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Irrational Numbers, the Mystic Pentagram, and Eigenvectors

Some historians of mathematics believe that the first person to discover irrational
numbers was Hippasus. Since the Pythagoreans believed that all numbers were
rational, this was a heresy, and when Hippasus announced that he was going to
reveal his discovery to the outside world, he accidentally drowned at sea, or so
the story goes.
Historians conjecture that Hippasus was trying to determine the ratio of the length
of a side to the length of a diagonal in the regular pentagon. If you take a regular
pentagon and draw its diagonals you get the so-called mystic pentagram, which
was the symbol of the Pythagoreans. The following diagram shows a regular
polygon with diagonals drawn to produce two mystic pentagrams, one in blue and
one in red:
s

s'
d'
d

The outer blue pentagon has side length s and diagonal length d. It forms an inner
regular pentagon with side length s' and diagonal length d'. We could continue this
process, drawing diagonals and forming inner regular pentagons as many times as
we want. The ratio that Hippasus was looking for was d/s, which is the same as
d'/s'. By scaling, we can assume that s and d are whole numbers.

From the geometric properties of the diagram, Hippasus derived the relationships
between s, d, s' and d', which follow pretty quickly after proving that the triangles
in the diagram that appear to be isosceles really are. In the diagram below, because
the triangle with green sides and the one with red sides are isosceles, we can look
at the diagonal AD to see that d = s' + 2d' and also that d = s + d'.
D

d'
G

E
d'

It follows that
(*)

s = 2 s d
d = d s

This means that s' and d' must both also be whole numbers, and from the pictures
we see that s < s and d < d . We can continue with the new inner pentagon to
produce a still smaller pentagon with side s" and diagonal d", which are still whole
numbers. We can continue this as many times as we want. But, eventually we run
out of room; we cant keep finding smaller positive integers. So the assumption
that the ratio of d to s is a rational number must be false. This is Fermats method
of infinite descent, anticipated by about 2,000 years!
The value of d/s is actually the golden ratio . To see this, note that the outer and
inner pentagrams are similar, so

(1.1)

d
1
d d d s
1
s
=
=
= =
s s 2 s d 2 d 2
s

This leads to the quadratic equation 2 1 = 0 whose sole positive root is


1+ 5
= .
2

I realized it would be interesting to invert the relationship (*), by solving for s and
d and then switching the primed and unprimed labels to get
(1.2)

s = s + d
d = s + 2d

In matrix form this is


(1.3)

s 1 1 s
d = 1 2 d Av

It seemed likely that it might be possible to use this relationship to find


An v
recursively. Indeed it is well known that for any non-zero vector v,
An v
converges to the unit eigenvector that is associated with the largest eigenvalue. The
eigenvalues are determined from the equation
(1.4)

1
det
1

1
=0 .
2

3+ 5
. Without loss of generality, we may assume
2
s = 1, and so the (unnormalized) eigenvector associated with this eigenvalue can be
1
s 1
= 1 + 5 . That is, the
found from the equation s + d = s to be =

d 1
2
ratio of d to s is indeed the golden ratio and it can be found by iterating the
equation (1.2) or (1.3).

The largest eigenvalue is =