1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + · · ·

The sum of all natural numbers 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + · · ·, also written

:sum_{n=1}^{infin} n^1,

is a divergent series; the sum of the first "n" terms in the series can be found using the formula frac{n(n+1)}{2}.

Although the full series may seem at first sight not to have any meaningful value, it can be manipulated to yield a number of mathematically interesting results, some of which have applications in other fields such as complex analysis, quantum field theory and string theory.

Proof of partial sum formula

The proof that the sum of natural numbers up to n is frac{n(n+1)}{2} can be proven in a number of ways. First, let

:S_n = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + cdots + (n-2) + (n-1) + n.,

One can rearrage the terms and write them backwards:

:S_n = n + (n-1) + (n-2) + cdots + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1.,

If we add these two, term by term, we arrive at:

:2S_n = underbrace{(n+1) + ((n-1)+2)+((n-2)+3)+cdots+(3+(n-2))+(2+(n-1)) + (1+n)}_{n}

:2S_n = underbrace{(n+1) + (n+1)+(n+1)+cdots+(n+1)+(n+1) + (n+1)}_{n}

:2S_n = ncdot(n + 1)

:S_n = frac{n(n+1)}{2}

ummation and analytic continuation of the zeta function

The Ramanujan sum of 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + · · · is −112. [Hardy p.333]

When the real part of "s" is greater than 1, the Riemann zeta function of s equals the sum sum_{n=1}^infty {n^{-s.This sum diverges when the real part of "s" is less than or equal to 1, but when "s" = −1 then the analytic continuation of ζ(s) gives ζ(−1) as −112.


In Bosonic string theory we wish to compute the possible energy levels of a string, in particularly the lowest energy level. Speaking informally, each harmonic of the string can be viewed as a collection of D independent quantum harmonic oscillators, where D is the dimension of spacetime. If the fundamental oscillation frequency is omega then the energy in an oscillator contributing to the nth harmonic is nhbaromega/2. So using the divergent series we find that the sum over all harmonics is -hbaromega D/24. Ultimately it is this fact, combined with the no-ghost theorem, which leads to bosonic string theory failing to be consistent in dimensions other than 26.

A similar calculation is involved in computing the Casimir force.


In Srinivasa Ramanujan's second letter to G. H. Hardy, dated 27 February 1913::"Dear Sir, I am very much gratified on perusing your letter of the 8th February 1913. I was expecting a reply from you similar to the one which a Mathematics Professor at London wrote asking me to study carefully Bromwich's "Infinite Series" and not fall into the pitfalls of divergent series. … I told him that the sum of an infinite number of terms of the series: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + · · · = −112 under my theory. If I tell you this you will at once point out to me the lunatic asylum as my goal. I dilate on this simply to convince you that you will not be able to follow my methods of proof if I indicate the lines on which I proceed in a single letter. …" [Berndt et al p.53. The link of "Bromwich" to Thomas Bromwich was added and some formatting changes were made.]

ee also

*Infinite arithmetic series
*1 − 2 + 3 − 4 + · · ·
*1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + · · ·
*Triangular number



*cite book |author=Berndt, Bruce C., Srinivasa Ramanujan Aiyangar, and Robert A. Rankin |title=Ramanujan: letters and commentary |year=1995 |publisher=American Mathematical Society |id=ISBN 0-8218-0287-9
*cite book |last=Hardy |first=G.H. |authorlink=G. H. Hardy |title=Divergent Series |year=1949 |publisher=Clarendon Press |id=LCC|QA295|.H29|1967

Further reading

*cite journal |last=Lepowsky |first=James |title=Vertex operator algebras and the zeta function |journal=Contemporary Mathematics |volume=248 |year=1999 |pages=327–340 |url=http://arxiv.org/abs/math/9909178
*cite book |last=Zee |first=A. |title=Quantum field theory in a nutshell |year=2003 |publisher=Princeton UP |id=ISBN 0-691-01019-6 See pp. 65–6 on the Casimir effect.
*cite book |last=Zwiebach |first=Barton |title=A First Course in String Theory |year=2004 |publisher=Cambridge UP |id=ISBN 0-521-83143-1 See p. 293.

External links

* [http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/week124.html This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics (Week 124)] , [http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/week126.html (Week 126)] , [http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/week147.html (Week 147)]
** [http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/qg-winter2004/zeta.pdf Euler’s Proof That 1 + 2 + 3 + · · · = −112]

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