A response to FtYoU’s question on Reddit

FtYou writes

Hello everyone ! There is a concept I have a hard time getting my head wrap around. If you have a Vector Space V and a subspace W, I understand that you can find the least square vector approximation from any vector in V to a vector in W. And this correspond to the projection of V to the subspace W. Now , for data fitting … Let’s suppose you have a bunch of points (xi, yi) where you want to fit a set a regressors so you can approximate yi by a linear combination of the regressors lets say ( 1, x, x2 … ). What Vector space are we talking about ? If we consider the Vector space of function R -> R, in what subspace are we trying to map these vectors ?

I have a hard time merging these two concepts of projecting to a vector space and fitting the data. In the latter case what vector are we using ? The functions ? If so I understand the choice of regressors ( which constitute a basis for the vector space ) But what’s the role of the (xi,yi) ?

I want to point out that I understand completely how to build the matrices to get Y = AX and solving using least square approx. What I miss is the big picture. The linear algebra picture. Thanks for any help !

We’ll go over this by closely examining and understanding an example. Suppose we have the data points $latex {(x_i, y_i)}$

$latex \displaystyle \begin{cases} (x_1, y_1) = (-1,8) \\ (x_2, y_2) = (0,8) \\ (x_3, y_3) = (1,4) \\ (x_4, y_4) = (2,16) \end{cases}, $

and we have decided to try to find the best fitting quadratic function. What do we mean by best-fitting? We mean that we want the one that approximates these data points the best. What exactly does that mean? We’ll see that before the end of this note – but in linear algebra terms, we are projecting on to some sort of vector space – we claim that projection is the ”best-fit” possible.

So what do we do? A generic quadratic function is $latex {f(t) = a + bt + ct^2}$. Intuitively, we apply what we know. Then the points above become

$latex \displaystyle \begin{cases} f(-1) = a – b + c = 8 \\ f(0) = a = 8 \\ f(1) = a + b + c = 4 \\ f(2) = a + 2b + 4c = 16 \end{cases}, $

and we want to find the best $latex {[a b c]}$ we can that ”solves” this. Of course, this is a matrix equation:

$latex \displaystyle \begin{pmatrix} 1 & -1 & 1 \\ 1 & 0 & 0 \\ 1 & 1 & 1 \\ 1 & 2 & 4 \end{pmatrix} \begin{pmatrix} a \\ b \\ c \end{pmatrix} = \begin{pmatrix} 8 \\ 8 \\ 4 \\ 16 \end{pmatrix}. $

And so you see how the algorithm would complete this. But now let’s get down the ”linear algebra picture,” as you say.

We know that quadratic polynomials $latex {f(t) = a + bt + ct^2}$ are a three dimensional vector space (which I denote by $latex {P_2)}$ spanned by $latex {1, t, t^2}$. We know we have four data points, so we will define a linear transformation $latex {A}$ to be the transformation taking a quadratic polynomial $latex {f}$ to $latex {\mathbb{R}^4}$ by evaluating $latex {f}$ at $latex {-1, 0, 1, 2}$ (i.e. the $latex {x_i}$). In other words,

$latex \displaystyle A : P_2 \longrightarrow \mathbb{R}^4 $


$latex \displaystyle A(f) = \begin{pmatrix} f(-1) \\ f(0) \\ f(1) \\ f(2) \end{pmatrix}. $

We interpret $latex {f}$ as being given by three coordinates, $latex {a, b, c \in \mathbb{R}^3}$, so we can think of $latex {A}$ as a linear transformation from $latex {\mathbb{R}^3 \longrightarrow \mathbb{R}^4}$. In fact, $latex {A}$ is nothing more than the matrix we wrote above.

Then a solution to

$latex \displaystyle A^T A \begin{pmatrix} a \\ b \\ c \end{pmatrix} = A^T \begin{pmatrix} 8 \\ 8 \\ 4 \\ 16 \end{pmatrix} $

is the projection of the space of quadratic polynomials on $latex {\mathbb{R}^4}$ (which in this case is the space of evaluations of quadratic polynomials at four different points). If $latex {f^* }$ is the found projection, and I denote the $latex {y_i}$ coordinate vector as $latex {y^ *}$, then this projection minimizes

$latex \displaystyle || y^* – Af^*||^2 = (y_1 – f^*(x_1))^2 + \ldots + (y_4 – f^*(x_4))^2, $

and it is in this sense that we mean we have the ”best-fit.” (This is roughly interpreted as the distances between the $latex {y_i}$ and $latex {f^*(x_i)}$ are minimized; really, it’s the sum of the squares of the distances – hence ”Least-Squares”).

So in short: $latex {A}$ is a matrix evaluating quadratic polynomials at different points. The columns vectors correspond to a basis for the space of quadratic polynomials, $latex {1, t, t^2}$. The codomain is $latex {\mathbb{R}^4}$, coming from the evaluation of the input polynomial at the four different $latex {x_i}$. The projection of the set of quadratic polynomials onto their evaluation space minimizes the sum of the squares of the distances between $latex {f(x_i)}$ and $latex {y_i}$.

Does that make sense?

This is also available as a pdf.

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