Thoughts on Infinity (Part 3g)

We have seen in recent posts that

$latex  \displaystyle 1 – \frac{1}{2} + \frac{1}{3} – \frac{1}{4} + \frac{1}{5} – … = \ln 2$

One way of remembering this fact is by using the Taylor series expansion for \ln(1+x):

\ln(1+x) = x - \displaystyle \frac{x^2}{2} + \frac{x^3}{3} - \frac{x^4}{4} + \frac{x^5}{5} \dots

“Therefore,” the first series can be obtained from the second series by substituting x=1.

I placed “therefore” in quotation marks because this reasoning is completely invalid, even though it happens to stumble across the correct answer in this instance. The radius of convergence for the above Taylor series is 1, which can be verified by using the Ratio Test. So the series converges absolutely for |x| < 1 and diverges for |x| > 1. The boundary of |x| = 1, on the other hand, has to be checked separately for convergence.

In other words, plugging in x=1 might be a useful way to remember the formula, but it’s not a proof of the formula and certainly not a technique that I want to encourage students to use!

It’s easy to find examples where just plugging in the boundary point happens to give the correct answer (see above). It’s also easy to find examples where plugging in the boundary point gives an incorrect answer because the series actually diverges: for example, substituting x = -1 into the geometric series

\displaystyle \frac{1}{1-x} = 1 + x + x^2 + x^3 + x^4 + \dots

However, I’ve been scratching my head to think of an example where plugging in the boundary point gives an incorrect answer because the series converges but converges to a different number. I could’ve sworn that I saw an example like this when I was a calculus student, but I can’t see to find an example in reading Apostol’s calculus text.

 

Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. Thoughts on Infinity: Index | Mean Green Math

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: