What is the sum of the infinite sequence 1, -1, 1, -1, 1…..?

This is a really interesting puzzle to study – which fits very well when studying geometric series, proof and the history of maths.

The two most intuitive answers are either that it has no sum or that it sums to zero.  If you group the pattern into pairs, then each pair (1, -1) = 0.  However if you group the pattern by first leaving the 1, then grouping pairs of (-1,1) you would end up with a sum of 1.

Firstly it’s worth seeing why we shouldn’t just use our formula for a geometric series:

with r as the multiplicative constant of -1.  This formula requires that the absolute value of r is less than 1 – otherwise the series will not converge.

The series 1,-1,1,-1…. is called Grandi’s series – after a 17th century Italian mathematician (pictured) – and sparked a few hundred years worth of heated mathematical debate as to what the correct summation was.

cesaro summation

Using the Cesaro method (explanation pasted from here )

If an = (−1)n+1 for n ≥ 1. That is, {an} is the sequence

1, -1, 1, -1, \ldots.\,

Then the sequence of partial sums {sn} is

1, 0, 1, 0, \ldots,\,

so whilst the series not converge, if we calculate the terms of the sequence {(s1 + … + sn)/n} we get:

\frac{1}{1}, \,\frac{1}{2}, \,\frac{2}{3}, \,\frac{2}{4}, \,\frac{3}{5}, \,\frac{3}{6}, \,\frac{4}{7}, \,\frac{4}{8}, \,\ldots,

so that

\lim_{n\to\infty} \frac{s_1 + \cdots + s_n}{n} = 1/2.

So, using different methods we have shown that this series “should” have a summation of 0 (grouping in pairs), or that it “should” have a sum of 1 (grouping in pairs after the first 1), or that it “should” have no sum as it simply oscillates, or that it “should”  have a Cesaro sum of 1/2 – no wonder it caused so much consternation amongst mathematicians!

This approach can be extended to the complex series, 1 + i + i^2 + i^3 + i^4 + i^5 + \cdots which is looked at in the blog  God Plays Dice

This is a really great example of how different proofs can sometimes lead to different (and unexpected) results. What does this say about the nature of proof?

Essential resources for IB students:

1) Revision Village

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Revision Village has been put together to help IB students with topic revision both for during the course and for the end of Year 12 school exams and Year 13 final exams.  I would strongly recommend students use this as a resource during the course (not just for final revision in Y13!) There are specific resources for HL and SL students for both Analysis and Applications.

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There is a comprehensive Questionbank takes you to a breakdown of each main subject area (e.g. Algebra, Calculus etc) and then provides a large bank of graded questions.  What I like about this is that you are given a difficulty rating, as well as a mark scheme and also a worked video tutorial.  Really useful!

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The Practice Exams section takes you to a large number of ready made quizzes, exams and predicted papers.   These all have worked solutions and allow you to focus on specific topics or start general revision.  This also has some excellent challenging questions for those students aiming for 6s and 7s.

Each course also has a dedicated video tutorial section which provides 5-15 minute tutorial videos on every single syllabus part – handily sorted into topic categories.

2) Exploration Guides and Paper 3 Resources

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I’ve put together four comprehensive pdf guides to help students prepare for their exploration coursework and Paper 3 investigations. The exploration guides talk through the marking criteria, common student mistakes, excellent ideas for explorations, technology advice, modeling methods and a variety of statistical techniques with detailed explanations. I’ve also made 17 full investigation questions which are also excellent starting points for explorations.  The Exploration Guides can be downloaded here and the Paper 3 Questions can be downloaded here.