(This article is more or less a transcript of a show I sent to hacker
this short article I want to talk about prime numbers. In praticular:
about the fact that there exist an infinite number of prime numbers.
This has been proven more than 2000 years ago, but I noticed that a lot
of my friends that don't have a mathematical background, aren't aware of
Yet it is rather easy to prove. So that is what I'll be
doing in this article. If you are afraid of math, don't worry, it won't
take more than 10 minutes.
First of all I am going to define a
prime number. I won't go into technical details, but a positive integer
is a prime number if it has exactly 2 positive divisors: 1 and the
For the proof that the sequence of prime numbers is
infinite, I am going to cheat a little. I am going to use the
fundamental theorem of arithmetic. This theorem states that every
integer greater than 1 is either a prime number itself, or it can be
written as the product of prime numbers. This product of prime number is
unique, apart from the
order of the factors.
An example. Take the
number 42. 42 can be written as a product of prime numbers: 2x3x7. Apart
from the order of the factors 2, 3 and 7, there is no other way to write
42 as a product of prime numbers. And this is true for every integer
greater than 1.
This seems a trivial thing, but in fact it is not.
Nevertheless, to keep this discussion on topic, I will assume that the
fundamental theorem of arithmetic is valid.
Now. The proof that
there are infinitely many prime numbers.
We will show that for any
finite set of prime numbers, there exists at least one prime number not
contained in this set. If I can prove this, it follows that the set of
all prime numbers must be infinite.
So we take a random set of n
prime numbers, we call those prime numbers p_1, p_2, p_3, and so on.
The last one is called p_n.
Now we construct a new number, let's
say q. We construct q by multiplying all those prime numbers, and add
Is p_1 is a divisor of q? When you divide q by p_1, the
quotient equals p_2 times p_3 times p_4 and so on times p_n. The
remainder is 1. This follows from how we constructed q. So p_1 is not a
divisor of q.
The same is true for p_2, p_3, and so on. None of
our n prime numbers is a divisor of q.
What if we apply the
fundamental theorem of arithmetic to q? It says that we can write q as a
product of prime numbers. So let's do that. None of those prime numbers
is contained in our original set of n prime numbers, because the prime
numbers in our product are divisors of q, and a_1, a_2 and so on are
not. So there exists at least one other prime number, not in our finite
set, which is a divisor of q.
There we are. We just proved that if
you take a finite set of random prime numbers, there is always at least
one prime number not contained in this set. This means the set of prime
numbers is infinite.
I hope you enjoyed this proof. It is not
impossible that I made a mistake, because I didn't do a lot of math for
the last 10 years. If you have any comments, please let me know.