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A continuum is anything that gradually changes from one thing to another. But I want another word that describes something that changes gradually and whose opposite extremes are actually one and the same.

Have you ever seen one of those apple charts that describes the many different varieties of apples from sweet to tart? Here is an example. They call it a spectrum, but a spectrum is not necessarily circular.

If the best answer to my question is "circular continuum" or "circular spectrum", so be it. But if anyone can think of a better word or phrase, I'd be interested to hear it.

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    What is shown in the cited example is a spectrum not a 'circular continuum' -- it is merely depicted in a circle, check again. You do not have a 'circular continuum' because it is paradoxical. The expression is used in literature generally on abstract ideas. iggydonnelly.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/… easydamus.com/Schwartz3.png – Kris Apr 10 '14 at 5:06
  • Not at all central to your question, but the phrase is one and the same. – John Y Apr 10 '14 at 5:19
  • Continuum on its own would be enough. Circular is redundant, and indeed incorrect, because there isn't really a specific shape involved. thefreedictionary.com/continuum – stib Apr 10 '14 at 7:45
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    Hi stib, no that's wrong. You can absolutely have either a "ends do not meet" type of continuum, or, a "ends do meet" type of continuum. (I actually included examples below, heh!) (Further, in both of those cases you could either have circular, or, linear, or indeed other shape, examples.) – Fattie Apr 10 '14 at 7:51
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    An example would be the view at a single spot as you rotate. You can rotate "clockwise" or "counterclockwise" an infinite angular distance without hitting a barrier, but after 360 degrees you are facing the same direction again. But as this isn't common, there's no real simple name for it. – Oldcat Apr 10 '14 at 18:17
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Simply, that is not a continuum.!

This is NOT a continuum http://atmann.net/images/kingscale.jpg

This IS a continuum https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/_Oijhf1ZPv-4/TVzeP4NPMDI/AAAAAAAAB10/FhFzcvQLXLw/s800/colorwheel.png

Your example is precisely NOT a continuum.

What's the best word for the item you present? Probably just a "chart" or "color pie chart".

Words like "stepwise", "discrete", "blocky" come to mind.


Secondly, regarding your question "circular -- one end meets the other"

Here's "one end does NOT meet the other" - http://planetside.co.uk/wiki/images/3/3b/Colour_picker_sliders.jpg

and here's what you describe - http://www.pixelalley.com/jins_images/RGB_red_and_green.jpg

The end result here is:

(1) you are completely wrong to refer to your example as a continuum, it is a "stepwise" diagram. I'd call it a "chart" or perhaps "legend" or "key".

(2) regarding your question on the "ends meeting". there's no particular word for that. Sure, you can say something is "circular" in an expressive sense, even if it is not literally a circle. (For example, we say "circular logic".)

(Note) there are technical terms, such as, "venn diagram" "bar chart" "Gantt chart" for certain types of diagram. These may help you. There's really no especial term to distinguish "stepwise/discrete" from "smooth/continuous". You'd just use those four words in context.

  • Here's the thing Joe – I get what you're saying about my apple chart not being a continuum because it depicts quantized values of tartness and sweetness. But I could argue that the graphics you linked to aren't really continua either by that very same priciple. Consider the pixels in the monitor that displays the images. They're quantized just like my apples, albeit to a lesser degree. That begs the question, do continua actually exist in nature? Maybe they are only asymptotically approached. Or maybe a contiuum is (or should be) defined by an approach to continuity. – wetjosh Aug 2 '16 at 3:38
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A relevant terms can be «open», and «closed», but you will probably have to explain them to most people, so i don't know how useful they are.

Normally you will hear them when discussing things like space-time, and even there such terms can be considered to be ambiguous. For example, astrophysicists talk about the shape of the universe. In an open universe the space-time (your «continuum») goes on forever, but in a closed one it comes back onto itself (i.e. if you look far enough, you'll see the back of your own head).

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