# College Math Teaching

## February 5, 2016

### More fun with selective sums of divergent series

Just a reminder: if $\sum_{k=1}^{\infty} a_k$ is a series and $c_1, c_2, ...c_n ,,$ is some sequence consisting of 0’s and 1’s then a selective sum of the series is $\sum_{k=1}^{\infty} c_k a_k$. The selective sum concept is discussed in the MAA book Real Infinite Series (MAA Textbooks) by Bonar and Khoury (2006) and I was introduced to the concept by Ferdinands’s article Selective Sums of an Infinite Series in the June 2015 edition of Mathematics Magazine (Vol. 88, 179-185).

There is much of interest there, especially if one considers convergent series or alternating series.

This post will be about divergent series of positive terms for which $lim_{n \rightarrow \infty} a_n = 0$ and $a_{n+1} < a_n$ for all $n$.

The first fun result is this one: any selected $x > 0$ is a selective sum of such a series. The proof of this isn’t that bad. Since $lim_{n \rightarrow \infty} a_n = 0$ we can find a smallest $n$ such that $a_n \leq x$. Clearly if $a_n = x$ we are done: our selective sum has $c_n = 1$ and the rest of the $c_k = 0$.

If not, set $n_1 = n$ and note that because the series diverges, there is a largest $m_1$ so that $\sum_{k=n_1}^{m_1} a_k \leq x$. Now if $\sum_{k=n_1}^{m_1} a_k = x$ we are done, else let $\epsilon_1 = x - \sum_{k=n_1}^{m_1} a_k$ and note $\epsilon_1 < a_{m_1+1}$. Now because the $a_k$ tend to zero, there is some first $n_2$ so that $a_{n_2} \leq \epsilon_1$. If this is equality then the required sum is $a_{n_2} + \sum_{k=n_1}^{m_1} a_k$, else we can find the largest $m_2$ so that $\sum_{k=n_1}^{m_1} a_k + \sum_{k=n_2}^{m_2} a_k \leq x$

This procedure can be continued indefinitely. So if we label $\sum_{k=n_j}^{m_{j}} a_k = s_j$ we see that $s_1 + s_2 + ...s_{n} = t_{n}$ form an increasing, bounded sequence which converges to the least upper bound of its range, and it isn’t hard to see that the least upper bound is $x$ because $x-t_{n} =\epsilon_n < a_{m_n+1}$

So now that we can obtain any positive real number as the selective sum of such a series, what can we say about the set of all selective sums for which almost all of the $c_k = 0$ (that is, all but a finite number of the $c_k$ are zero).

Answer: the set of all such selective sums are dense in the real line, and this isn’t that hard to see, given our above construction. Let $(a,b)$ be any open interval in the real line and let $a < x < b$. Then one can find some $N$ such that for all $n > N$ we have $x - a_n > a$. Now consider our construction and choose $m$ large enough such that $x - t_m > x - a_n > a$. Then the $t_m$ represents the finite selected sum that lies in the interval $(a,b)$.

We can be even more specific if we now look at a specific series, such as the harmonic series $\sum_{k=1}^{\infty} \frac{1}{k}$. We know that the set of finite selected sums forms a dense subset of the real line. But it turns out that the set of select sums is the rationals. I’ll give a slightly different proof than one finds in Bonar and Khoury.

First we prove that every rational in $(0,1]$ is a finite select sum. Clearly 1 is a finite select sum. Otherwise: Given $\frac{p}{q}$ we can find the minimum $n$ so that $\frac{1}{n} \leq \frac{p}{q} < \frac{1}{n-1}$. If $\frac{p}{q} = \frac{1}{n}$ we are done. Otherwise: the strict inequality shows that $pn-p < q$ which means $pn-q < p$. Then note $\frac{p}{q} - \frac{1}{n} = \frac{pn-q}{qn}$ and this fraction has a strictly smaller numerator than $p$. So we can repeat our process with this new rational number. And this process must eventually terminate because the numerators generated from this process form a strictly decreasing sequence of positive integers. The process can only terminate when the new faction has a numerator of 1. Hence the original fraction is some sum of fractions with numerator 1.

Now if the rational number $r$ in question is greater than one, one finds $n_1$ so that $\sum^{n_1}_{k=1} \frac{1}{k} \leq r$ but $\sum^{n_1+1}_{k=1} \frac{1}{k} > r$. Then write $r-\sum^{n_1+1}_{k=1} \frac{1}{k}$ and note that its magnitude is less than $\frac{1}{n_1+1}$. We then use the procedure for numbers in $(0,1)$ noting that our starting point excludes the previously used terms of the harmonic series.

There is more we can do, but I’ll stop here for now.