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mathematician, composer, photographer, fiddler

27 Nov 2017 | categories: Mathematics

A Dynamical Proof That the Ratio of Successive Fibonacci Numbers Approaches the Golden Ratio

In his 1611 essay On the Six-Cornered Snowflake, Johannes Kepler observed that the ratio of successive Fibonacci numbers $F_n/F_{n-1}$ approaches the golden ratio $\tfrac12(1+\sqrt5)$. [Recall that $F_1=F_2=1$ and $F_{n+1}=F_n+F_{n-1}$ for $n\ge2$.]

Many proofs have since been found. Here is a quick, dynamical one I thought of which I have been unable to find in the literature.

Proof: Consider the function $f(x)=(1+x)/x$. The sequence of ratios of successive Fibonacci numbers is the orbit of $F_2/F_1=1$ under $f$, i.e. $$ f(F_n/F_{n-1})=F_{n+1}/F_n. $$ On the other hand, $f$ has precisely two fixed points, the roots of $x^2-x-1$, one positive (the golden ratio), the other negative. Since $f'(x)=-1/x^2$, $f$ is a decreasing function for $x>0$. And $f(2)=3/2$ while $f(3/2)=5/3$. So $f$ maps the interval $[3/2,2]$ into itself. In fact, $f$ is a contracting mapping on $[3/2,2]$ (with Lipschitz constant $4/9$) since $$ |f(x)-f(y)|=|y-x|/|xy|\le\tfrac49|y-x| $$ for $x,y\in[3/2,2]$. By the Banach fixed point theorem, then, all orbits in $[3/2,2]$ approach the golden ratio. Although $1$ is not in $[3/2,2]$, $f(1)=2$ is, so the orbit of $1$ approaches the golden ratio. ∎

This proof can be extended to show that the conclusion holds even if the first two terms $F_1,F_2$ of the Fibonacci sequence are altered, provided their ratio $F_2/F_1$ is not $\tfrac12(1-\sqrt5)$ (the negative, unstable fixed point of $f$).

In a sense this explains why the limit is the golden ratio: being a fixed point of $f$ is the defining property of the golden ratio.