Wikipedia 10K Redux by Reagle from Starling archive. Bugs abound!!!

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# SetTheory

Sets are one of the base concepts of mathematics.  A SeT is, more or less, just a collection of objects, called its elements.  Standard notation uses braces around the list of elements, as in:

{red, green, blue}
{x : x is a primary color}

The notation is not self-explanatory.
If every x in some set A is contained in some set B, then A is said to be a SubSet of B.  Every set has as subsets itself, called the improper subset, and the empty set {}.  The union of a collection of sets '''S''' = {S1,S2,S3,...} is the set of all elements contained in at least one of the sets S1,S2,S3,....The intersection of a collection of sets '''T''' = {T1,T2,T3,...} is the set of all elements contained in at least one of the sets Typo here for "all of the sets". The union and intersection of sets, say A1,A2,A3,... are denoted

A1 u A2 u A3 ...
A1 n A2 n A3 ...

respectively.  If you don't mind jumping ahead a bit, the subsets of a given set form a BooleanAlgebra under these operations.  The set of all subsets of X is called its PowerSet and is denoted 2^X.

'''Axioms for set theory'''

The most common axioms for set theory are those of Zermelo and Fraenkel, which do a good job handling most sets so long as they are composed of other sets - from which most mathematical objects can be constructed anyways - and are equivalent to several other axiomatizations.  However, they aren't the only possible axioms, and in some senses are too restrictive.  For instance, they provide a way to go from any set X to a set {X} and thereby prevent the existence of a set of all sets, which some other models allow.

The above is more than a little confusing. What does it mean to "handle sets"? What is a "model" in this context? How does the singleton operation prevent the existence of a set of all sets?

The axioms of ZF are as follows:
Axiom of extension:        Two sets are the same iff they have the same elements.
Axiom of null set:         There is an empty set {}.
Axiom of unordered pairs:  If X,Y are sets, so is {X,Y}.
Axiom of unions:           For any set X, there is another set composed of the union of its elements.
Axiom of infinite:         There exists a set X such that, if x is in X, so is {x}.
Axiom of replacement:      Given any set and any MappinG, formally defined as a proposition P(x,y) where
P(x,y) and P(x,z) implies y=z, there is a set containing precisely the images of
its elements.
Axiom of PowerSet''s'':    There exists a set P(X) containing precisely the subsets of any given set X.
Axiom of regularity:       Every non-empty set X contains some element Y such that X and Y are disjoint.

*What does "composed of" mean above?
To rephrase the axiom, given a set X, there is a set Y whose elements are precisely those
that are elements of some element of X.  This again will be a little confusing: in ZF, the only things that exist
are sets, and the only things that sets contain are other sets. For example, if
{ {1,2}, {3,4}, {4,5,6} }
is a set then
{ 1,2,3,4,5,6 }
is a set.

*Details apart, it isn't really possible for somebody who is not already familiar with set theory to understand the above.
For anyone who wants to understand, it is an idea to have a little familiarity with set theory in its `less formal' form,
and the problems it has, so as to see why set theory is the way it is.  Part of the reason it is necessary is due to examples
Let R = { x | x is not a member of x }
Question: is R a member of R
Problem: If R is a member of R then R does not satisfy the criterion for membership -- contradiction.
If R is not a member of R then R does satisfy the criterion for membership -- another contradiction.

''You people can't have it both ways.''

The AxiomOfChoice leads to the existence of several sets, like a well-ordering for the real numbers, that can't be constructed in ordinary ZF set theory.  However, it is impossible to prove they don't exist - the axiom is independent of the axioms of ZF - and so we are free to add it to our axioms if we want.  This has become more or less conventional, since most of the sets it adds are handy to have, even if we can never find an explicit representation for any of them.

One other point about the AxiomOfChoice is that whenever you implicitly assume that the cardinality (i.e. size) of a set exists, you are using AxiomOfChoice in order to do this.  Since all constructible sets have distinct cardinalities, you get unconstructible sets either way.

COMMENT: This is not at all true - cardinality can be defined
without using AC. The statement about "all constructible sets"
having distinct cardinalities makes no obvious sense. What
is meant here by a "constructible set"?

''The usual way of defining cardinals is by taking a representative ordinal of each size, which you can't do without the axiom of choice.  The only other way I've ever seen done is by taking equivalence classes of sets, but these don't end up being ZF sets - i.e. you have to use objects outside the system being considered.''

COMMENT: The axiom
of choice is not needed to define cardinals in ZF - the
equivalence classes can be taken to be sets, by defining the
cardinal of x as the set of all sets of minimal rank
equivalent to x. We are also perfectly free to simply
introduce a special function symbol for cardinals, governed
by the axiom card(x)=card(y) <-> x and y are equivalent.
(Suppes does it this way.) Associating the axiom of choice
with there mere possibility of talking about cardinals is
quite unjustified.

COMMENT: The cardinals (constructed using AC) are linearly ordered (in fact well ordered for obvious reasons).
Under the above sort of definition, one loses the ability to say `either |X| <= |Y| or else |X| >= |Y|'
where <= and >= denote the usual cardinal inequalities.  This doesn't help its cause as an `intuitive' measure
of `infinity size'.

COMMENT: One does not "lose the ability to say" this. What is
true is that it cannot be proved without AC that any two cardinals are comparable. This is not to say that the cardinals
cannot be defined without AC.

''A set X has been constructed if there is a 'way' of determining whether any given element is in it.  I'm being deliberately vague, but I think you can see the idea.  ZF+AC asserts the real numbers have a basis as a vector space over the rationals, but you are never going to be able to demonstrate an example of some such set.  ZF-AC asserts that there is a set which can't be put into one-to-one correspondence with any ordinal, and if I am not mistaken you can't find me one of those either (though I'm not entirely sure, since you're not allowed to use AC to set up the correspondence).''

COMMENT: This is not only vague, but it is not a recognizable
informal version of anything formally defined in set theory. In
particular, it is completely obscure what you mean by saying
that all constructible sets have distinct cardinalities.

On the other hand, AxiomOfChoice also allows one to prove that the solid unit sphere can be broken up into 5 (infinitely complicated) pieces, shuffled around (with no scaling/shearing etc... just rotation and translation), and put back together to make two solid spheres, each identical to the original. (The Banach-Tarski Paradox)