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Golden Ratio

The golden ratio, also known as the divine proportion, golden mean, or golden section, is a number often encountered when taking the
ratios of distances in simple geometric figures such as the pentagon, pentagram, decagon and dodecahedron. It is denoted , or
sometimes .

The designations "phi" (for the golden ratio conjugate ) and "Phi" (for the larger quantity ) are sometimes also used (Knott),
although this usage is not necessarily recommended.

The term "golden section" (in German, goldener Schnitt or der goldene Schnitt) seems to first have been used by Martin Ohm in the
1835 2nd edition of his textbook Die Reine Elementar-Mathematik (Livio 2002, p. 6). The first known use of this term in English is in
James Sulley's 1875 article on aesthetics in the 9th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The symbol ("phi") was apparently first
used by Mark Barr at the beginning of the 20th century in commemoration of the Greek sculptor Phidias (ca. 490-430 BC), who a
number of art historians claim made extensive use of the golden ratio in his works (Livio 2002, pp. 5-6). Similarly, the alternate
notation is an abbreviation of the Greek tome, meaning "to cut."

In the Season 1 episode "Sabotage" (2005) of the television crime drama NUMB3RS, math genius Charlie Eppes mentions that the
golden ratio is found in the pyramids of Giza and the Parthenon at Athens. Similarly, the character Robert Langdon in the novel The Da
Vinci Code makes similar such statements (Brown 2003, pp. 93-95). However, claims of the significance of the golden ratio appearing
prominently in art, architecture, sculpture, anatomy, etc., tend to be greatly exaggerated.

has surprising connections with continued fractions and the Euclidean algorithm for computing the greatest common divisor of
two integers.

Given a rectangle having sides in the ratio , is defined as the unique number such that partitioning the original rectangle into
a square and new rectangle as illustrated above results in a new rectangle which also has sides in the ratio (i.e., such that the
yellow rectangles shown above are similar). Such a rectangle is called a golden rectangle, and successive points dividing a golden
rectangle into squares lie on a logarithmic spiral, giving a figure known as a whirling square.

Based on the above definition, it can immediately be seen that




Euclid ca. 300 BC gave an equivalent definition of by defining it in terms of the so-called "extreme and mean ratios" on a line
segment, i.e., such that

for the line segment illustrated above (Livio 2002, pp. 3-4). Plugging in,


and clearing denominators gives


which is exactly the same formula obtained above (and incidentally means that is a algebraic number of degree 2.) Using
the quadratic equation and taking the positive sign (since the figure is defined so that ) gives the exact value of , namely


(OEIS A001622). Prime numbers appearing in consecutive digits of the decimal expansion (starting with the first) are known as phi-

In an apparent blatant misunderstanding of the difference between an exact quantity and an approximation, the character Robert
Langdon in the novel The Da Vinci Code incorrectly defines the golden ratio to be exactly 1.618 (Brown 2003, pp. 93-95).

The legs of a golden triangle (an isosceles triangle with a vertex angle of ) are in a golden ratio to its base and, in fact, this was the
method used by Pythagoras to construct . The ratio of the circumradius to the length of the side of a decagon is also ,


Bisecting a (schematic) Gaullist cross also gives a golden ratio (Gardner 1961, p. 102).

Exact trigonometric formulas for include




The golden ratio is given by the series


(B. Roselle). Another fascinating connection with the Fibonacci numbers is given by the series


A representation in terms of a nested radical is


(Livio 2002, p. 83). This is equivalent to the recurrence equation


with , giving .

is the "worst" real number for rational approximation because its continued fraction representation



(OEIS A000012; Williams 1979, p. 52; Steinhaus 1999, p. 45; Livio 2002, p. 84) has the smallest possible term (1) in each of its
infinitely many denominators, thus giving convergents that converge more slowly than any other continued fraction. In particular,
the convergents are given by the quadratic recurrence equation


with , which has solution


where is the th Fibonacci number. This gives the first few convergents as 1, 2, 3/2, 5/3, 8/5, 13/8, 21/13, 34/21, ...
(OEIS A000045 and A000045), which are good to 0, 0, 0, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 5, ... (OEIS A114540) decimal digits, respectively.

As a result,


as first proved by Scottish mathematician Robert Simson in 1753 (Wells 1986, p. 62; Livio 2002, p. 101).

The golden ratio also satisfies the recurrence relation


Taking gives the special case


Treating (21) as a linear recurrence equation


in , setting and , and solving gives

as expected. The powers of the golden ratio also satisfy


where is a Fibonacci number (Wells 1986, p. 39).

The sine of certain complex numbers involving gives particularly simple answers, for example


(D. Hoey, pers. comm.).

In the figure above, three triangles can be inscribed in the rectangle of arbitrary aspect ratio such that the three right
triangles have equal areas by dividing and in the golden ratio. Then


which are all equal. The converse is also true, namely if the adjacent sides of a rectangle are divided in any ratio and connected in the
same way, then if the areas of the three outer triangles are all equal, both divided sides are in the golden ratio (D. J. Lewis, pers.
comm., Jun. 11, 2009).

The substitution system




giving rise to the sequence


(OEIS A003849). Here, the zeros occur at positions 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, ... (OEIS A000201), and the ones occur at positions 2, 5, 7,

10, 13, 15, 18, ... (OEIS A001950). These are complementary Beatty sequences generated by and . This sequence also
has many connections with the Fibonacci numbers. It is plotted above (mod 2) as a recurrence plot.

Let the continued fraction of be denoted and let the denominators of the convergents be denoted , , ..., . As
can be seen from the plots above, the regularity in the continued fraction of means that is one of a set of numbers of measure 0
whose continued fraction sequences do not converge to Khinchin's constant or the Lévy constant.

The golden ratio has Engel expansion 1, 2, 5, 6, 13, 16, 16, 38, 48, 58, 104, ... (OEIS A028259).

Steinhaus (1999, pp. 48-49) considers the distribution of the fractional parts of in the intervals bounded by 0, , ,
..., , 1, and notes that they are much more uniformly distributed than would be expected due to chance (i.e., is
close to an equidistributed sequence). In particular, the number of empty intervals for , 2, ..., are a mere 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 2, 0,
1, 1, 0, 2, 2, ... (OEIS A036414). The values of for which no bins are left blank are then given by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 13, 16, 21, 34,
55, 89, 144, ... (OEIS A036415). Steinhaus (1983) remarks that the highly uniform distribution has its roots in the continued
fraction for .
The sequence , of power fractional parts, where is the fractional part, is equidistributed for almost all real
numbers , with the golden ratio being one exception.

Salem showed that the set of Pisot numbers is closed, with the smallest accumulation point of the set (Le Lionnais 1983).


The Golden ratio is a special number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part
divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part. It is often
symbolized using phi, after the 21st letter of the Greek alphabet. In an equation form, it looks like this:

a/b = (a+b)/a = 1.6180339887498948420 …

As with pi (the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter), the digits go on and on,
theoretically into infinity. Phi is usually rounded off to 1.618. This number has been discovered and
rediscovered many times, which is why it has so many names — the Golden mean, the Golden
section, divine proportion, etc. Historically, the number can be seen in the architecture of many
ancient creations, like the Great Pyramids and the Parthenon. In the Great Pyramid of Giza, the length
of each side of the base is 756 feet with a height of 481 feet. The ratio of the base to the height is
roughly 1.5717, which is close to the Golden ratio.

The Pyramids of Giza, built between 2589 and 2504 BC. (Image credit: Dan Breckwoldt Shutterstock)
Phidias (500 B.C. - 432 B.C.) was a Greek sculptor and mathematician who is thought to have
applied phi to the design of sculptures for the Parthenon. Plato (428 B.C. - 347 B.C.) considered the
Golden ratio to be the most universally binding of mathematical relationships. Later, Euclid (365 B.C.
- 300 B.C.) linked the Golden ratio to the construction of a pentagram.

Around 1200, mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci discovered the unique properties of the Fibonacci
sequence. This sequence ties directly into the Golden ratio because if you take any two successive
Fibonacci numbers, their ratio is very close to the Golden ratio. As the numbers get higher, the ratio
becomes even closer to 1.618. For example, the ratio of 3 to 5 is 1.666. But the ratio of 13 to 21 is
1.625. Getting even higher, the ratio of 144 to 233 is 1.618. These numbers are all successive
numbers in the Fibonacci sequence.
These numbers can be applied to the proportions of a rectangle, called the Golden rectangle. This is
known as one of the most visually satisfying of all geometric forms – hence, the appearance of the
Golden ratio in art. The Golden rectangle is also related to the Golden spiral, which is created by
making adjacent squares of Fibonacci dimensions.

Leonardo da Vinci's 'Vitruvian Man' is said to illustrate the golden ratio.

In 1509, Luca Pacioli wrote a book that refers to the number as the "Divine Proportion," which was
illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci later called this sectio aurea or the Golden section. The
Golden ratio was used to achieve balance and beauty in many Renaissance paintings and sculptures.
Da Vinci himself used the Golden ratio to define all of the proportions in his Last Supper, including the
dimensions of the table and the proportions of the walls and backgrounds. The Golden ratio also
appears in da Vinci's Vitruvian Man and the Mona Lisa. Other artists who employed the Golden ratio
include Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Seurat, and Salvador Dali.
The term "phi" was coined by American mathematician Mark Barr in the 1900s. Phi has continued to
appear in mathematics and physics, including the 1970s Penrose Tiles, which allowed surfaces to be
tiled in five-fold symmetry. In the 1980s, phi appeared in quasi crystals, a then-newly discovered form
of matter.
Phi is more than an obscure term found in mathematics and physics. It appears around us in our daily
lives, even in our aesthetic views. Studies have shown that when test subjects view random faces,
the ones they deem most attractive are those with solid parallels to the Golden ratio. Faces judged as
the most attractive show Golden ratio proportions between the width of the face and the width of the
eyes, nose, and eyebrows. The test subjects weren't mathematicians or physicists familiar with phi —
they were just average people, and the Golden ratio elicited an instinctual reaction.