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Nilakantha,

.. Euler and p

Shailesh A Shirali

at the Rishi Valley School

(Krishnamurti Foundation

of India), Rishi Valley,

Andhra Pradesh, for more

than ten years and is

currently the Principal. He

has been involved in the

Mathematical Olympiad

Programme since 1988. He

has a deep interest in

talking and writing about

mathematics, particularly

about its historical

aspects. He is also

interested in problem

solving (particularly in the

fields of elementary

number theory, geometry

and combinatorics).

1

The well known paradox of

Achilles and the tortoise is

resolved by studying the

underlying geometric series.

GENERAL ⎜ ARTICLE

+...

(4)

GENERAL ⎜ ARTICLE

A theorem of

Riemann's

(extremely

surprising at first

encounter) states

! thatif Siai

converges but not

absolutely (that is,

Si| ai| diverges),

then by suitably

rearranging the

terms we can get

the resulting series

to converge to any

desired number

whatever!

GENERAL ⎜ ARTICLE

GENERAL ⎜ ARTICLE

2

Or so we think ! The facts are

unfortunately not too well known.

In the text Yuktibhasa , the series

is credited to Madhava of

Sangamagrama ( 1 3 5 0 - 1 4 1 0 ) ,

who lived almost a full century

before Nilakantha

.. . The result

is stated as follows: if c is the

circumference of a circle of

diameter d , then

4 d 4 d 4 d 4d

c =4 d - + - + -L.

3 5 7 9

See S Balachandra Rao in

Suggested Reading for further

details.

GENERAL ⎜ ARTICLE

Figure 1

GENERAL ⎜ ARTICLE

GENERAL ⎜ ARTICLE

of S 1/n2?

n

The question

remained a

mystery and Jakob

Bernoulli

expressed the

feelings of his

contemporaries

when he wrote:

"...If anyone finds

and communicates

to us that which till

now has eluded

our efforts, great

will be our

gratitude...". In

1734 Euler

produced a

solution using a

marvellous piece

of reasoning.

GENERAL ⎜ ARTICLE

GENERAL ⎜ ARTICLE

GENERAL ⎜ ARTICLE

GENERAL ⎜ ARTICLE

GENERAL ⎜ ARTICLE

proofs of the

Gregory–

Nilakantha

. . series

are complete in

every respect,

while Nilakantha's

..

proof is only

slightly incomplete.

The missing steps

are very minor and

can easily be filled

in, without much

effort. Considering

the era in which

the proof was

written — a time

when the notion of

limit was non-

existent elsewhere

in the world — this

is a remarkable

achievement on

the author's part.

GENERAL ⎜ ARTICLE

However when we

come to Euler's

evaluation of

Sn 1/n2, we have

quite a different

situation before us.

While we can sit

back and marvel at

the sheer virtuosity

and brilliance of

Euler's work, at its

freshness and

vitality, we are at

the same time

forced to admit that

it is far from being

a proof.

GENERAL ⎜ ARTICLE

nineteenth century,

complex analysis

had been placed

on an extremely

secure foundation.

Obviously, this

owes in

considerable

measure to the

pioneering work

done by Euler.

Suggested Reading

Press. Calcutta, 1967

T A Sarasvati Amma. Geometry in Ancient and Medieval India. Motilal

Banarasidass. Delhi, 1979

John B Conway. Functions of One Complex Variable. Springer Verlag.

2nd Edn., 1980.

Ranjan Roy. The Discovery of the Series Formula for p by Leibniz,

Gregory and Nilkantha. Mathematics Magazine. published by the

MAA. Vol.63. No.5, December 1990.

S Balachandra Rao. Indian Mathematics and Astronomy – Some

Landmarks. Jnana Deep Publications. Bangalore, 1994 Address for Correspondence

Shailesh A Shirali

Konrad Knopp. Theory of Functions Part II. Dover Books

Rishi Valley School

John Stillwell. Mathematics and its History. Springer Verlag.

Rishi Valley 517 352

Undergraduate Texts in Mathematics.

Chittoor Dist. (AP), India.

E C Titchmarsh. A Theory of Functions. Oxford University Press.

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