Pythagorean means

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A geometric construction of the Quadratic mean and the Pythagorean means (of two numbers a and b). Harmonic mean denoted by H, Geometric by G, Arithmetic by A and Quadratic mean (also known as Root mean square) denoted by Q.
Comparison of the arithmetic, geometric and harmonic means of a pair of numbers. The vertical dashed lines are asymptotes for the harmonic means.

In mathematics, the three classical Pythagorean means are the arithmetic mean (A), the geometric mean (G), and the harmonic mean (H). They are defined by:

  •  AM(x_1, \ldots, x_n) = \frac{1}{n}(x_1 + \cdots + x_n)
  •  GM(x_1, \ldots, x_n) = \sqrt[n]{x_1 \cdots x_n}
  •  HM(x_1, \ldots, x_n) = \frac{n}{\frac{1}{x_1} + \cdots + \frac{1}{x_n}}

Each mean has the following properties:

  • Value preservation:  M(x,x, \ldots,x) = x
  • First order homogeneity:  M(bx_1, \ldots, bx_n) = b M(x_1, \ldots, x_n)
  • Invariance under exchange:  M(\ldots, x_i, \ldots, x_j, \ldots ) = M(\ldots, x_j, \ldots, x_i, \ldots) for any i and j.
  • Averaging:  \min(x_1,\ldots,x_n) \leq M(x_1,\ldots,x_n) \leq \max(x_1,\ldots,x_n)

These means were studied with proportions by Pythagoreans and later generations of Greek mathematicians (Thomas Heath, History of Ancient Greek Mathematics) because of their importance in geometry and music. The harmonic and arithmetic means are reciprocal duals of each other for positive arguments ( HM(1/x_1 \ldots 1/x_n ) = 1/AM(x_1 \ldots x_n) ) while the geometric mean is its own reciprocal dual.


Inequalities among means[edit]

There is an ordering to these means (if all of the  x_i are positive)

 \min \leq HM \leq GM \leq AM \leq \max

with equality holding if and only if the  x_i are all equal. This is a generalization of the inequality of arithmetic and geometric means and a special case of an inequality for generalized means. The proof follows from the artithmetic-geometric mean inequality,  AM \leq max, and reciprocal duality (\min and \max are also reciprocal dual to each other).


The study of the pythagorean means is closely related to the study of majorization and Schur-convex functions. The harmonic and geometric means are concave symmetric functions of their arguments, and hence Schur-concave, while the arithmetic mean is a linear function of its arguments, so both concave and convex.

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