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Newton's Method and Square Roots

Date: 12/04/98 at 22:34:52
From: hendricks
Subject: Newton's Square Root

Can you explain how finding square roots by hand relates to Newton's 
method for approximating the zero of a function? 

Date: 12/05/98 at 08:22:30
From: Doctor Jerry
Subject: Re: Newton's Square Root

Hi Hendricks,

I don't know anything by the name "Newton's Square Root Theory." I 
wonder if you can be thinking about the fact that the ancient "divide-
and-average" algorithm for approximating sqrt(a) is in fact just 
Newton's method, applied to the function f(x) = x^2 - a?

First, here's the divide-and-average algorithm.

Suppose that you wish to calculate the square root of a number A. The 
divide-and-average algorithm is:

1. Choose a rough approximation G of sqrt(A).  
2. Divide A by G and then average the quotient with G, that is, 
   G* = ((A/G)+G)/2

3. If G* is sufficiently accurate, stop. Otherwise, let G = G* and 
return to step 2.

Here's an example: To calculate the sqrt(2), choose G = 1.5.

   G* = (2/1.5 + 1.5)/2 = 1.41666666666
   G* = (2/1.41666666666+1.41666666666)=1.41421568628
   G* = (2/1.41421568628+1.41421568628)=1.41421356238
   G* = (2/1.41421356238+1.41421356238)=1.41421356238

The number of correct decimal places more or less doubles with each 
repetition of step 2.

Secondly, Newton's method is a method in calculus for determining a 
zero of a function. Suppose f has a zero near a; then if we set 
x_1 = a and define:

   x_{n+1} = x_n - f (x_n)/f'(x_n),  n = 1, 2, 3, ...

in many cases the sequence x_1, x_2, ... will converge to the zero 
near a.

It turns out that if f(x) = x^2 - a and we take x_1 = a/2, then 
Newton's method is the divide-and-average algorithm.

- Doctor Jerry, The Math Forum   
Associated Topics:
High School Calculus
High School Exponents

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