What is a Tensor?

Most people don’t encounter Tensors (the higher level advanced version of Matrices) until they reach senior undergraduate, or even graduate level.

What is a Tensor?

The best explanation I have ever seen, comes from this video by the author of A Student’s Guide to Vectors and Tensors, Daniel A. Fleisch. Using children’s blocks and laymen language, he explains what is a tensor clearly and succinctly in a way that is unbelievably crystal clear.

This YouTube video is watched over 200,000 times, a very commendable achievement for a math video!

Official Definition by Wikipedia

Tensors are geometric objects that describe linear relations between vectors, scalars, and other tensors. Elementary examples of such relations include the dot product, the cross product, and linear maps. Vectors and scalars themselves are also tensors. A tensor can be represented as a multi-dimensional array of numerical values. The order (also degree) of a tensor is the dimensionality of the array needed to represent it, or equivalently, the number of indices needed to label a component of that array. For example, a linear map can be represented by a matrix (a 2-dimensional array) and therefore is a 2nd-order tensor. A vector can be represented as a 1-dimensional array and is a 1st-order tensor. Scalars are single numbers and are thus 0th-order tensors. The dimensionality of the array should not be confused with the dimension of the underlying vector space.

Cauchy stress tensor, a second-order tensor.

If you have some programming knowledge, you may view tensors as a type of multidimensional array. A more mathematical abstract way can be achieved by defining tensors in terms of elements of tensor products of vector spaces, which in turn are defined through a universal property.

Cool? The word “tensor” really strikes me as a word that is really sophisticated and complicated!


Author: mathtuition88

Math and Education Blog

3 thoughts on “What is a Tensor?”

  1. Tensors: You’re killing me here. Is there a tenth hell? I thought matrices were the ninth hell. I love math, but I cannot deal with this. Your blog is great, by the way. I’m enjoying the read, but don’t tell Abyss Brain. Be well, SB.

    Liked by 1 person

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