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Details of the Induction

Robert M. Corless


When I first wrote ``Chaos and Continued Fractions'', I thought that nobody would be interested in the details of the induction used to prove the connection between G and the shift map. Indeed, I didn't write out the induction formally myself, just doing it `in my head'.

But Julian Palmore was disappointed in me for not giving the details, and likewise Heinz Bauschke. Neither of these people has the slightest need for the details, being well able to fill them in, but it's clear that they wanted to see them.

In retrospect, I agree: inductive proofs are among the prettiest there are, and a short induction proving something interesting, or a delicate induction showing something difficult, are both welcome items in a mathematical paper. This is a lesson in expository writing of mathematics, which I have now taken to heart.

For this particular example, I don't think induction is really necessary---at least, the induction part is trivial, so I really shouldn't have used the word (and got my readers' hopes up). But here we use induction to establish something, anyway.

Remember that in our notation, .

Theorem: If , then for every possible integer (i.e. if x is rational, then where N is the order of the continued fraction, but if x is irrational, then m is not bounded).

Remark. We define and .

Proof: The statement is true for m = 0. Assume that it is true for m = k and consider . By the inductive hypothesis,

or, in fractional notation,

Taking reciprocals, we have

and taking the fractional part (remember is the fractional part of , so we have just computed ) gives us . Thus has the correct form, and this completes the proof.

Remark. The proof relies on the fact that the objects being manipulated are well-defined. That this is so follows from the convergence of infinite continued fractions, and is trivial in the case of finite continued fractions.

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