Difference Between Discrete and Continuous

Difference Between Discrete and Continuous

At times, some words do trick our senses and get us completely lost at sea. A good example of these elements of confusion is difference between discrete and continuous. No matter where you run to, these words will chase you till they make nonsense of your education. It doesn’t matter which field of study you are in – the terms cut across almost all academic spheres; from archeology to zoology. Well, that is A to Z. But they are predominantly encountered in math and science. If you are a curious fellow, the best knowledge begins with knowing the difference between discrete and continuous.

When you are able to wrap your brain around the complexities of the subject, you can be sure that no one scares you with numbers. Essentially, the topic is all about numbers. In order to give you a gist of what is about to be shown to you, carefully follow the presentation ahead. In everyday life, we measure quantities.

Data emerging from measurable properties can behave discretely or continuously. Can you think of any measurement you have ever made? You certainly can; even if you did not personally carry out a measurement, your parameters were measured somewhere before. The following scenario will push you get the difference between continuous and discrete data.

Let’s say, Maybe you were admitted to a hospital – the health workers likely asked of your age, they stood you up to a tall meter scale or a weighing scale. Even better still, they took readings of your arrival time, your temperature, your heart rate, your blood pressure and so on. 

Now reflect back about the numbers from the measurements. Were they all the same? No, there are big distinctions. They cannot all be put at the same level. That’s why people were smart enough to distinctively categorize quantitative data. It makes sorting of quantities to be simpler

As you question what is the difference between discrete and continuous, be thankful for visiting this page today – you won’t leave here the same.

Definition of Discrete

Discrete is a descriptive word which connotes something that is separate and unconnected to another. Statistically, we can factor this definition into numbers and it will fully expose the meaning. Discrete values exist individually without a margin or band of smaller values between them.

From the introduction, mention was made of measurable properties such as mass, time, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and height. What we did was that, we intentionally mixed up discrete quantities with continuous ones. Can you now figure out difference between continuous and discrete?

Guiding ourselves by the explanations, you may have noticed that the figures of heart rate and blood pressure (BP) are usually given in whole numbers. Thus, discrete quantities are restricted to talking only counting numbers or integers. For instance, your BP could be 120/80 or 110/70. No smaller BP readings (decimals) can exist between those two.

In that regard, it’s numerically meaningless to say that you have a heart rate of 72.5 beats per minute. It just doesn’t make any sense; heart rate figures are normally whole. Example, 70 or 80 beats per minute.

In electronics, a discrete device stands on its own and isn’t connected to another. Thus, it’s not integrated. An example is transistor, a diode etc.

Definition of Continuous

Continuous is a statistical term referring to quantities that aren’t restricted to taking only fixed sets of values. The long and short of this story is that such quantities can take counting numbers, decimals or fractions.

Now to answer what is the difference between discrete and continuous data, let’s refetch the listed measurable properties in the introduction – mass, time, heart rate, height, and blood pressure. We earlier established that BP and heart rate are discrete. Automatically, you would be right if you guessed these continuous properties. The values associated with this list aren’t bound to taking fixed values – they take any value they like without any restriction.

Let’s further simplify this. Time could be measured as 1 hour, 0.5 minutes or 3.5 seconds etc. Your weight could be 50 kg or 50.9 kg; temperature could be 25°C, 0°C, or -2.55°C. These are all continuous properties. Between intervals, there can exist an infinite number of continuous values. But don’t be fooled into thinking that continuity is limited to infinite figures. Wrong! Finite figures are also encircled by continuous data. Hopefully, you now have fair idea regarding what is the difference between continuous and discrete.

Discrete vs Continuous Comparison Table

Tables are like pictures; they can say thousand words. If you are still in dilemma, this tabulation will save you from confusing the headline.

Basis of Comparison Discrete Continuous
Meaning Existing separately or distinctively; not connected Exist in divisions or connected intervals
Example Quantities Numbers of galaxies, star’s, people, atoms etc. Height, mass, weight
Value restrictions Takes only certain values Takes any value
Numbers Integral multiples, whole or counting numbers Could be whole numbers, fractions or decimals

Conclusion of the Main Difference Between Discrete vs Continuous

The ball is now getting close to your court. No turning back! The summary of the whole brouhahha is straight forward. Discreteness take limited (specific values) – there is nothing like subdivisions or whatsoever. That’s why you can’t say Earth has 0.5 moons or there are 9.5 planets in our solar system. Fine, there can be ore than 8, 9 or 10 planets in our solar system. But you can’t have a half planet.

What is the difference between continuous and discrete data? Unlike discreteness, continuous data continues infinitely. Between ranges, you can have several subdivisions. Assuming you are taking height measurements in the range of 2 feet and 7 feet, some students may be 2.5 ft, 3.6 feet, 3.77 ft etc. Without prolonging issues, difference between discrete and continuous data has been oversimplified for you. The countability is one major tie-breaker here.

Theoretically, if a datum is discrete, then it’s countable one by one. Since there is no breakage, a daunting task of uncountability is tied to continuous data. When the divisions are infinite, you can’t count any figures. When it comes to graphical representations, bar graphs are used to depict discrete data.

Flipping to continuous data, statisticians use histograms to graphically illustrate them. Again, visual inspection of their graphical functions will also yield clear-cut distinctions – points are disjoint (unconnected) on a discrete graph. A solid line connects points on a continuous graph.