The problem asks to compute $f(2020)$ knowing that

$f(1) = 1$ and $f(m+n)+f(m-n)=\dfrac 12(f(2n) + f(2m))$ for integers $m,n$ such that $m>n\ge 1$.

My try :

I conjectured $f(n) = kn^2$ where $k$ is a random constant which has to be $1$ due to $f(1) = 1$

I plugged different values in $n$ and $m$ trying to prove this by induction but in vain.

it seem there is something missing.

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    $\begingroup$ Is there a typo? Is it $f(m+n)+f(m-n)$? You typed $f(m+n)+m-n$. $\endgroup$ – Yip Jung Hon May 31 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ Are $m,n$ integers? Is it $f(m+n)+f(m-n)$ or $f(m+n)+m-n$? How would you calculate $f(2)$ and $f(3)$? Something seems to be wrong in your statement... $\endgroup$ – R.J. Etienne May 31 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ yes sorry im fixing it now $\endgroup$ – ahmed May 31 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ I realised I made a mistake in my answer, so I'm deleting it for now. I'll try the problem again tomorrow. Though it doesn't seem to hard via induction $\endgroup$ – Yip Jung Hon May 31 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ There is no unique answer as your system has $3$ degrees of freedom. That is, you need $3$ initial conditions in order to have a unique solution. $\endgroup$ – QC_QAOA May 31 at 16:47

There is no unique answer but assumptions can be made that give a unique answer. Suppose $f(x)$ can be written in the form

$$f(x)=\sum_{i=0}^\infty a_i x^i$$

where $a_i$ are constants that could be zero. Then


$$=2\sum_{i=0}^\infty a_i\left(\sum_{j=0}^i\binom{i}{j}n^jm^{i-j}\right)+2\sum_{i=0}^\infty a_i\left(\sum_{j=0}^i\binom{i}{j}(-1)^jn^jm^{i-j}\right)$$

$$-\sum_{i=0}^\infty a_i2^in^i-\sum_{i=0}^\infty a_i 2^i m^i$$


It is useful for us to examine this expression at $m=n^3$. Then it becomes

$$0=2\sum_{i=0}^\infty a_i\left(\sum_{j=0}^i\binom{i}{j}n^{3i-2j}\right)+2\sum_{i=0}^\infty a_i\left(\sum_{j=0}^i\binom{i}{j}(-1)^jn^{3i-2j}\right)$$

$$-\sum_{i=0}^\infty a_i2^in^i-\sum_{i=0}^\infty a_i 2^i n^{3i}$$


Basically, we will show that for $i\geq 3$, the coefficient on $a_i$ is a polynomial of $n$ with degree $n^{3i}$. Now that we know what to look for, this is easy to see. For any $i$, the highest power of $n$ in the coefficient of $a_i$ will be


For $i\geq 3$, this will always be nonzero. In order to make the next part clear, denote these polynomials in front of $a_i$ by $p_i$ and define $M_i-1$ to be the maximum coefficient (in terms of absolute value) in the polynomials in the set $\{p_0,p_1,\dots,p_i\}$. Further, define $A_i$ to be $\max\{|a_0|,|a_1|,\dots,|a_i|\}$. Then we know

$$\sum_{j=0}^i a_j p_j\leq \sum_{j=0}^i |a_j p_j|\leq \sum_{j=1}^i A_i M_i n^{3j}+A_iM_in^2=A_i M_i\left[ \frac{n^{3i+3}-n^3}{n^3-1}+n^2\right]$$

But this implies

$$\lim_{n\to\infty}\frac{A_i M_i\left[ \frac{n^{3i+3}-n^3}{n^3-1}+n^2\right]}{p_{i+1}}=\lim_{n\to\infty}A_iM_i \frac{1}{n^3-1}=0$$

We conclude that for all $i\geq 3$, there exists an $N$ such that $n\geq N$ implies

$$\left|\sum_{j=0}^i a_j p_j\right|<|a_{i+1}p_{i+1}|$$

We can manually check that this condition also holds for $i=0$ and $i=2$. Of course, this implies that all the coefficients $a_i$ must be zero (else the expression would not be zero as $n$ goes to infinity). However, there is one exception: $p_2=0$ which means that $a_2$ is in fact a free variable. That is


From the initial condition, we conclude $f(x)=x^2$. Of course, all of this followed from the assumption that $f(x)$ could be expanded as a (possibly) infinite polynomial. There is not a nice, unique solution if you do not use this assumption. In fact, a whole infinite family of solutions can be constructed quite easily. That is, your solution is uniquely determined by the set $\{f(1),f(2),f(3)\}$. I will now prove this by strong induction:

Set $m=2$ and $n=1$. Then


Now, assume we are able to construct $\{f(1),f(2),\dots,f(N)\}$ using a linear combination of $\{f(1),f(2),f(3)\}$ (where $N$ is an even number greater than or equal to $4$). If we can show how to construct $f(N+1)$ and $f(N+2)$, using a linear combination of this set, then we are done. This is easily done by first choosing: $m=\frac{N+2}{2}$ and $n=1$. Then



Note that each of these is a linear combination of our set (we assumed this by strong induction) as

$$\frac{N+2}{2}+1=\frac{N}{2}+2\leq N$$

(as $N\geq 4$). For $f(N+1)$, let $m=\frac{N+2}{2}$ and $n=\frac{N}{2}$. Then



However, we know all of these can be made as a linear combination of our set. We just showed that $f(N+2)$ can be constructed and we assumed $f(N)$ could be by induction. Thus, every $f(n)$ can be constructed from the set $\{f(1),f(2),f(3)\}$. For example, if


then $f(x)=x^2$ and $f(2020)=2020^2=4080400$. However, if



$$f(n)=\{1,2,3,6,9,14,17\}\text{ and }f(2020)=1442866$$

If we stick with the set $\{f(1),f(2),f(3)\}$, then it will always be the case that

$$f(2020)=335483 f(1)-211383 f(2)+510050 f(3)$$

Of course, any three initial conditions will produce a unique solution to your functional equation. That is, if you are given


then it is possible to back out $f(x)$ for any value of $x$. This is apparent as

$$f(n_1)=a_1 f(1)+b_1f(2)+c_1 f(3)$$

$$f(n_2)=a_2 f(1)+b_2f(2)+c_2 f(3)$$

$$f(n_2)=a_3 f(1)+b_3f(2)+c_3 f(3)$$

(we just showed this by strong induction). Rearranging and solving for $\{f(1),f(2),f(3)\}$ will give the desired result. Is this system ever unsolvable? Well that depends if

$$\begin{vmatrix} a_1 & b_1 & c_1\\ a_2 & b_2 & c_2\\ a_3 & b_3 & c_3 \end{vmatrix}$$

can ever be equal to zero. I do not have a proof, but I believe that it should be possible to show by induction that this is always non-zero. If this were the case, the the functional equation would be completely determined by any three initial values.

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  • $\begingroup$ wow, I need some time to read & hopefully understand ^^ thanks for the answer $\endgroup$ – ahmed May 31 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ Let's pretend the first half of your answer is just not there, and concentrate on the second one. Now see, using some other combinations of $\{m,n\}$ you might or might not obtain some conditions on $\{f(1),f(2),f(3)\}$. $\endgroup$ – Ivan Neretin May 31 at 19:06

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