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Logarithms and Exponential Functions
Logarithms and Exponential Functions
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Inverse Operations

First and foremost, you've got to know that logarithms are inverse operations of exponentials. Yup, we're turning your world upside-down. Please rotate your monitor around so that you can read the rest of this section. If you can't, you'll just have to get used to reading everything that way. Unfortunately we've run out of hot towels for all the sore necks caused by this new policy, you're going to have to provide those yourself.


Multiplication and division are also inverse operations of each other. If you multiplied 2 × 2, then divided 4 (the answer) by 2, you'd be right back to 2.
Guess where we're going with this? Exponents and logarithms are inverse operations! So if we have this equation:

y = x

We can add to both sides… y + 2 = x + 2

We can subtract to both sides … y – 2 = x – 2

Multiply… 2y = 2x

Divide … 

You can also "exponentiate" both sides: 10y = 10x
And finally "take the log" of both sides: log y = log x.

Every single one of the expressions here are equivalent to y = x and to each other. Because you know that logs and exponents are inverse operations, just like addition and subtraction are, manipulating equations with exponents will be a snap.

Now that you know exponentiating and taking the log are inverse operations, let's talk inverse functions.

Inverse Functions

Imagine a function that has this set of inputs and outputs. No really, close your eyes and focus on your inner mathlete:

{1,5 ; 2,9 ; 3,13 ; 4,17}

If you're on the up and up, you might recognize these numbers come from the linear function y = 4x + 1. Awesome. The inverse of this function simply switches all of the input and output values:

{5,1 ; 9,2 ; 13,3 ; 17,4}

What's that function? No cheating, we've got robots working for us.

A very simple way of figuring out the answer to this question is to solve for x and switch the x and y.

y = 4x + 1
y 1 = 4x


Bam! There's your answer. is the inverse of y = 4x + 1. A clearer way to represent this would be to say.

Special note: f(-1)(x), the inverse function,is not the same as , the reciprocal function. Be careful!

If you applied a function and its inverse function to an input value, it would come out of the works unchanged. Prove this to yourself, try throwing a 4 into either function and then put the answer in the other.

See? It's still four. (If not, something has gone terribly wrong and this message will self-destruct in four seconds.) In other, more math-y words: f-1[f(x)] = x

Here's some proof:

Step 1, The Awesome Step: y = 4(4) +1 = 17
Step 2, The Awesome-r Step:

Impressed yet? It's like a magician who walks on the stage, pulls a rabbit out of the hat, and…WHOA THAT'S NOT A RABBIT! He quickly puts the not-rabbit back into the hat and walks backwards off the stage, as if nothing happened. No refunds.

In the next section, we'll try to find the inverse of an exponential function. It's not going to be quite as easy it was in this section, but you'll feel even Awesome-r-r when you figure things out.

Inverses of Exponential Functions

Apply the magical lesson of the inverse to an exponential function. First, take a look at an exponential function. Like we mentioned before, exponential functions are simpler than they look: just stick the x in the exponent.

Here's one:

y = 10x

Right. So what about its inverse? Just solve for x. Wait—how is this supposed to work?

Without logarithms, you might be stuck in the mud. Dirty, goopy, nasty mud that won't wash out no matter how many times you put it in the washer. Math can do anything; it can even keep your clothes clean and fresh. (Disclaimer: Do not attempt to put math in the washer, this will void all warranties.)

Go along with us for a second here, we're going to use a logarithm to solve for x and then switch things around. Like we said in the last section, taking the log is the inverse operation of exponentiation, so we can use it to cancel the 10 on the right side of the equation:

y = 10xlog10 y = log1010x
log10y = x
log10x = y
y = log10x

Ta-daaa! y = log10x, a logarithmic function,is the inverse of y = 10x, an exponential function 

Next Page: Rules for Inverse Functions
Previous Page: Linking Exponents and Logarithms

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