MCS-177 Induction Example

From class February 14, 2001

(define f
  (lambda (n)
    (if (= n 0)
        0
        (+ 2 (f (- n 1))))))
The proofComments on the proof
Theorem:For any integer n that is greater than or equal to 0, (f n) evaluates to 2n. The mathematical expression 2n should be thought of as the name for some specific number, depending on which specific number n is. The theorem is just a short hand for an infinitely long list of claims: that (f 0) evaluates to 0, that (f 1) evaluates to 2, that (f 2) evaluates to 4, etc.
Base case (n = 0): From the code, we see that (f 0) evaluates to 0. Since 0 = 2 × 0, the theorem holds in this case. The base case of the proof verifies that the base case of the code works, and provides a foundation for the induction. We look at the code to see what it does compute, at the theorem to see what it should compute, and use a little math to show that they are equal. In the base case, this is frequently trivial, as here: the code directly tells us what is computed, and the math needed to show equality is just arithmetic.
Induction hypothesis: For any integer k that is greater than or equal to 0 and less than n, (f k) evaluates to 2k. This is just a copy of the theorem, but with the variable n renamed to k and the additional restriction that k<n. If there were multiple variables in the theorem, they would each be renamed to a new one, and whichever variable is the one that decreases towards the base case would be the one we restrict.

Notice that there are two separate restrictions on k. It must be greater than or equal to 0, and it must be less than n. These come from two different sources. The first is copied along with the rest of the theorem. The second is added to ensure that we only rely on smaller cases in our inductive reasoning. Often times (as in the book) we combine these two into a single statement, that k must be in the range from 0 up to (but not including) n. However, don't let that throw you: there are still two different restrictions, coming from two different sources.

One way to understand why we can safely rely on correct operation for all values smaller than n while trying to prove correctness for n is to realize that if the procedure fails for any argument value, there must be a smallest one that it fails for. We are showing that whatever value you choose for n, it can't be the smallest value where f fails. Thus there must not be any failing values. (By "failing," I mean some value that the procedure f doesn't double.)

Inductive step (n > 0): Because we are now only considering the case that n is greater than 0, we know it isn't equal to 0, and can see from the code that the result will be two more than whatever (f (- n 1)) computes. Because n is greater than 0, we know that n - 1 must be greater than or equal to 0. And clearly n - 1 < n. Therefore, we can apply the induction hypothesis, substituting n - 1 for k. This tells us that (f (- n 1)) evaluates to 2(n - 1). This is what 2 then gets added to, producing the sum 2 + 2(n - 1). A little algebra shows that is equal to 2n, so the procedure produces the correct answer in this case too. Notice that we restrict our attention to n > 0, because the base case has already handled the possibility that n = 0. Just like in the base case, we are again figuring out what the procedure does compute and comparing that with what it should compute. This time it is a bit less straightforward, however, to figure out what the procedure computes, and also to check for equality with what it should compute.

To figure out what the procedure does compute, we need to rely on the induction hypothesis. Notice that we first verify that the argument value (which here is n - 1) lies in the range where the induction hypothesis applies. Having done so, we can substitute the argument value, n - 1, in place of the induction hypothesis's placeholder variable, k. If you want to think of a concrete example, suppose we look at the case where n = 10. We see that (f 10) is calculated as (+ 2 (f 9)). We check that 9 is greater than or equal to 0 and less than 10. Since it is, we know we can rely on (f 9) to return 18. Thus the overall result in this example is 2 + 18, or 20. By expressing our proof in terms of n and n - 1 rather than 10 and 9, we've handled not only this one specific case, but all the other specific cases too.

To check that the computed value, 2 + 2(n - 1), is equal to the desired value, 2n, requires a little algebra, but nothing fancy. (Sometimes a bit more is needed, as for the book's example of square, or see exercise 2.20 on pages 44-45.)

Conclusion: By mathematical induction, (f n) evaluates to 2n, for any integer n that is greater than or equal to 0. This just restates the theorem, pointing out that its truth follows from the above base case and inductive step by the principle of mathematical induction.


Instructor: Max Hailperin