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Computing with Multidimensional Arrays

Many of the MATLAB computational and mathematical functions accept multidimensional arrays as arguments. These functions operate on specific dimensions of multidimensional arrays; that is, they operate on individual elements, on vectors, or on matrices.

Operating on Vectors

Functions that operate on vectors, like sum, mean, and so on, by default typically work on the first nonsingleton dimension of a multidimensional array. Most of these functions optionally let you specify a particular dimension on which to operate. There are exceptions, however. For example, the cross function, which finds the cross product of two vectors, works on the first nonsingleton dimension having length 3.

Operating Element-by-Element

MATLAB functions that operate element-by-element on two-dimensional arrays, like the trigonometric and exponential functions in the elfun directory, work in exactly the same way for multidimensional cases. For example, the sin function returns an array the same size as the function's input argument. Each element of the output array is the sine of the corresponding element of the input array.

Similarly, the arithmetic, logical, and relational operators all work with corresponding elements of multidimensional arrays that are the same size in every dimension. If one operand is a scalar and one an array, the operator applies the scalar to each element of the array.

Operating on Planes and Matrices

Functions that operate on planes or matrices, such as the linear algebra and matrix functions in the matfun directory, do not accept multidimensional arrays as arguments. That is, you cannot use the functions in the matfun directory, or the array operators *, ^, \, or /, with multidimensional arguments. Supplying multidimensional arguments or operands in these cases results in an error.

You can use indexing to apply a matrix function or operator to matrices within a multidimensional array. For example, create a three-dimensional array A:

Applying the eig function to the entire multidimensional array results in an error:

You can, however, apply eig to planes within the array. For example, use colon notation to index just one page (in this case, the second) of the array:

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