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Appendix 2

The Existence of lim (1 +


l/n)n

as

n ~

00

We first show that the sequence

1 I I 5" = 1 + -I' +. -2' + ... +" . n.

n = 1,2,3, ...

converges to a limit as n increases without bound. This sum increases with each additional term, so we have 5" < 5,,+1 for all n; that is, the sequence 5" increases monotonically. Beginning with n = 3, we also have n! = I 23 .... n> I 22 .... 2 = 2"-1; therefore
1 I 1 5" < I + 1 +"2 + 22 + ... + 2,,-1

for n = 3, 4, 5, .... Now, in this last sum the terms starting with the second form a geometric progression with the common ratio 1/2. The sum of this progression is (I - 1/2")/(1 - 1/2) = 2(1 - 1/2") < 2. We therefore have 5" < I + 2 = 3, showing that the sequence 5" is bounded from above by 3 (that is, the values of 5" never exceed 3). We now use a well-known theorem from analysis: Every bounded, monotone increasing sequence tends to a limit as n ~ 00. Thus 5" converges to a limit 5. Our proof also shows that 5 is between 2 and 3. We now consider the sequence T" = (I + 1/n)". We will show that this sequence converges to the same limit as 5". By the binomial theorem,
I n(n - 1) 1 n(n - I )(n - 2) ... I T" = I + n . ~ + ~-. n2 + ... + n!
= I

n"

+ 1+

~ - ~). ~! + ...

~ - ~ Xl - ~) ... (1 - ~)- ~!

Since the expression within each pair of parentheses is less than I, we have T" :-::; 5" (actually, T" < 5" beginning with n = 2). Therefore the sequence T" is also bounded from above. Moreover, T" increases monotonically, because replacing n with n + 1 only causes the sum to

198

APPENDIX 2

increase. Thus Tn too converges to a limit as n ~ 00. We denote this limit by T. We now show that S = T. Since Sn ~ Tn for all n, we have S ~ T. We will show that at the same time S::; T. Let m < n be a fixed integer. The first m + I terms of Tn are

I+ I+ (I - ~). d! + ...
+

~ _ ~)~ _ ~) ... (I _

m: 1)- ~!

Because m < n and all terms are positive, this last sum is less than Tn. If we now let n increase without bound while holding m fixed, the sum will tend to Sm, while Tn will tend to T. We thus have Sm ::; T, and consequently S::; T. Since we have already shown that S ~ T, it follows that S = T, which is what we wished to prove. The limit T, of course, is the number e. As a sequel, we prove that e is irrational.' Our proof is indirect: we assume that e is rational and then show that this assumption leads to a contradiction. Let e = p/q, where p and q are integers. We already know that 2 < e < 3, so e cannot be an integer; consequently the denominator q must be at least 2. We now multiply both sides of the equation
I I I I e = I + -I' +. -3' + ... +n. , + ... . + -2' .

by q! = I . 2 . 3 ..... q. On the left side this gives us

e . q!

= (~) . I 23 .... q =p'

I 23 .... (q - 1)

while on the right side we get


[q! + q! + 3 . 4 ..... q + 4 . 5 ..... q + ...

+ (q - I) . q + q + I] + q + I + (q + I )(q + 2) + ...
(note that the I inside the brackets comes from the term l/q! in the series for e). The left side is obviously an integer, because it is the product of integers. On the right side, the expression inside the brackets is likewise an integer. But the remaining terms are not integers, because each denominator is at least 3. We now show that their sum, too, is not an integer. Since q ~ 2, we have

APPENDIX 2

199

where we used the fonnula for the sum of an infinite geometric series,
a + ar + ar2 + ... = a/(I - r), for Irl < I. Thus we have an integer on

the left side of the equation and a non-integer on the right side, obviously a contradiction. Hence e cannot be the ratio of two integers-it is irrational.

SOURCE
I. Richard Courant and Herbert Robbins, What Is Mathematics? (1941; rpt. London: Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. 298-299.