Deriving fourier series using complex numbers - introduction

So I know that there exist a basis in $L^2$ which is a set of functions in the form $e^{inx}$. It turns out that this is an orthonormal basis. Also given any $f \in L^2$, there exists a sequence of complex numbers $(c_n)$ such that $$f = \sum_{n \in \mathbb{Z}}{c_ne^{inz}}$$ It turns out these sequences lie in the vector space $l^2$.

What I am confused about is that in my lecture notes, I have the following derivation. Suppose $f = \sum_{n \in \mathbb{Z}}{c_ne^{inz}}$ is the fourier series of $f :[-\pi,\pi] \rightarrow \mathbb{C}$ Then by definition: \begin{align} c_n &= \frac{1}{2\pi}\int_{-\pi}^{\pi}f(x)e^{-inx} dx \\ c_{-n} &= \overline{c_n} = \frac{1}{2\pi} \int_{-\pi}^{\pi}f(x)e^{inx} dx \end{align}

And so we can rewrite the fourier series as following: $$\sum_{n=\infty}^{\infty}c_n e^{int} = c_0 + \sum_{n=1}^{\infty}\left( c_ne^{int}+c_{-n}e^{-int} \right)$$

And this is where my problem is. If someeone could explain how the one single sum series is equal to a constant + sum of series with starting n = 1, it would be appreciated. I am basically looking for a "summary" of what fourier series are. I've googled countless pdfs and lecture but they all start of with the definition that $$f(t) = c_n + \sum a_n \cos{nt} + b_n \sin{nt}$$. I can derive that using my above definition (sub $c_n = a_n + ib_n$) but I'd like to know where its coming from and what fourier series actually are.

• Atually instead of spending half an hour typing this, I should've just read the wiki page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourier_series under the "exponential fourier series" section. but I am still looking for someone to put it into easier terms for me. Wiki helps me mathematically but not intuitvely. – Tyler Hilton Oct 11 '11 at 1:25
• "If someone could explain how the one single sum series is equal to a constant + sum of series with starting $n = 1$, it would be appreciated. " - $\sum\limits_{n=-\infty}^\infty \alpha_n=\left(\sum\limits_{n=-\infty}^{-1} \alpha_n\right)+\alpha_0+\left(\sum\limits_{n=1}^\infty \alpha_n\right)=\alpha_0+\sum\limits_{n=1}^\infty (\alpha_{-n}+\alpha_n)$. – J. M. is a poor mathematician Oct 11 '11 at 1:37

I'm not quite sure what you're asking...but...first, in the world of complex variables trigonometric functions and exponential functions all unify. Thus by moving to complexes we have a nice uniform way of dealing with sine and cosine.

If $c_n=a_n+ib_n$, then $$c_ne^{int}+c_{-n}e^{-int} = c_ne^{int}+\bar{c_{n}}e^{-int} =$$ $$(a_n+ib_n)(\cos(nt)+i\sin(nt))+(a_n-ib_n)(\cos(nt)-i\sin(nt)) = 2a_n\cos(nt)-2b_n\sin(nt)$$

So dealing with trig functions or exponentials is just a matter of notation/taste.

Now to address your question as to what these series are for...

Recall that an analytic function is equal to its Taylor series:

$$f(x) = \sum\limits_{k=0}^\infty \frac{f^{(k)}(a)}{k!}(x-a)^k$$

If we stop this sum, say at $N$, we have

$$f(x) \approx \sum\limits_{k=0}^N \frac{f^{(k)}(a)}{k!}(x-a)^k$$

which is a polynomial approximation of $f(x)$. Polynomials are nice. Taylor polynomials give us easily understood approximations of our function.

Now Fourier series do essentially the same thing for periodic functions. If we stop the summation at some $N$, we get a Fourier polynomial. This is a nice approximation made up of "easy" to understand trig functions.

From a theoretic viewpoint, Taylor series are wonderful because you can treat analytic functions sort of like polynomials. Fourier series allow one to treat nice periodic functions sort of like trig functions.