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The word linear comes from the Latin word linearis, which means created by lines. In mathematics, a linear map or function f(x) is a function which satisfies the following two properties:

It can be shown that additivity imply the homogeneity in all cases where α is rational; this is done by proving the case where α is a natural number by mathematical induction and then extending the result to arbitrary rational numbers. If f is assumed to be continuous as well then this can be extended to show that homogeneity for α any real number, using the fact the rationals form a dense subset of the reals.

In this definition, x is not necessarily a real number, but can in general be a member of any vector space. A less restrictive definition of linear function, not coinciding with the definition of linear map, is used in elementary mathematics.

The concept of linearity can be extended to linear operators. Important examples of linear operators include the derivative considered as a differential operator, and many constructed from it, such as del and the Laplacian. When a differential equation can be expressed in linear form, it is particularly easy to solve by breaking the equation up into smaller pieces, solving each of those pieces, and adding the solutions up.

Linear algebra is the branch of mathematics concerned with the study of vectors, vector spaces (also called linear spaces), linear transformations (also called linear maps), and systems of linear equations.

For a description of linear and nonlinear equations, see Linear equation. Nonlinear equations and functions are of interest to physicists and mathematicians because they can be used to represent many natural phenomena, including chaos.


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