# Exercising divergent summations: $\lim 1-2+4-6+9-12+16-20+\ldots-\ldots$

I'm trying to make sense of some (assumed to be) simple exercises in divergent summation. One example I cannot resolve. First I assume the sequence of binomialcoefficients $\{ b_k = \binom k2 \}_{k=2\to\infty}=\{1,3,6,10,15,...\}$
Then to assign a meaningful value to the alternating sum $S= 1-3+6+10....$ I compute the Abel-sum

$\qquad S = \lim_{x \to 1} 1-3x+6x^2-10x^3+...-... = {1 \over (1+x)^3 } = 1/8$ (Abel)

But I want to proceed one more step. The sequence of partial sums may be denoted as

$\{ c_k \}_{k=0\to\infty}=\{1,-2,4,-6,9,-12,16,-20,...\}$

Q - my question is: what is the sum $T = 1-2+4-6+9...$ ?

I tried two approaches, but I'm lost. The generating function is simply $1/(1+x)^3/(1-x)$ but here I cannot let x approach 1, so the simple application of the Abel-sum is impossible. Also the Euler-sum seems to not to converge; instead I get increasing partial sums like k/16 for the k'th partial sum .

On the other hand, I observe, that the coefficients are near the squares, so if I consider the alternating $\zeta$ (usually called Dirichlet-$\eta$)

$\qquad \qquad \begin{eqnarray} X &=& 1 - 2.25 + 4 - 6.25 + 9 - 12.25 + ... \\ &=&( 4 - 9 + 16 - 25 + ... - ...)/4 \\ &=& (1-\eta(-2))/4 \\ &=& (1-0)/4 = {1 \over 4} \end{eqnarray}$

then in T I had just each second coefficient $1/4$ above that of the $\eta$-series in X and possibly could go along something like

$\qquad \qquad \begin{eqnarray} T &=& 1 - (2.25-0.25) + 4 - (6.25-0.25) + ... - ... \\ &=& X + 0.25*\zeta(0) \\ &=& X-1/8 = {1 \over 8} \end{eqnarray}$

But surely this is only an outline how I could come nearer to a solution. How could I actually proceed here?

[update]: One more idea was to make use of reordering summation. The coefficients $c_k$ can be seen as rowsums of the following matrix:

$\qquad \small \begin{array} {rrrrr} 1 & . & . & . & . & . &\ldots\\ -3 & 1 & . & . & . & . \\ 6 & -3 & 1 & . & . & . \\ -10 & 6 & -3 & 1 & . & . \\ 15 & -10 & 6 & -3 & 1 & . \\ -21 & 15 & -10 & 6 & -3 & 1 & \ldots \\ ... & ... \\ \end{array}$

so that all columns evaluate to $1/8$ due to the Abel-summation. If I add all that columnsums, I should have to write $\zeta(0)*1/8$ and evaluate $T=-1/16$ (Q&D) now. But this is all fumbling, because I not even reflect the infinite application of downshifting by rows when evaluating the columns...

[update2]: Hmm. I played with the reciprocals of the series. I just did the "paper&pen" divisions and got:
$\small \qquad \qquad 1 \qquad : 1-3x+6x^2-10x^3+15x^4-21x^5+...-...=1+3x+3x^2+1x^3=(1+x)^3=|_{x=1}8$
and
$\small \qquad \qquad 1 \qquad : 1-2x+4x^2-6x^3+9x^4-12x^5+...-...=1+2x-2x^3-1x^4=(1+x)^3(1-x)=|_{x=1}0$
So this is also immediately what Lubos pointed out. Good for my intuition, I hope this model is not too much misleading in other obvious cases....

• Re-Ordering the matrix is only allowed if you keep the same shape of both the summation, which isn't the case here, because you screw up limits, as the lenght of the summation on both sides of the matrix is not defined. Take note that regularized value squared of a sum isn't equal to the sum squared. For an example see math.stackexchange.com/questions/1470036/… Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 19:50
• An simple example would be $(\sum_{n=1}^{\inf} 1)^2 != \zeta(0)^2=(-1/2)^2$ which is wrong. Reordering diagonally would give $\sum_{n=1}^{\inf} \sum_{c=1}^{n} 1)=\sum_{n=1}^{\inf} n)=-1/12$ Also wrong, and correct would reordering squared (if you square things keep things squared). $\sum_{n=1}^{\inf} 2n-1)=2*\zeta(-1)-\zeta(0)=1/3$ Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 19:56

Dear Gottfried, as you correctly observe, the sum is the Taylor expansion of $$\frac{1}{(1+x)^3 (1-x)}$$ for $x=1$. This function has a pole at $x=1$, so the result is a genuine divergence, the standard number "infinity" (without a specification of the phase) that is inverse to zero. The fact that some seemingly divergent sums have finite values doesn't mean that all of them have finite values.

Your second method is illegitimate because it clumps the neighboring values of $n$ - the exponents in the powers of $x$ - which means that the justification isn't robust under any infinitesimal deformations of the parameters. Note that it wasn't really legitimate that you wrote $1+1+1+\dots = \zeta(0)$. In fact, $\zeta(0)-n$ for any integer $n$ - and in fact, not only integer - would be equally (un)justified. In fact, none of them gives the right result.

It's a misconception that $1+1+1+\dots = -1/2$ "always" holds. It's only true if the terms $1$ are associated with values of $n$ that go over positive integers. But if they go over non-negative integers, the result would be $+1/2$, and so on.

• Dear Lubos, thank you for the kind answer. Yes, I'm also trying to get a grip of how to keep such sum-notation "in a context" either as limit of a power- or of a dirichlet-series, letting the indeterminate x or s approach 1. Here I understand, that the introduction of the x or s-parameter serves also as an index for an unique context for each coefficient (for instance also to prevent arbitrary reordering of conditionally convergent series). I'll have to "meditate" on your answer a bit today...:-) Commented May 25, 2011 at 14:18
• Dear Gottfried, thanks for your interest in these matters. I would still warn you that it may be ill-advised to attribute a finite answer to any series with individual numbers. Those things may sense if there's some glimpse of a functional dependence of the terms, and even in that case one should avoid the ad hoc random clustering of the terms - this is how the convergent sums may be calculated, but that's exactly how the divergent things can't be treated. A simple example: $1-1+1-1+1-1...$ is equal to $1/2$ in any sensible definition. Commented May 25, 2011 at 19:50
• But if you combine the neighbors into pairs, you may get 0+0+0... = 0, or if you single out the first 1, you get 1-0-0-0=1... The right result $1/2$ is actually the arithmetic average of these guesses, but things are usually not that simple in general. Commented May 25, 2011 at 19:51
• Dear Lubos - may I ask you to give my new answer a look and to comment about the applicability of the general ansatz? Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 22:35

I have an answer, applying a principle of which I do not yet know how far this is applicable in general or whether at all. It assumes, that as far as a given series can be expressed as linear combination of (unshifted) formal zeta- and (Dirichlet)-eta series then the evaluation of the series can be taken by evaluation of the same combination of zeta and eta-values, even if divergent (possibly with the exception of the zeta at 1).

So this would give the following regularized result:

Denote the original series by $T$, then let $$f(s) = {1\over 1^s }-{2\over 2^s}+{4\over 3^s}-{6\over 4^s}+{9\over 5^s}- \cdots + \cdots \tag 1$$ of course attempting to justify $T = \lim_{s \to 0} f(s)$.

This is convergent for $s \gt 3$ . For this cases we can decompose $$\begin{array}{rcrll} 8 f(s) &=& & {8\over 1^s }-{16\over 2^s}+{32\over 3^s}-{48\over 4^s}+{72\over 5^s}- \cdots + \cdots \\ &=& 1(&{1\over 1^s }+{1\over 2^s}+{1\over 3^s}+{1\over 4^s}+{1\over 5^s}+ \cdots + \cdots &)\\ & & + 1(&{1\over 1^s }-{1\over 2^s}+{1\over 3^s}-{1\over 4^s}+{1\over 5^s}- \cdots + \cdots&) \\ & & + 4(&{1\over 1^s }-{2\over 2^s}+{3\over 3^s}-{4\over 4^s}+{5\over 5^s}- \cdots + \cdots & ) \\ & & + 2(&{1\over 1^s }-{4\over 2^s}+{9\over 3^s}-{16\over 4^s}+{25\over 5^s}- \cdots + \cdots & ) \\ &\underset{s \gt 3}=& &1 \zeta(s)+1\eta(s)+4\eta(s-1)+2\eta(s-2) \end{array} \\ \phantom{dummy } \\ f(s) \underset{s \gt 3} = {\zeta(s)+\eta(s)\over 8} + {\eta(s-1)\over 2} + {\eta(s-2)\over 4} \qquad \qquad \qquad \tag 2$$ and from this, assuming it is regularizable for setting $s=0$ $$T = f(0) \underset{\mathcal Z}{=} {\zeta(0)+\eta(0)\over 8} + {\eta(-1)\over 2} + {\eta(-2)\over 4} = 0 + {1\over4}\cdot{1\over 2} + 0 = {1\over 8} \tag 3$$ $\qquad \qquad$ where "$\mathcal Z$" means zeta-regularization

This is surely a nice consideration and general scheme, however I don't know from which general theorems for divergent series I can extract this as an explicite recipe (and for what, possibly limited, cases).

• Dear Gottfried, it's the most convincing proof of the finite value yet. But I still believe that the fact that the arguments are shifted from $s$ to $s-1$ and $s-2$ and you are combining several of them,even though the original sum had a uniform argument $s$, if you get my point, is illegitimate in the zeta regularization. There may be a set of rules in which your would be an allowed value - but maybe those rules would be allow any value. I sort of feel why your calculation would produce physically wrong results in physics. Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 13:41

Let me try to give one more method for the computation of this divergent series, which resorts to $\zeta$-function regularization only in the very last step.

First, let us recall that the finite sums $$\mathcal T_p(N) \equiv \sum_{m=1}^N (-1)^{m-1} m^p = 1-2^p+3^p+\ldots \pm N^p$$ can be computed as the derivatives at the origin of the generating function $$G_N(z) =\sum_{p=0}^\infty \mathcal T_p(N) \frac{z^p}{p!}=\sum_{m=1}^N(-1)^{m-1}\sum_{p=0}^\infty \frac{(mz)^p}{p!}= \sum_{m=1}^N(-1)^{m-1}e^{mz}=\frac{1+(-1)^{N+1} e^{Nz}}{1+e^{-z}},$$ In particular \begin{aligned} \mathcal T_1(N)=&\ 1-2+3-4+\ldots\pm N=\frac{(-1)^{N+1}(2N+1)-1}{4}, \\ \mathcal T_2(N)=&\ 1-4+9-16+\ldots\pm N^2=\frac{(-1)^{N+1}}{2}N(N+1). \end{aligned} Furthermore, the formal limit $N\to\infty$ gives the Euler sum of the corresponding divergent series: $$s_p=\sum_{n=1}^\infty (-1)^{m-1}m^p=1-2^p+3^p+\ldots$$ are obtanied from the generating function $$G(z)=\sum_{p=0}^\infty s_p \frac{z^p}{p!}=\frac{1}{1+e^{-z}},$$ which gives \begin{aligned} s_0=&\ 1-1+1-1+\ldots=\frac{1}{2}\ ,\\ s_1=&\ 1-2+3-4+\ldots=\frac{1}{4}\ ,\\ s_2=&\ 1-4+9-16+\ldots=0. \end{aligned} After these preparations we get, $$S=\sum_{n=2}^\infty (-1)^n\frac{n(n-1)}{2}=\frac{1}{2}(s_1-s_2)=\frac{1}{8},$$ and $$T=\sum_{n=2}^\infty \sum_{l=2}^n (-1)^l \frac{l(l-1)}{2}=\frac{1}{2}\sum_{n=1}^\infty\left( \mathcal T_1(n)-\mathcal T_2(n)\right)=\frac{1}{8}\sum_{n=1}^\infty((-1)^{n-1}-1)=\frac{1}{8}.$$ In the last step we have used both that $s_0=1/2$ and $\zeta(0)=-1/2$.

• Very nice, thank you! I'll go later through this lucid explanation! Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 0:10
• This is perhaps ironic, or perhaps sweet... I did a regression-procedure taking the sequence of T-coefficients as Y-variable, and assuming we need a decomposition by zeta- and (Dirichlet-) eta-series (because it is not Abel summable with occurence of a term $\lim _{t\to1} 1/(1-t)$) I took as vector of X-variables the sequences according to $\zeta(0),\zeta(-1),\zeta(-2),\zeta(-3),\eta(0),\eta(-1),\eta(-2),\eta(-3)$. The regression gave immediately the perfect decomposition as $T= (\zeta(0)+\eta(0)+4\eta(-1)+2\eta(-2))/8 = 1/8$ This must have been be too simple ... Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 0:34
• Upps, just noticed I had that solution in principle in my older answer, but without that argument of Abel-nonsummability leading to the requirement of using zeta-regularisation and the nice quickshot of simply using multiple regression ... Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 0:57

The elementary Ramanujan sum of $1-2+4-6+9-\cdots$ is 1/4 and the series belongs to the class $R=2$.

In general, for $f(x)=b(x)/(1-x)$ and $b(x)$ Abel summable, the sum of $f(1)$ is $-b'(1) + b(1)/2$, with $b'(x)=xdb(x)/dx$.

Edit 1. Verification. $$\frac{1}{(1+x)^3(1-x)}=\frac{x}{8(1-x)}+\frac{8+7x+4x^2+x^3}{8(1+x)^3}~.$$ The first term on the right-hand side corresponds to $$\frac{1}{8}(1+1+1+\cdots)=-\frac{1}{16}$$ and the second term is Abel summable to $5/16$ (the value at $x=1$). Linearity implies that the sum is $-1/16 + 5/16 = 1/4$.

Edit 2. The shifted series $0+1-2+4-\cdots=1/8$.

The shifted series corresponds to $x$ times the previous series, thus $$\frac{x}{(1+x)^3(1-x)}=\frac{x}{8(1-x)}-\frac{x}{8}+\frac{8x+7x^2+4x^3+x^4}{8(1+x)^3}~.$$ As before, linearity implies that the sum is $-1/16-1/8+5/16=1/8$.