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Can you give examples of proofs without words? In particular, can you give examples of proofs without words for non-trivial results?

(One could ask if this is of interest to mathematicians, and I would say yes, in so far as the kind of little gems that usually fall under the title of 'proofs without words' is quite capable of providing the aesthetic rush we all so professionally appreciate. That is why we will sometimes stubbornly stare at one of these mathematical autostereograms with determination until we joyously see it.)

(I'll provide an answer as an example of what I have in mind in a second)

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where possible could people also either note the image source or explain/provide a link to a "how to" for constructing the associated diagram? I think that such would also be helpful for folks` –  Carter Tazio Schonwald Dec 14 '09 at 23:57
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I hope I am not alone in being (usually) unable to appreciate "proof by picture"... –  Suvrit Jul 8 '11 at 21:14
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@Suvrit: I hope I am not alone in being most often unable to appreciate "proof by word" until I've read it at least twenty times and wrestled with it for many days per page! –  WetSavannaAnimal aka Rod Vance Jul 9 '11 at 12:11
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I am actually quite fond of this question, David! I tend to make comments on answers that are not relevant, and they have a tendency to get deleted after that. –  Mariano Suárez-Alvarez Sep 16 '11 at 17:34
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My opinion is that almost every proof-without-words is improved by a few well-chosen words. –  Joel David Hamkins Feb 12 '12 at 0:47

67 Answers 67

Here's a proof of the area of a circle (or sector) which is different from the one posted previously.

EDIT: I was unable to embed the file, which is in pdf form. Here is a link:

http://wildpositron.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/sectorarea2.pdf

I discussed what goes into making the proof complete to show that the map preserves area on my blog here (it requires just another picture or two, but it's essentially still only a geometric argument):

http://wildpositron.wordpress.com/2011/04/05/calculating-the-area-of-a-sector/

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This is not entirely without words, but Byrne's edition of Euclid's elements has cut down the number of words to a bare minimum.

http://www.math.ubc.ca/~cass/Euclid/byrne.html

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This is not quite in the spirit of the question... –  Mariano Suárez-Alvarez Sep 16 '11 at 17:27
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+1: Thanks for this wonderful and beautiful link (be it in the spirit of the question or not). –  Hans Stricker Sep 16 '11 at 18:03

A 3D proof of a Fibonacci identity, that even includes a video:

enter image description here

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For $0 \lt k \lt n$,

$$\binom{n}{k} = \frac{n}{n-k}\binom{n-1}{k}$$


How k-subsets of [n], marked dark green in the rows, come from k-subsets of [n-1] after n-fold duplication and rearrangement:

alt text Exactly $n-k$ times:

alt text
By induction, a base case, and taking $k=n$ and $k=0$ for granted: $$\binom{n}{k} = \frac{n}{(n-k)} \frac{(n-1)!}{(n-1-k)!\ k!} = \frac{n!}{(n-k)!\ k!}$$

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enter image description here

From the book "Proofs without words", there are ton of others too but this one I had trouble proving in UG, so like it most.

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This is a "proof without words" by an equation, not a picture.

Three complex numbers $a,b,c$ in the complex plane form the vertices of an equilateral triangle if and only if $~a^2 + b^2 + c^2 = ab + bc + ca$:

$$ $$

$$ \hspace{-3in} 2 |a^2 + b^2 + c^2 - ab - bc - ca|^2 $$ $$ = ( |a-b|^2 - |b-c|^2)^2 + ( |b-c|^2 - |c-a|^2)^2 + ( |c-a|^2 - |a-b|^2)^2 . $$

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protected by Scott Morrison Oct 11 '13 at 0:51

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