Why the Perceived Flaw in Kempe's 1879 Graphical `Proof' of the Four Colour Theorem is Not Fatal When Expressed Geometrically


All accepted proofs of the Four Colour Theorem (4CT) are computer-dependent; and appeal to the existence, and manual identification, of an ‘unavoidable’ set containing a sufficient number of explicitly defined configurations—each evidenced only by a computer as ‘reducible’—such that at least one of the configurations must occur in any chromatically distinguished, minimal, planar map. For instance, Appel and Haken ‘identified’ 1,482 such configurations in their 1977, computer-dependent, proof of 4CT; whilst Neil Robertson et al ‘identified’ 633 configurations as sufficient in their 1997, also computer-dependent, proof of 4CT. However, treating any specific number of ‘reducible’ configurations in an ‘unavoidable’ set as sufficient entails a minimum number as necessary and sufficient. We now show that the minimum number of such configurations can only be the one corresponding to the ‘unavoidable’ set of a ‘reducible’, 4-sided configuration identified by Alfred Kempe in his, seemingly fatally flawed, 1879 ‘proof’ of 4CT. Although Kempe appealed to putative properties of ‘Kempe’ chains in a graphical representation to fallaciously argue that a 5-sided configuration was also in the ‘unavoidable’ set, and ‘reducible’, we shall show why the flaw in his ‘proof’ is not fatal when the argument is expressed geometrically; and that, essentially, Kempe correctly argued that any planar map which admits a chromatic differentiation with a five-sided area C that shares non-zero boundaries with four, all differently coloured, neighbours can be 4-coloured.

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