Category: non euclidian geometry

mathblab: IMPOSSIBLE! Right? You may have hea…


IMPOSSIBLE! Right? You may have heard “the interior angles of a triangle always add up to 180 degrees”. This is not always true. Check out the second image, it shows a triangle with 3 right angles for a total of 270 degrees! 

It is true in flat Euclidean geometry (the geometry you probably learned in school) however. But there are so many other geometries out there! You may be thinking, are other geometries real though? A mathematician would argue they are just as real as the typical flat geometry you know and love (or hate). These alternative geometries can be practically useful too!

The images above show triangles in spherical geometry. Those aren’t triangles though! Oh but they are! A triangle is just a polygon enclosed by three lines. Looks like it fits the criteria. Wait but those aren’t lines, they are curved! Ah yes. I argue that these are, for all intents and purposes, just as good as lines. We need to ask: What is a line? A line is so basic to us we may not know how to describe it. I offer this definition: A line is the shortest path between 2 points. The 3 curves that make the triangle above are in fact the shortest paths from one vertex to the other on the surface of the sphere (they just so happen to be on circumferences of the sphere, which are often referred to as great circles). So it may be more useful to think of lines, in general, as length minimizing curves. In conclusion, we would consider the shape above to be a triangle as it is enclosed by 3 length minimizing curves on a surface.

Spherical geometry can be very useful; think about the Earth. To reduce travel time, airplanes would want to travel along great circles as they are the shortest paths from one place to another. Additionally, this type of thinking (rethinking straight lines as length minimizing curves) is central to Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.