thumb|right|Mathematical induction can be informally illustrated by reference to the sequential effect of falling dominoes
Mathematical induction is a mathematical proof
technique. It is essentially used to prove that a statement ''P''(''n'') holds for every natural number
''n'' = 0, 1, 2, 3, . . . ; that is, the overall statement is a sequence of infinitely many cases ''P''(0), ''P''(1), ''P''(2), ''P''(3), . . . . Informal metaphors help to explain this technique, such as falling dominoes or climbing a ladder:
A proof by induction consists of two cases. The first, the base case (or basis), proves the statement for ''n ='' 0 without assuming any knowledge of other cases. The second case, the induction step, proves that ''if'' the statement holds for any given case ''n = k'', ''then'' it must also hold for the next case ''n'' = ''k'' + 1. These two steps establish that the statement holds for every natural number ''n''. The base case does not necessarily begin with ''n ='' 0, but often with ''n ='' 1, and possibly with any fixed natural number ''n = N'', establishing the truth of the statement for all natural numbers ''n ≥ N''.
The method can be extended to prove statements about more general well-founded
structures, such as trees
; this generalization, known as structural induction
, is used in mathematical logic
and computer science
. Mathematical induction in this extended sense is closely related to recursion
. Mathematical induction is an inference rule
used in formal proof
s, and in some form is the foundation of all correctness proofs for computer programs
Although its name may suggest otherwise, mathematical induction should not be confused with inductive reasoning
as used in philosophy
(see Problem of induction
). The mathematical method examines infinitely many cases to prove a general statement, but does so by a finite chain of deductive reasoning
involving the variable
''n'', which can take infinitely many values.
In 370 BC, Plato
may have contained an early example of an implicit inductive proof. An opposite iterated technique, counting ''down'' rather than up, is found in the sorites paradox
, where it was argued that if 1,000,000 grains of sand formed a heap, and removing one grain from a heap left it a heap, then a single grain of sand (or even no grains) forms a heap.
In India, early implicit proofs by mathematical induction appear in Bhaskara
's "cyclic method
and in the ''al-Fakhri'' written by al-Karaji
around 1000 AD, who applied it to arithmetic sequences
to prove the binomial theorem
and properties of Pascal's triangle
None of these ancient mathematicians, however, explicitly stated the induction hypothesis. Another similar case (contrary to what Vacca has written, as Freudenthal carefully showed) was that of Francesco Maurolico
in his ''Arithmeticorum libri duo'' (1575), who used the technique to prove that the sum of the first ''n'' odd integers is ''n''2
The earliest rigorous use of induction was by Gersonides
(1288–1344). The first explicit formulation of the principle of induction was given by Pascal
in his ''Traité du triangle arithmétique'' (1665). Another Frenchman, Fermat
, made ample use of a related principle: indirect proof by infinite descent
The induction hypothesis was also employed by the Swiss Jakob Bernoulli
, and from then on it became well known. The modern formal treatment of the principle came only in the 19th century, with George Boole
, Augustus de Morgan
, Charles Sanders Peirce
, and Richard Dedekind
The simplest and most common form of mathematical induction infers that a statement involving a natural number
(that is, an integer or 1) holds for all values of . The proof consists of two steps:
# The initial or base case: prove that the statement holds for 0, or 1.
# The induction step, inductive step, or step case: prove that for every , if the statement holds for , then it holds for . In other words, assume that the statement holds for some arbitrary natural number , and prove that the statement holds for .
The hypothesis in the inductive step, that the statement holds for a particular , is called the induction hypothesis or inductive hypothesis. To prove the inductive step, one assumes the induction hypothesis for and then uses this assumption to prove that the statement holds for .
Authors who prefer to define natural numbers to begin at 0 use that value in the base case; those who define natural numbers to begin at 1 use that value.
Sum of consecutive natural numbers
Mathematical induction can be used to prove the following statement ''P''(''n'') for all natural numbers ''n''.
This states a general formula for the sum of the natural numbers less than or equal to a given number; in fact an infinite sequence of statements:
Proof. Let ''P''(''n'') be the statement
We give a proof by induction on ''n''.
:'' Show that the statement holds for the smallest natural number ''n'' = 0.
''P''(0) is clearly true:
:'' Show that for any ''k ≥'' 0, if ''P''(''k'') holds, then ''P''(''k''+1) also holds.
Assume the induction hypothesis that for a particular ''k'', the single case ''n = k'' holds, meaning ''P''(''k'') is true:
It follows that:
Algebraically, the right hand side simplifies as:
Equating the extreme left hand and right hand sides, we deduce that:
That is, the statement ''P''(''k+''1) also holds true, establishing the inductive step.
: Since both the base case and the inductive step have been proved as true, by mathematical induction the statement ''P''(''n'') holds for every natural number ''n''. ∎
A trigonometric inequality
Induction is often used to prove inequalities. As an example, we prove that
for any real number
and natural number
At first glance, it may appear that a more general version,
for any ''real'' numbers
, could be proven without induction; but the case
shows it may be false for non-integer values of
. This suggests we examine the statement specifically for ''natural'' values of
, and induction is the readiest tool.
. For any
Proof. Fix an arbitrary real number
, and let
be the statement
. We induct on
'' The calculation
'' We show the implication
for any natural number
. Assume the induction hypothesis: for a given value
, the single case
is true. Using the angle addition formula
and the triangle inequality
, we deduce:
The inequality between the extreme left hand and right-hand quantities shows that
is true, which completes the inductive step.
: The proposition
holds for all natural numbers
In practice, proofs by induction are often structured differently, depending on the exact nature of the property to be proven.
All variants of induction are special cases of transfinite induction; see below
Induction basis other than 0 or 1
If one wishes to prove a statement, not for all natural numbers, but only for all numbers greater than or equal to a certain number , then the proof by induction consists of:
# Showing that the statement holds when .
# Showing that if the statement holds for an arbitrary number , then the same statement also holds for .
This can be used, for example, to show that for .
In this way, one can prove that some statement holds for all , or even for all . This form of mathematical induction is actually a special case of the previous form, because if the statement to be proved is then proving it with these two rules is equivalent with proving for all natural numbers with an induction base case .
Example: forming dollar amounts by coins
Assume an infinite supply of 4- and 5-dollar coins. Induction can be used to prove that any whole amount of dollars greater than or equal to can be formed by a combination of such coins. Let denote the statement "''the amount of dollars can be formed by a combination of 4- and 5-dollar coins''". The proof that is true for all can then be achieved by induction on as follows:
''Base case'': Showing that holds for is simple: take three 4-dollar coins.
''Induction step'': Given that holds for some value of (''induction hypothesis''), prove that holds, too:
:Assume is true for some arbitrary . If there is a solution for dollars that includes at least one 4-dollar coin, replace it by a 5-dollar coin to make dollars. Otherwise, if only 5-dollar coins are used, must be a multiple of 5 and so at least 15; but then we can replace three 5-dollar coins by four 4-dollar coins to make dollars. In each case, is true.
Therefore, by the principle of induction, holds for all , and the proof is complete.
In this example, although also holds for
the above proof cannot be modified to replace the minimum amount of dollar to any lower value .
For , the base case is actually false;
for , the second case in the induction step (replacing three 5- by four 4-dollar coins) will not work;
let alone for even lower .
Induction on more than one counter
It is sometimes desirable to prove a statement involving two natural numbers, ''n'' and ''m'', by iterating the induction process. That is, one proves a base case and an inductive step for ''n'', and in each of those proves a base case and an inductive step for ''m''. See, for example, the proof of commutativity
accompanying ''addition of natural numbers
''. More complicated arguments involving three or more counters are also possible.
The method of infinite descent is a variation of mathematical induction which was used by Pierre de Fermat
. It is used to show that some statement ''Q''(''n'') is false for all natural numbers ''n''. Its traditional form consists of showing that if ''Q''(''n'') is true for some natural number ''n'', it also holds for some strictly smaller natural number ''m''. Because there are no infinite decreasing sequences of natural numbers, this situation would be impossible, thereby showing (by contradiction) that ''Q''(''n'') cannot be true for any ''n''.
The validity of this method can be verified from the usual principle of mathematical induction. Using mathematical induction on the statement ''P''(''n'') defined as "''Q''(''m'') is false for all natural numbers ''m'' less than or equal to ''n''", it follows that ''P''(''n'') holds for all ''n'', which means that ''Q''(''n'') is false for every natural number ''n''.
The most common form of proof by mathematical induction requires proving in the inductive step that
whereupon the induction principle "automates" ''n'' applications of this step in getting from ''P''(0) to ''P''(''n''). This could be called "predecessor induction" because each step proves something about a number from something about that number's predecessor.
A variant of interest in computational complexity is "prefix induction", in which one proves the following statement in the inductive step:
The induction principle then "automates" log ''n'' applications of this inference in getting from ''P''(0) to ''P''(''n''). In fact, it is called "prefix induction" because each step proves something about a number from something about the "prefix" of that number — as formed by truncating the low bit of its binary representation. It can also be viewed as an application of traditional induction on the length of that binary representation.
If traditional predecessor induction is interpreted computationally as an ''n''-step loop, then prefix induction would correspond to a log-''n''-step loop. Because of that, proofs using prefix induction are "more feasibly constructive" than proofs using predecessor induction.
Predecessor induction can trivially simulate prefix induction on the same statement. Prefix induction can simulate predecessor induction, but only at the cost of making the statement more syntactically complex (adding a bounded universal quantifier
), so the interesting results relating prefix induction to polynomial-time computation depend on excluding unbounded quantifiers entirely, and limiting the alternation of bounded universal and existential quantifier
s allowed in the statement.
One can take the idea a step further: one must prove
whereupon the induction principle "automates" log log ''n'' applications of this inference in getting from ''P''(0) to ''P''(''n''). This form of induction has been used, analogously, to study log-time parallel computation.
Complete (strong) induction
Another variant, called complete induction, course of values induction or strong induction (in contrast to which the basic form of induction is sometimes known as weak induction), makes the inductive step easier to prove by using a stronger hypothesis: one proves the statement under the assumption that ''P''(''n'') holds for ''all'' natural numbers ''n'' less than ; by contrast, the basic form only assumes ''P''(''m''). The name "strong induction" does not mean that this method can prove more than "weak induction", but merely refers to the stronger hypothesis used in the inductive step.
In fact, it can be shown that the two methods are actually equivalent, as explained below. In this form of complete induction, one still has to prove the base case, ''P''(0), and it may even be necessary to prove extra-base cases such as ''P''(1) before the general argument applies, as in the example below of the Fibonacci number ''Fn
Although the form just described requires one to prove the base case, this is unnecessary if one can prove ''P''(''m'') (assuming ''P''(''n'') for all lower ''n'') for all . This is a special case of transfinite induction
as described below. In this form the base case is subsumed by the case , where ''P''(0) is proved with no other ''P''(''n'') assumed;
this case may need to be handled separately, but sometimes the same argument applies for ''m'' = 0 and , making the proof simpler and more elegant.
In this method, however, it is vital to ensure that the proof of ''P''(''m'') does not implicitly assume that , e.g. by saying "choose an arbitrary ", or by assuming that a set of ''m'' elements has an element.
Complete induction is equivalent to ordinary mathematical induction as described above, in the sense that a proof by one method can be transformed into a proof by the other. Suppose there is a proof of ''P''(''n'') by complete induction. Let Q(''n'') mean "''P''(''m'') holds for all ''m'' such that ". Then Q(''n'') holds for all ''n'' if and only if P(''n'') holds for all ''n'', and our proof of ''P''(''n'') is easily transformed into a proof of Q(''n'') by (ordinary) induction. If, on the other hand, ''P''(''n'') had been proven by ordinary induction, the proof would already effectively be one by complete induction: ''P''(0) is proved in the base case, using no assumptions, and is proved in the inductive step, in which one may assume all earlier cases but need only use the case ''P''(''n'').
Example: Fibonacci numbers
Complete induction is most useful when several instances of the inductive hypothesis are required for each inductive step. For example, complete induction can be used to show that
is the ''n''th Fibonacci number
(the golden ratio
are the roots of the polynomial
. By using the fact that
, the identity above can be verified by direct calculation for
if one assumes that it already holds for both
. To complete the proof, the identity must be verified in the two base cases:
Example: prime factorization
Another proof by complete induction uses the hypothesis that the statement holds for ''all'' smaller
more thoroughly. Consider the statement that "every natural number
greater than 1 is a product of (one or more) prime number
s", which is the "existence
" part of the fundamental theorem of arithmetic
. For proving the inductive step, the induction hypothesis is that for a given
the statement holds for all smaller
is prime then it is certainly a product of primes, and if not, then by definition it is a product:
, where neither of the factors is equal to 1; hence neither is equal to
, and so both are greater than 1 and smaller than
. The induction hypothesis now applies to
, so each one is a product of primes. Thus
is a product of products of primes, and hence by extension a product of primes itself.
Example: dollar amounts revisited
We shall look to prove the same example as above
, this time with ''strong induction''. The statement remains the same:
However, there will be slight differences in the structure and the assumptions of the proof, starting with the extended base case:
Base case: Show that
The base case holds.
Induction hypothesis: Given some
holds for all
Inductive step: Prove that
, and observing that