Dedekind-finite set of reals.

We say that a set is Dedekind-finite if it has no infinitely-countable subset, indeed it is consistent without the axiom of choice that such infinite sets exist, and Cohen's model is an example of a model in which such set exists within the real numbers, let us call it D.

First we observe that if an is a sequence of elements from D then as a set {annN} is finite, otherwise we would have a countably infinite subset of D. If so every weakly decreasing/increasing sequence in D is eventually constant. It also holds that there is at least one accumulation point of D (within D, that is). Otherwise we could have separated all the points by disjoint intervals and would then reach the conclusion that D is at most countable.

Let S=D{a} for some accumulation point a in D. Now consider f:DR define as: f(x)={1x=a0xa
This function is not continuous at a for obvious reasons, for ε=12 we have that for δ>0 we have some dS such that |da|<δ we still have |f(d)f(a)|=1>ε.

However, given a sequence an whose limit is a then the sequence is eventually constantly a, therefore f(an)=f(a)=1 for almost all n.

Note that if we assume that f:RR is continuous at x, and xn is a sequence approaching x then indeed f(xn) approaches f(x).

Suppose not, then there is some ε>0 that for large enough n we have |f(x)f(xn)|>ε, then for every δ>0 we can find n such that |xxn|<δ, which contradicts the ε-δ continuity at x.

On the other hand, assuming that for a given point x continuity at x equals sequential continuity there is far from the axiom of choice. Why? Note that we really just need countable choice to assert the equivalence, and it is quite simple to construct models in which the axiom of choice does not hold but the axiom of countable choice holds.

Indeed we know that the assertion:

f:RR is continuous at a point x if and only if it is sequentially continuous at that point.

Is equivalent to the axiom of countable choice for subsets of the real line; and I suppose we can use that to deduce the same for complex valued functions quite easily.

I should also add the following:

If the equivalence between the two forms of continuity does not hold it means that the axiom of countable choice does not hold. In turn we cannot ensure that countable unions of countable sets are still countable; this allows great difficulties in ensuring that real analysis works as we are familiar with it.

However, there are interesting models for analysis where the axiom of choice does not hold. Solovay's model in which every set is Lebesgue measurable (and much much more) is such model. Just today I ran into a relatively old paper speaking excitingly about "Solovayan functional analysis" which will be a new and exciting field.

With gratitude to Brian pointing out that continuity everywhere is still equivalent to sequential continuity everywhere; but not when we require a function to be continuous at a certain point (the counterexample in the Dedekind-finite set would be a function which is not continuous everywhere).

Source : Link , Question Author : John Gowers , Answer Author : Asaf Karagila

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