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I'm new to this very interesting world of mathematics, and I'm trying to learn some linear algebra from Khan academy.

In the world of vector spaces and fields, I keep coming across the definition of $\mathbb R^2$ as a vector space ontop of the field $\mathbb R$.

This makes me think, Why can't $\mathbb R^2$ be a field of its own? Would that make $\mathbb R^2$ a field and a vector space?


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A field has multiplication. How would you define multiplication on $\mathbb R^2$ so that it is a field? (There is a way to do so, but it isn't "obvious" until you realize that the resulting field is the complex numbers...) –  Thomas Andrews Dec 4 '12 at 16:07
$\mathbb{R}^2$ can be a field but with multiplication defined as follows: $(a,b)(c,d) = (ac - bd, ad + bc)$. Indeed, this is one way of defining the complex numbers. –  Rankeya Dec 4 '12 at 16:08
But, if you want to try to do this for $\mathbb{R}^n$, for $n \geq 3$ such that $\mathbb{R}$ is naturally embedded in $\mathbb{R}^n$ as a subfield, then it is not possible to do so, and this is a harder fact to prove. –  Rankeya Dec 4 '12 at 16:11
ok this just answered my follow-up question. Is there any proof of that being true? –  vondip Dec 4 '12 at 16:11
Vondip - Perhaps this is at a slight tangent, but a significant difference between R and C is that R is an ordered field and C is not. e.g. 5 is larger than 3, but which is "larger", 4 + 7i or 6 + 5i ? (Answer: well, defining how "large" or "the length" a complex number is is not as obvious as for the reals. In fact, there are many different ways of defining the length of a complex number). Just something to think about. –  Adam Rubinson Dec 4 '12 at 16:37

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

If you define:


$$(a,b)\cdot (x,y):=(ax-by,ay+bx)$$

then the set $\,\Bbb R^2=\Bbb R\times\Bbb R\,$ turns into a field, and a rather well known and important one. Can you identify it?

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Spoiler: take a look at one of the comments given. $\^\smile\^$ –  FrenzY DT. Dec 4 '12 at 16:10
complex numbers indeed! fantastic how it all connects! Would that make R^2 a field and a vector space? –  vondip Dec 4 '12 at 16:11
Yes, it would, because addition in $\mathbb{R}^2$, as @DonAntonio defines it, is component wise (the usual way). Remember, the vector space structure depends only on the underlying abelian group. –  Rankeya Dec 4 '12 at 16:15
What do you mean "vector space"? Any field is a vector space over any subfield, so the field $\,\Bbb R^2\cong\Bbb C\,$ is a vector field ove an infinite number of subfields, say $\,\Bbb C\,,\,\Bbb R\,,\,\Bbb Q\,,\,\Bbb Q(i)\ldots\,$ , etc. –  DonAntonio Dec 4 '12 at 16:15
So would that mean that I any vector space could be defined when F -being the field, as : F^n ? –  vondip Dec 4 '12 at 16:17

It is important to understand that a set on its own has no algebraic structure. By defining operators on $\mathbb{R}^2$ you could turn it into (almost) anything you like.

The natural operators on $\mathbb{R}^2$, namely $(x, y) + (a, b) \mapsto (x+a, y+b)$ and $(x, y) \cdot (a, b) \mapsto (x\cdot a, y\cdot b)$ do not define a field as $(0, 1)$ has no multiplicative inverse.

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