Newton's method for Calc I

Newton's method is a technique to find numerical approximations to roots of functions. Given an initial guesss \(x_1\), Newton's method improves this guess by applying the function \[N(x) = x - \frac{f(x)}{f'(x)}.\] This produces \(x_2 = N(x_1)\). We then plug that back in to get \(x_3\) and continue. More generally, we produce a sequence \((x_k)\) via \(x_k=N(x_{k-1})\).


Let \(f(x) = x^3-x-1\). It's evident from a graph that there's one root.

Newton's method works by riding the tangent line from an initial guess. If we note that \(x_1=2\) is pretty close to the root, we compute \(x_2 = N(x_2)\), where \[N(x) = x - \frac{f(x)}{f'(x)} = x - \frac{x^3-x-1}{3x^2-1}.\] Thus, \(x_2 = N(2) = 2-5/11 \approx 1.54545\). Geometrically, this point is obtained by riding the tangent line to the \(x\)-axis:

If we do that again, we end up even closer to the root:

That's why we iterate!

Resources for Newton's method and solving equations

Solving equations

Performing Newton's method

To actually perform several Newton iterates, it makes sense to use a programming tool. You can do it with Sage like this.