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How do we prove that every decreasing sequence of natural numbers terminates using the well ordering principle?

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If you know the starting value, then you know how many values the sequence can have (finite), which proves it terminates, no? – TMM Sep 9 '11 at 16:42
In other words, show by induction on $n\ge0$ that $x_n\le x_0-n$ and conclude. – Did Sep 9 '11 at 16:44
A small nitpick. I usually take decreasing to mean non-increasing rather than strictly decreasing. Under this more liberal definition, an infinite sequence of $1$s is decreasing, but it does not terminate. (I understand that the OP means the strict version.) – Srivatsan Sep 9 '11 at 16:48
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Assume that $(n_i)_{i\in\mathbb{N}}$ is a strictly decreasing infinite sequence of natural numbers. Then $\{n_i:i\in\mathbb{N}\}$ is a nonempty subset of natural numbers which has no smallest element. This contradicts the well-ordering principle. Thus there can be no strictly decreasing infinite sequences of natural numbers. In other words, every strictly decreasing sequence of natural numbers must be finite.

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By the well ordering principle, your list of natural numbers must have a smallest element, call it $n$. If the sequence did not terminate, then the entry after $n$ must be smaller than $n$ (since the sequence is decreasing), which contradicts the definition of $n$ as the smallest element in the sequence.

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