Online Encyclopedia

SURFACE

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V26, Page 117 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SURFACE, the bounding or limiting parts of a body. In the article CURVE the mathematical question is treated from an historical point of view, for the purpose of showing how the leading ideas of the theory were successively arrived at. These leading ideas apply to surfaces, but the ideas peculiar to surfaces are scarcely of the like fundamental nature, being rather developments of the former set in their application to a more advanced portion of geometry; there is consequently less occasion for the historical mode of treatment. Curves in space are considered in the same article, and they will not be discussed here; but it is proper to refer to them in connexion with the other notions of solid geometry. In plane geometry the elementary figures are the point and the line; and we then have the curve, which may be regarded as a singly infinite system of points, and also as a singly infinite system of lines. In solid geometry the elementary figures are the point, the line and the plane; we have, moreover, first, that which under one aspect is the curve and under another aspect the developable (or torse), and which may be regarded as a singly infinite system of points, of lines or of planes; and secondly, the surface, which may be regarded as a doubly infinite system of points or of planes, and also as a special triply infinite system of lines. (The tangent lines of a surface are a special complex.) As distinct particular cases of the first figure we have the plane curve and the cone, and as a particular case of the second figure the ruled surface, regulus or singly infinite system of lines; we have, besides, the congruence or doubly infinite system of lines and the complex or triply infinite system of lines. And thus crowds of theories arise which have hardly any analogues in plane geometry; the relation of a curve to the various surfaces which can be drawn through it, and that of a surface to the various curves which can be drawn upon it, are different in kind from those which in plane geometry most nearly correspond to them—the relation of a system of points to the different curves through them and that of a curve to the systems of points upon it. In particular, there is nothing in plane geometry to correspond to the theory of the curves of curvature of a surface. Again, to the single theorem of plane geometry, that a line is the shortest distance between two points, there correspond in solid geometry two extensive and difficult theories—that of the geodesic lines on a surface and that of the minimal surface, or surface of minimum area, for a given boundary. And it would be easy to say more in illustration of the great extent and complexity of the subject. In Part I. the subject will be treated by the ordinary methods of analytical geometry; Part II. will consider the Gaussian treatment by differentials, or the E, F, G analysis.
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