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Mathematical Institute

Summing a divergent Series

Nick Trefethen and Stefan Güttel, 23rd April 2012

(Chebfun example approx/DivergentSeries.m)
[Tags: #Divergentseries, #PADEAPPROX, #extrapolation, #Pade]

The function $$ f(x) = \int_0^{\infty} {e^{-t} \over 1 + xt} dt $$ is an easy one for Chebfun to evaluate. For example, the value at $x=1$ is

format long
sum(chebfun(@(t) exp(-t)./(1+t),[0 inf]))
ans =

It's not hard to make a Chebfun of the result, like this:

ff = @(x) sum(chebfun(@(t) exp(-t)./(1+x*t),[0 inf]));
f = chebfun(ff,[0,5],'vectorize');
hold off, plot(f,'linewidth',2)
title('The integral f as a function of parameter x','fontsize',12)

One of the interesting features of $f$ is that its derivatives at $x=0$ are $(0!)^2, -(1!)^2, (2!)^2, -(3!)^2, \dots.$ Chebfun manages to compute a few of these, at any rate, to high accuracy:

for j = 0:6
  fj = diff(f,j);
  fprintf('%21.12f  (should be %7.0f)\n',fj(0),(-1)^j*factorial(j)^2)
       1.000000000000  (should be       1)
      -0.999999999994  (should be      -1)
       3.999999991566  (should be       4)
     -35.999994253605  (should be     -36)
     575.997044321884  (should be     576)
  -14398.749625658500  (should be  -14400)
  517949.086210998939  (should be  518400)

In other words, at $x=0$, $f$ has the asymptotic series $$ f(x) \sim 0! - 1!x + 2!x^2 - 3! x^3 + \cdots . $$ It can't be a Taylor series, because the terms increase too fast: the radius of convergence is zero.

And this brings us to a famous old problem of divergent series, going back to Euler in 1760 and with its own entry in Wikipedia [1]. What is the value of the series $$ 0! - 1! + 2!- 3! + \cdots = ~? $$ Of course the series simply doesn't converge, from one point of view. But this hasn't stopped Euler and Hardy and many others from discussing what it might mean for such a series to have a limit. And of course we know one pretty good candidate for an answer, namely the value $f(1)$ computed above:

ans =

Suppose we try to estimate this limit from those not-quite-Taylor coefficients. We could use the epsilon algorithm, which amounts to constructing a Pad� approximation and evaluating it at $z=1$. Here's the result, showing 2 digits of accuracy:

r = padeapprox((-1).^(0:10).*factorial(0:10),5,5);
ans =

At $z=1/2$ we get 3 or 4 digits:

ans =
ans =



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