This is what my mom said khổng lồ me when I told her about this little mathematical anomaly. And it is just that, an anomaly. After all, it defies basic ngắn gọn xúc tích. How could adding positive sầu numbers equal not only a negative sầu, but a negative fraction? What the frac?

Before I begin: It has been pointed out lớn me that when I talk about sum’s in this article, it is not in the traditional sense of the word. This is because all the series I giảm giá with naturally vị not tover to a specific number, so we talk about a different type of sums, namely Cesàro Summations. For anyone interested in the mathematics, Cesàro summations assign values to lớn some infinite sums that do not converge in the usual sense. “The Cesàro sum is defined as the limit, as n tends lớn infinity, of the sequence of arithmetic means of the first n partial sums of the series” — Wikipedia. I also want lớn say that throughout this article I giảm giá khuyến mãi with the concept of countable infinity, a different type of infinity that deals with a infinite phối of numbers, but one where if given enough time you could count to lớn any number in the set. It allows me lớn use some of the regular properties of mathematics lượt thích commutativity in my equations (which is an axiom I use throughout the article).

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Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887–1920) was an Indian mathematician
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Don’t believe sầu me? Keep reading to find out how I prove sầu this, by proving two equally crazy claims:

1–1+1–1+1–1 ⋯ = 1/21–2+3–4+5–6⋯ = 1/4

First off, the bread & butter. This is where the real magic happens, in fact the other two proofs aren’t possible without this.

I start with a series, A, which is equal to lớn 1–1+1–1+1–1 repeated an infinite number of times. I’ll write it as such:

A = 1–1+1–1+1–1⋯

Then I bởi vì a neat little triông chồng. I take away A from 1

1-A=1-(1–1+1–1+1–1⋯)

So far so good? Now here is where the wizardry happens. If I simplify the right side of the equation, I get something very peculiar:

1-A=1–1+1–1+1–1+1⋯

Look familiar? In case you missed it, thats A. Yes, there on that right side of the equation, is the series we started off with. So I can substitute A for that right side, bởi vì a bit of high school algebra & boom!

1-A =A

1-A+A=A+A

1 = 2A

một nửa = A

This little beauty is Grandi’s series, called such after the Italian mathematician, philosopher, và priest Guivị Grandi. That’s really everything this series has, and while it is my personal favourite, there isn’t a cool history or discovery story behind this. However, it does open the door to proving a lot of interesting things, including a very important equation for quantum mechanics & even string theory. But more on that later. For now, we move onto proving #2: 1–2+3–4+5–6⋯ = 1/4.

We start the same way as above sầu, letting the series B =1–2+3–4+5–6⋯. Then we can start lớn play around with it. This time, instead of subtracting B from 1, we are going lớn subtract it from A. Mathematically, we get this:

A-B = (1–1+1–1+1–1⋯) — (1–2+3–4+5–6⋯)

A-B = (1–1+1–1+1–1) — 1+2–3+4–5+6⋯

Then we shuffle the terms around a little bit, và we see another interesting pattern emerge.

A-B = (1–1) + (–1+2) +(1–3) + (–1+4) + (1–5) + (–1+6)

A-B = 0+1–2+3–4+5⋯

Once again, we get the series we started off with, và from before, we know that A = 1/2, so we use some more basic algebra & prove sầu our second mind blowing fact of today.

A-B = B

A = 2B

1/2 = 2B

1/4 = B

And voila! This equation does not have sầu a fancy name, since it has proven by many mathematicians over the years while simultaneously being labeled a paradoxical equation. Nevertheless, it sparked a debate amongst academics at the time, & even helped extover Euler’s research in the Basel Problem và lead towards important mathematical functions lượt thích the Riemann Zeta function.

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Now for the icing on the cake, the one you’ve sầu been waiting for, the big cheese. Once again we start by letting the series C = 1+2+3+4+5+6⋯, và you may have sầu been able to guess it, we are going to lớn subtract C from B.

B-C = (1–2+3–4+5–6⋯)-(1+2+3+4+5+6⋯)

Because math is still awesome, we are going to rearrange the order of some of the numbers in here so we get something that looks familiar, but probably wont be what you are suspecting.

B-C = (1-2+3-4+5-6⋯)-1-2-3-4-5-6⋯

B-C = (1-1) + (-2-2) + (3-3) + (-4-4) + (5-5) + (-6-6) ⋯

B-C = 0-4+0-8+0-12⋯

Not what you were expecting right? Well hold on khổng lồ your socks, because I have sầu one last trichồng up my sleeve sầu that is going lớn make it all worth it. If you notice, all the terms on the right side are multiples of -4, so we can pull out that constant factor, and lo n’ behold, we get what we started with.

B-C = -4(1+2+3)⋯

B-C = -4C

B = -3C

And since we have sầu a value for B=1/4, we simply put that value in and we get our magical result:

1/4 = -3C

1/-12 = C or C = -1/12

Now, why this is important. Well for starters, it is used in string theory. Not the Stephen Hawking version unfortunately, but actually in the original version of string theory (called Bosonic String Theory). Now unfortunately Bosonic string theory has been somewhat outmoded by the current area of interest, called supersymmetric string theory, but the original theory still has its uses in understanding superstrings, which are integral parts of the aforementioned updated string theory.

The Ramanujan Summation also has had a big impact in the area of general physics, specifically in the solution to lớn the phenomenon know as the Casimir Effect. Hendrik Casimir predicted that given two uncharged conductive plates placed in a vacuum, there exists an attractive force between these plates due to lớn the presence of virtual particles bread by quantum fluctuations. In Casimir’s solution, he uses the very sum we just proved to lớn mã sản phẩm the amount of energy between the plates. And there is the reason why this value is so important.

So there you have it, the Ramanujan summation, that was discovered in the early 1900’s, which is still making an impact almost 100 years on in many different branches of physics, & can still win a bet against people who are none the wiser.

P.S. If you are still interested and want lớn read more, here is a conversation with two physicists trying lớn explain this crazy equation và their views on it’s usefulness and validity. It’s nice và short, & very interesting. https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.5.8029/full/


This essay is part of a series of stories on math-related topics, published in Cantor’s Paradise, a weekly Medium publication. Thank you for reading!

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