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In mathematics, the concept of a "limit" is used to describe the value that a function or sequence "approaches" as the input or index approaches some value. Limits are essential to calculus (and mathematical analysis in general) and are used to define continuity, derivatives and integrals.
In formulas, limit is usually abbreviated as lim as in lim(an) = a or represented by the right arrow (→) as in an → a.
Limit of a function
means that f(x) can be made to be as close to L as desired by making x sufficiently close to c. In that case, we say that "the limit of f of x, as x approaches c, is L". Note that this statement can be true even if f(c) ≠ L. Indeed, the function f(x) need not even be defined at c.
For example, if
then f(1) is not defined, yet as x approaches 1, f(x) approaches 2:
|1.900||1.990||1.999||⇒ undef ⇐||2.001||2.010||2.100|
Thus, f(x) can be made arbitrarily close to the limit of 2 just by making x sufficiently close to 1.
In addition to limits at finite values, functions can also have limits at infinity. For example, consider
- f(100) = 1.9900
- f(1000) = 1.9990
- f(10000) = 1.9999
As x becomes extremely large, the value of f(x) approaches 2, and the value of f(x) can be made as close to 2 as one could wish just by picking x sufficiently large. In this case, we say that the limit of f(x) as x approaches infinity is 2. In mathematical notation,
Limit of a sequence
Consider the following sequence: 1.79, 1.799, 1.7999,... We could observe that the numbers are "approaching" 1.8, the limit of the sequence.
- For every real number ε > 0, there exists a natural number n0 such that for all n > n0, |xn − L| < ε.
Intuitively, this means that eventually all elements of the sequence get as close as we want to the limit, since the absolute value |xn − L| is the distance between xn and L. Not every sequence has a limit; if it does, we call it convergent, otherwise divergent. One can show that a convergent sequence has only one limit.
The limit of a sequence and the limit of a function are closely related. On one hand, the limit of a sequence is simply the limit at infinity of a function defined on natural numbers. On the other hand, a limit of a function f at x, if it exists, is the same as the limit of the sequence xn = f(x + 1/n).
An alternative is the concept of limit for filters on topological spaces.
Limit in category theory
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