Proof by Strong Induction

Published Aug 23, 2023Updated Dec 11, 2023
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Proof by strong induction is a mathematical technique for proving universal generalizations. It differs from ordinary mathematical induction (also known as weak mathematical induction) with respect to the inductive step.

In a weak mathematical induction, the inductive step involves showing that if some element n has a property, then the successor element n + 1 must also have that property. In a strong mathematical induction, the inductive step involves showing that if all elements up to and including n have some property, then n + 1 has that property as well.

Steps for Strong Induction

  1. Base Step: Prove that the first element or elements in the series have some property.
  2. Inductive Step: Prove that if n and all elements before n have the relevant property, then n + 1 has that property.

Example

The following proposition will be proven by strong induction:

For all x such that x ≥ 2, 2(x-1) - (x-2) = x.

Base Step:

The first element is where x = 2. Therefore, it must be shown that 2(x - 1) - (x - 2) = x, where x = 2:

2(2 - 1) - (2 - 2) = 2(1) - (0) = 2 - 0 = 2
Both sides are equal to 2. Thus, the statement is true at x = 2.

Inductive Step:

In the inductive step, it must be shown that if, for any value x between 2 and k (inclusive), 2(x - 1) - (x - 2) = x, then at x = k + 1, 2(x - 1) - (x - 2) = x.

This conditional will be proven by assuming the antecendent (this assumption is called the inductive hypothesis) and showing the consequent:

Inductive Hypothesis: Suppose that for all x such that 2 ≤ x ≤ k, 2(x - 1) - (x - 2) = x.
To be proven: 2((k + 1) - 1) - ((k + 1) - 2) = k + 1.
First, we will rearrange the left-hand of the expression above:
2((k + 1) - 1) - ((k + 1) - 2) = 2(k + 1 - 1) - (k + 1 - 2) [removing extra parentheses]
= 2(k - 1 + 1) - (k - 2 + 1) [rearranging within parentheses]
= 2(k - 1) + 2 - (k - 2 + 1) [factoring 2 into the left parenthesis]
= 2(k - 1) + 2 - (k - 2) - 1 [rearranging the right parenthesis]
= 2(k - 1) - (k - 2) + 1 [adding numerical terms]
Now, by the Inductive Hypothesis, 2(k - 1) - (k - 2) = k. We therefore substitute 'k' for '2(k-1) - (k-2)' in the rearranged expression above:
2((k + 1) - 1) - ((k + 1) - 2) = k + 1 [substition from Inductive Hypothesis]
Having shown that 2((k + 1) - 1) - ((k + 1) - 2) = k + 1, this completes the inductive step and the proof.

Although the example above uses strong mathematical induction, the same strategy could be applied using weak mathematical induction, since the only value of the inductive hypothesis used was at x = k (there was no need to use any values smaller than k).

The Logic of Strong Induction

Why do the base step and the inductive step together demonstrate the truth of a universal generalization?

The base step shows that the first n elements in the series have the relevant property. Since all the elements prior to the element at n + 1 have the property, it then follows by the inductive step that the element at n + 1 also has the property. Similarly, since all elements prior to the element at n + 2 have the property, the inductive step shows that the element at n + 2 does as well. Since this can be done indefinitely, the entire series is shown to have the relevant property.

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