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Re: if using Mathematica to solve an algebraic problem

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  • Subject: [mg109030] Re: if using Mathematica to solve an algebraic problem
  • From: "David Park" <djmpark at>
  • Date: Sun, 11 Apr 2010 04:30:31 -0400 (EDT)

Well, I'm not very hot at integration problems but I started out by trying
some of the standard techniques (using Mathematica), such as substitution of
variable, or integration by parts, but that didn't seem to get anywhere.

So then I decided to look at the answer.

f0[x_] = Integrate[Exp[-x^2], x] 
1/2 Sqrt[\[Pi]] Erf[x] 

That doesn't seem to be any of the standard functions so I looked up Erf in
Help, and also in Gradshteyn & Ryzbik, and in Wikipedia: 

and in MathWorld: 

and the result is that Erf is DEFINED to be the integral. The real question
is how to evaluate it. One way to evaluate a non-elementary integral is to
expand the integrand in a series:

Series[Exp[-x^2], {x, 0, 8}] 

and then integrate term by term. So I did that, experimenting with how many
terms to take and settled on:

Series[Exp[-x^2], {x, 0, 400}] // Normal;
f1[x_] = Integrate[#, x] & /@ %;

The two results appear to lie on top of each other for -5 < x < 5. 

Plot[{f0[x], f1[x]}, {x, -5, 5}]

Plotting the difference also shows the finite series works fairly well in
this domain.

Plot[f1[x] - f0[x], {x, -5, 5},
 PlotRange -> All] 

If we look at the series for the two expressions we see they are the same.
(Because I suppose that was the basic definition of Erf.) 

Take[f1[x], 10] 

Series[f0[x], {x, 0, 20}] // Normal 

Having obtained the series solution, I tried taking the first half dozen
terms and then using FindGeneratingFunction.

Take[f1[x], 6] 
List @@ % /. x -> 1 
Riffle[%, 0, {1, 12, 2}] 
FindGeneratingFunction[%, x] 

which gives the integral 1/2 Sqrt[\[Pi]] Erf[x], bypassing the Integrate
command. But again it is just because that series is the definition of the
function and Mathematica had that definition stored away somewhere.

If there is much more to learn I suppose it is in special methods of summing
the series in various domains. We could do more in getting the analytic
expressions for the series coefficients and perhaps working with them.

So I got some experience in using term by term integration and saw how
special functions are sometimes defined. I usually don't do much of that or
know a lot about it. How much would I have done without Mathematica?
Probably none at all. Am I going to calculate a 400 term function by hand
and plot it? But WITH Mathematica it is difficult to resist a Murray

Did I find out what was instructive, or completely miss it? I'm not really

David Park
djmpark at    

From: Murray Eisenberg [mailto:murray at] 

An instructive example when one is teaching techniques of integration:

   Integrate[ Exp[-x^2],x ]

Why this is instructive is left as an exercise to the reader.

On 4/9/2010 3:34 AM, Bill Rowe wrote:
> On 4/8/10 at 8:03 AM, dave at (David Bailey) wrote:
>> I also think that if Mathematica had been available to me back then,
>> I would have felt it was a bit like an addictive substance - very
>> interesting in small doses, but also terribly dangerous. There would
>> have always been the possibility of becoming skilled in answering
>> questions through Mathematica, rather than actually learning the
>> subject!
> While I think I understand the concern you express here, I still
> wonder. If one becomes very skilled at using Mathematica to
> solve problems correctly wouldn't there have to be some
> corresponding gain in understanding of how the same problems
> would be solved without Mathematica?
> The point I am trying to get at is areas Mathematica fails or
> shows limitations invariably require understanding of details of
> the problem and computer arithmetic. It seems becoming highly
> skilled at getting correct results from Mathematica requires
> mastery of these details to a large degree. And it also seems
> understanding those details are exactly what is required to
> solve the problem without Mathematica.

Murray Eisenberg                     murray at
Mathematics & Statistics Dept.
Lederle Graduate Research Tower      phone 413 549-1020 (H)
University of Massachusetts                413 545-2859 (W)
710 North Pleasant Street            fax   413 545-1801
Amherst, MA 01003-9305

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