Involution (mathematics)

An involution is a function that, when applied twice, brings one back to the starting point.

In mathematics, an (anti-)involution, or an involutory function, is a function f that is its own inverse,

f(f(x)) = x

for all x in the domain of f.[1]

General properties

Any involution is a bijection.

The identity map is a trivial example of an involution. Common examples in mathematics of nontrivial involutions include multiplication by 1 in arithmetic, the taking of reciprocals, complementation in set theory and complex conjugation. Other examples include circle inversion, rotation by a half-turn, and reciprocal ciphers such as the ROT13 transformation and the Beaufort polyalphabetic cipher.

The number of involutions, including the identity involution, on a set with n = 0, 1, 2, ... elements is given by a recurrence relation found by Heinrich August Rothe in 1800:

a0 = a1 = 1;
an = an 1 + (n 1)an 2, for n > 1.

The first few terms of this sequence are 1, 1, 2, 4, 10, 26, 76, 232 (sequence A000085 in the OEIS); these numbers are called the telephone numbers, and they also count the number of Young tableaux with a given number of cells.[2] The composition gf of two involutions f and g is an involution if and only if they commute: gf = fg.[3]

Every involution on an odd number of elements has at least one fixed point. More generally, for an involution on a finite set of elements, the number of elements and the number of fixed points have the same parity.[4]

Involution throughout the fields of mathematics


Basic examples of involutions are the functions:

,   or   , as well as their composition

These are not the only pre-calculus involutions. Another in is:

Euclidean geometry

A simple example of an involution of the three-dimensional Euclidean space is reflection against a plane. Performing a reflection twice brings a point back to its original coordinates.

Another is the so-called reflection through the origin; this is an abuse of language as it is not a reflection, though it is an involution.

These transformations are examples of affine involutions.

Projective geometry

An involution is a projectivity of period 2, that is, a projectivity that interchanges pairs of points. Coxeter relates three theorems on involutions:

Another type of involution occurring in projective geometry is a polarity which is a correlation of period 2. [7]

Linear algebra

For more details on this topic, see Involutory matrix.

In linear algebra, an involution is a linear operator T such that . Except for in characteristic 2, such operators are diagonalizable with 1s and 1s on the diagonal. If the operator is orthogonal (an orthogonal involution), it is orthonormally diagonalizable.

For example, suppose that a basis for a vector space V is chosen, and that e1 and e2 are basis elements. There exists a linear transformation f which sends e1 to e2, and sends e2 to e1, and which is the identity on all other basis vectors. It can be checked that f(f(x))=x for all x in V. That is, f is an involution of V.

This definition extends readily to modules. Given a module M over a ring R, an R endomorphism f of M is called an involution if f 2 is the identity homomorphism on M.

Involutions are related to idempotents; if 2 is invertible then they correspond in a one-to-one manner.

Quaternion algebra, groups, semigroups

In a quaternion algebra, an (anti-)involution is defined by the following axioms: if we consider a transformation then it is an involution if

An anti-involution does not obey the last axiom but instead

This former law is sometimes called antidistributive. It also appears in groups as (xy)−1 = y−1x−1. Taken as an axiom, it leads to the notion of semigroup with involution, of which there are natural examples that are not groups, for example square matrix multiplication (i.e. the full linear monoid) with transpose as the involution.

Ring theory

For more details on this topic, see *-algebra.

In ring theory, the word involution is customarily taken to mean an antihomomorphism that is its own inverse function. Examples of involutions in common rings:

Group theory

In group theory, an element of a group is an involution if it has order 2; i.e. an involution is an element a such that ae and a2 = e, where e is the identity element.[8]

Originally, this definition agreed with the first definition above, since members of groups were always bijections from a set into itself; i.e., group was taken to mean permutation group. By the end of the 19th century, group was defined more broadly, and accordingly so was involution.

A permutation is an involution precisely if it can be written as a product of one or more non-overlapping transpositions.

The involutions of a group have a large impact on the group's structure. The study of involutions was instrumental in the classification of finite simple groups.

An element x of a group G is called strongly real if there is an involution t with xt = x−1 (where xt = t−1xt).

Coxeter groups are groups generated by involutions with the relations determined only by relations given for pairs of the generating involutions. Coxeter groups can be used, among other things, to describe the possible regular polyhedra and their generalizations to higher dimensions.

Mathematical logic

The operation of complement in Boolean algebras is an involution. Accordingly, negation in classical logic satisfies the law of double negation: ¬¬A is equivalent to A.

Generally in non-classical logics, negation that satisfies the law of double negation is called involutive. In algebraic semantics, such a negation is realized as an involution on the algebra of truth values. Examples of logics which have involutive negation are Kleene and Bochvar three-valued logics, Łukasiewicz many-valued logic, fuzzy logic IMTL, etc. Involutive negation is sometimes added as an additional connective to logics with non-involutive negation; this is usual, for example, in t-norm fuzzy logics.

The involutiveness of negation is an important characterization property for logics and the corresponding varieties of algebras. For instance, involutive negation characterizes Boolean algebras among Heyting algebras. Correspondingly, classical Boolean logic arises by adding the law of double negation to intuitionistic logic. The same relationship holds also between MV-algebras and BL-algebras (and so correspondingly between Łukasiewicz logic and fuzzy logic BL), IMTL and MTL, and other pairs of important varieties of algebras (resp. corresponding logics).

Computer science

The XOR bitwise operation with a given value for one parameter is also an involution. XOR masks were once used to draw graphics on images in such a way that drawing them twice on the background reverts the background to its original state.

Another example is a bit mask and shift function operating on color values stored as integers say in the form RGB that swaps R and B, resulting in form BGR. f(f(RGB))=RGB, f(f(BGR))=BGR.

The RC4 cryptographic cipher is involutionary, as encryption and decryption operations use the same function.


  1. Russell, Bertrand (1903), Principles of mathematics (2nd ed.), W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, p. 426, ISBN 9781440054167
  2. Knuth, Donald E. (1973), The Art of Computer Programming, Volume 3: Sorting and Searching, Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, pp. 48, 65, MR 0445948.
  3. Kubrusly, Carlos S. (2011), The Elements of Operator Theory, Springer Science & Business Media, Problem 1.11(a), p. 27, ISBN 9780817649982.
  4. Zagier, D. (1990), "A one-sentence proof that every prime p≡ 1 (mod 4) is a sum of two squares", American Mathematical Monthly, 97 (2): 144, doi:10.2307/2323918, MR 1041893.
  5. J. V. Field and J. J. Gray, The Geometrical Work of Girard Desargues, (New York: Springer, 1987), p. 54
  6. Ivor Thomas (ed.), Selections Illustrating the History of Greek Mathematics, Volume II, number 362 in the Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge and London: Harvard and Heinemann, 1980), pp. 6103
  7. H. S. M. Coxeter (1969) Introduction to Geometry, pp 2448, John Wiley & Sons
  8. John S. Rose. "A Course on Group Theory". p. 10, section 1.13.

Further reading

See also

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/1/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.