Iterated exponentiation is defined by $$x \mapsto x^{x^{x^{\cdot^{\cdot^{\cdot}}}}}$$ or more conveniently, we denote by $^rx$ the expression $\underbrace{x^{x^{\cdot^{\cdot^{\cdot^{x}}}}}}_{r \text{ times}}$. Let us define the function $$\begin{array}{cccc} f_x:& \mathbb{N}& \to & \mathbb{R}\\ & r & \mapsto & ^rx. \end{array} $$ Euler proved that $\lim_{r \to \infty} f_x(r)$ exists for real numbers $x \in [e^{-e}, e^{1/e}]$ ([1]) (there is a convergence result in $\mathbb{C}$, but I am only interested in real numbers here).
Now we consider the Lambert $W$ function, which is defined to be the function satisfying $$W(z)e^{W(z)} = z.$$ Then we know from [1] that when $f_x$ converges, it converges to $$\lim_{r \to \infty} f_x(r) = \frac{W(-\ln(x))}{-\ln(x)}.$$

My question is: Given $\epsilon > 0$, how can we determine $r_0 \in \mathbb{N}$ such that $\left|f_x(r_0) - \frac{W(-\ln(x))}{-\ln(x)} \right| < \epsilon$? Is it possible to solve this algebraically, or is it only possible to do it numerically?

  • Recently I proposed an explicit series for the tetration in the range of bases $[e^{-e},\,e^{1/e}]$, where the tetration of the infinite height converges (see tinyurl.com/tetration). It converges to an analytic function satisfying ${^{r+1}x}=x^{\left({^r x}\right)}$, thus giving exact tetration values for positive integer heights. The first term gives the limiting value itself (that can be expressed via Lambert W-function), and next terms can be seen as correction terms (giving the speed of convergence, correction to the speed of convergence, and so on). – Vladimir Reshetnikov Oct 23 '16 at 19:46
up vote 3 down vote accepted

In principle, for this can the Abel-function or the Schröder-function be used. (In the following I change your notation to mine: $f_b(x)=b^x $ for the iterable base-function, $f^{oh}_b(x)$ for the $h$-times iterated function itself ($h$ is often called the "iteration-height).

The Schröder-function, say $\sigma(x)$, provides somehow an analogon to the $\operatorname{slog}(x)$ function, where the $\operatorname{slog}(x)$ gives directly the required iteration height to arrive from $x_0=1$ at $x_h$ by $f_b^{oh}(x_0) = x_h$ and so simply interpretes some given value $x$ as h'th iterate away from $x_0=1$, in short : interpretes any (suitable) given $x$ as $x_h$ and allows to compute the required $h$.

The Schröder function gives a similar model, it allows the construction $$ f_b^{oh}(x_0) = \sigma^{-1}(c^h \sigma(x_0) = x_h \tag 1$$ where $c$ is some constant depending on $b$. Let's denote the fixpoint, which is the limit $x_\infty$ by $\omega$ and $x_0$ and the $\varepsilon$ larger than $\omega$, then the/your question is:

$\qquad \qquad $ for which $h$ is $ \qquad f_b^{oh}(x_0) = x_h = \omega + \varepsilon \qquad \qquad$ ?

The Schröder-function requires now, that the involved power series are recentered around the fixpoint $\omega$. With that measure this can be computed by $$\begin{array} {rll} \sigma^{-1}(c^h \cdot \sigma(x_0-\omega) ) +\omega &=& x_h \\ c^h \cdot \sigma(x_0-\omega) &=& \sigma(x_h-\omega) \\ c^h &=& w= \sigma(x_h-\omega) / \sigma(x_0-\omega) \\ h &=& \log_c(w) \end{array}$$ Unfortunately, the $\sigma(x)$ and $\sigma(x-\omega)$ are not known to be expressible in simple forms, and also the coefficients of their powerseries have no simple general form, so not only the result of the powerseries $\sigma()$ is an approximation but even its coefficients are (in general). The Schröder-function is usually estimated by a limit expression (which I shall not show here).
In the tetration-forum there are a multitude of discussions how to compute the Abel function (representing the $\operatorname{slog}()$-concept) or the Schröder- (also denoted as Koenig's) function; an -in my view- conceptionally simple method for the construction/approximation of the power series for the Schröder-function is to use finite $n\times n$-"Carleman"-matrices where $n$ can be increased to get better approximations.

Carleman-matrices for some function $f(x)$ contain basically the coefficients of the power series of that $f(x)$ and as well of all its powers: $f(x)^c$ where $c$ as power for the $f(x)$ is here identical with the column-index. Denoting an infinite "Vandermonde"-vector $V(x)$ for $V(x) = \operatorname{rowvector}[1,x,x^2,x^3,x^4,...]$ we'll have with the Carlemanmatrix $F$ for the function $f(x)$ the form $$ V(x) \cdot F = V(f(x)) \\ V(f(x)) \cdot F = V(f^{o2}(x)) \\ \vdots \\ V(x) \cdot F^h =V(f^{oh}(x)) \tag 2$$ and fractional iteration (for the convergent cases) is then approximable using the diagonalization to a diagonal matrix $D$ $$ F = M \cdot D \cdot W \qquad \qquad \text{where } W=M^{-1} \tag 3$$ (I like to use in that formulae $W$ instead of the LaTex-difficult $M^{-1}$)

Then powers of $F$ can exactly be expressed by powers of the diagonal elements $d_{k,k}$ of $D$ only, which are scalar and, as far as being positive, admit any fractional power $d_{k,k}^h$.

Of course, using that diagonalization to find the Schröder-function, we need $F$ for $f(x+\omega)-\omega$ With this, the Schöder-function is conceptually $$ V(x_0-\omega) \cdot M = V( \sigma(x_0-\omega)) \tag 4$$

For truncated matrices $F$ (and only such we can actually use) the result on the rhs is not really of Vandermonde-form, (but the diagonal in $D$ is of that form) and we can approximate $$ V(x_0-\omega) \cdot M = Y_0\\ V(x_h-\omega) \cdot M = Y_h\\ $$ and find h for the required $D^h$ - such that $ Y_0 \cdot D^h = Y_h$ - based on evaluation of the entries in $Y_0$ and $Y_h$

For bases $b$ in the range $1 \lt b \lt \exp(\exp(-1)) \approx 1.44$ (with sufficient distance to that borders) and $32\times 32$-matrices we get approximations which can surely be used to, say, 8 digits precision, and there are many alternative procedures discussed in the tetration-forum to improve that approximation to many more digits and to allow bases nearer to the borders of the range.


So focusing on your question again: we do not have an "exact" expression for the required iteration-height ( "how far is $\omega + \varepsilon$ from $x_0$ in terms of the iteration-height $h$?" ), but the concept of $\operatorname{slog}()$ (which implements actually the so-called "Abel"-function) and of the Schröder-function give at least ideally a "closed-form" as an evaluatable power series (like that for $\exp(x)$) but there's not yet an easy relation to common "closed" expression like $\sqrt[n]{x}, \log(x),\exp(x)$


A short view into an actual example, using Pari/GP.
I use the base for exponentiation $b=\sqrt{2}$ which is nicely in the range $1\lt b\lt e^{1/e}$ . The attracting fixpoint is $x_\infty = t=2$ such that $b^t=t$.
To get the recentered Schröderfunction I define first the recentered and rescaled function $$g_t(x)=f_b(x+t) -t = (2^{x/2}-1)\cdot 2 $$ From this I get the Carlemanmatrix G which is triangular and the top-left segment looks like

  1             .           .          .         .         .
  0      0.693147           .          .         .         .
  0      0.120113    0.480453          .         .         .   = G
  0     0.0138760    0.166512   0.333025         .         .   size 6x6 shown 
  0    0.00120227   0.0336635   0.173126  0.230835         .
  0  0.0000833347  0.00500008  0.0500008  0.160003  0.160003

Here we see the coefficients for $\small (2^{x/2}-1)\cdot 2 = 0.693147 x + 0.120113 x^2 + 0.0138760 x^3 + 0.00120227 x^4 + ... $ in the second column.

The diagonalization of G using Pari/GP M=mateigen(G);W=M^-1;D=W*G*M would give some matrix M where the norming of the columns is unfortunate; to have them a Carlemanmatrix again, it is required, that the diagonal has only ones. Norming M to this form(and W accordingly) I get

         M                                            D                      W         
  1          .         .        .        .  .  |         1  |  1          .          .         .         .  .  |
  .          1         .        .        .  .  |  0.693147  |  .          1          .         .         .  .  |
  .   0.564723         1        .        .  .  |  0.480453  |  .  -0.564723          1         .         .  .  |
  .   0.299646   1.12945        1        .  .  |  0.333025  |  .   0.338178   -1.12945         1         .  .  |
  .   0.155932  0.918204  1.69417        1  .  |  0.230835  |  .  -0.210331   0.995267  -1.69417         1  .  |
  .  0.0803519  0.650299  1.85567  2.25889  1  |  0.160003  |  .   0.134455  -0.802616   1.97127  -2.25889  1  |
  -          -         -        -        -  -  +         -  +  -          -          -         -         -  -  +

We can see, that the diagonal entries $d_{k,k}$ of D are the consecutive powers of $\log(t)$
The coefficients of the powerseries for the Schröder-function are now in the second column of M so we have
$$ \small \sigma(x) = x + 0.564723 x^2 + 0.299646 x^3 + 0.155932 x^4 + ...$$

Having this, we try an example. We set $x_0$ not too far from the fixpoint, so that $\sigma(x_0-t) $ converges, for instance $x_0= 2.3$. Next we choose some small eps, say $\varepsilon = 0.001$ such that the critical $x_h = t+\varepsilon=2.001$.
We get $\sigma_0 = \sigma(x_0-t) \approx 0.360409 $ and $\sigma_h = \sigma(t+\varepsilon-t) = \sigma(\varepsilon) \approx 0.00100057 $ The required iteration height $h$ to arrive from $x_0$ at $x_h$ should now become
$$ h= \log(\sigma_h / \sigma_0) / \log(\log(t))) \approx 16.0613 $$ and indeed get by the follwing check:

x1=x0;for(k=1,16,x1=b^x1);x1  \\ iterate x0 16 time towards the fixpoint
 %227 = 2.00102

tt0+eps                        \\ the epsilon above the fixpoint
 %228 = 2.00100

x2=x0;for(k=1,17,x2=b^x2);x2   \\ iterate x0 17 time towards the fixpoint
 %229 = 2.00071

and we find, that the $\varepsilon$-point is between 16 and 17 iterations away from $x_0$.


A general remark: There is not yet an agreed solution for tetration in general. To show how there are different results for different methods of computing $x_h$ I've made a small essay for the discussion in our "tetrationforum". I used the base $b_4$ which is outside the range $1..\exp(\exp(-1))$ and $x_{-\infty}$ as fixpoint is complex and made pictures for that (few selected) methods making huge differences visible. The short presentation is here

  • Hi, thank you for your answer, and sorry for taking so long to answer. Your answer is great. Considering your remark that there is no exact exact expression for the required height, a (relatively close) upper bound would satisfy me as well :). The problem is that the expression I have to work with is not as easy as simply iterating $f_b(x) = b^x$. Also one more question, is your last example generalisable to some $b < 1$? – Laurent Hayez Oct 25 '16 at 19:36
  • @Laurent : a) you're welcome :-) b) at "one more question": in principle this works as well for bases $b$ in the "Euler-range" below $1$. However, the log of the fixpoint $t$ is negative, so its iterates converge to the fixpoint by oscillation around it. Moreover, its fractional powers and thus fractional iterates and the computation of the fractional part of the iteration-height $h$ introduces difficulties by that fractional powers of a negative number. For bases $b$ even below that Euler-range we have oscillating "convergence" to two oscillating points instead of to one fixpoint. – Gottfried Helms Oct 26 '16 at 0:28
  • My older study go.helms-net.de/math/tetdocs/Base004.htm gives some pictures for the iteration with base smaller than 1 and even outside the Euler-range (actually $b=0.04$) The standard-methods give complex values for fractional iterates, so your question, how to find some algebraical expression for the iteration-distance $h$ of two values $x_0>\omega$ and $x_h=\omega+\varepsilon$ must handle this problem... – Gottfried Helms Oct 26 '16 at 1:45

Once you have picked an $x$ to begin with, you're iterating the function $$ y \mapsto x^y $$ to find a fixed point for it. The general theory of function iteration now applies.

When $x$ is sufficiently small, the function will generally have two fixpoints, of which the smaller one is attractive and the larger is repelling. The slope $\frac{d}{dy}x^y$ is less than one at the attractive fixpoint, meaning that once you've gotten reasonably close to it, the distance between two successive iterations will decrease by about the same factor for each step.

During the iteration, you can compute and monitor these differences, and once they appear to stabilize you can use the theory of infinite geometric series to compute either an estimate of the fixpoint, or an estimate of the ratio between ${}^{r}x - {}^{r-1}x$ and the actual distance from ${}^rx$ to the fixpoint. This will allow you to compute a pretty good estimate of the limiting relation between $r$ and the remaining error.


Of course, if all you're interested in is finding the fixpoint, then this also suggests a quicker way to proceed than actually iterating $y\mapsto x^y$ one step at the time. You could either use the geometric-series estimate of the fixpoint alluded to above, or use Newton-Raphson iteration to find a root of $x^y-y$.

  • Hi, first of all, sorry for taking so long to answer. Your approach to iterating the function $y \mapsto x^y$ is what I have done at first. I know there are some theorems that give us the existence of fixed points, but I don't know any that give a general method, or give an algebraic formula to find the fixed point. Computing the fixed point is not really a problem with computers now. However, i am working on an expression that depends on some parameters, and I wanted to know if it was possible to find a general formula for the fixed point. Maybe the question was to vague and I should edit it? – Laurent Hayez Oct 25 '16 at 19:07

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