Prime Numbers and an Equation for Modelling Their Distribution

janeiro 21, 2016

This article is composed of two parts. The Part I is a simple summary of the most relevant features about prime after a direct search about this topic (prime number) in the Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, accessed in January 20th 2016. So, the Part I is a general introduction to the subject that is treated in Part II.

The Part II presents the proper development and the verification of an equation for modelling the distribution of primes along the natural numbers. The Part II is the aim of this article and presents original ideas only. I think it would be useful for people interested in prime numbers and natural phenomena. I really believe that primes, together with golden ratio, are cornerstones for understanding ourselves and the rhythms of the universe. And, most of all, I hope You enjoy this reading.

Part I


A prime number (or a prime) is a natural number greater than 1 that has no positive divisors other than 1 and itself. A natural number greater than 1 that is not a prime number is called a composite number. For example, 5 is prime because 1 and 5 are its only positive integer factors, whereas 6 is composite because it has the divisors 2 and 3 in addition to 1 and 6.

The property of being prime (or not) is called primality. A simple but slow method of verifying the primality of a given number n is known as trial division. It consists of testing whether n is a multiple of any integer between 2 and the square root of n. Algorithms much more efficient than trial division have been devised to test the primality of large numbers. These include the Miller–Rabin primality test, which is fast but has a small probability of error, and the AKS primality test, which always produces the correct answer in polynomial time but is too slow to be practical.

There are infinitely many primes, as demonstrated by Euclid around 300 BC. There is no known useful formula that sets apart all of the prime numbers from composites. However, the distribution of primes, that is to say, the statistical behaviour of primes in the large, can be modelled. The first result in that direction is the prime number theorem, proven at the end of the 19th century, which says that the probability that a given, randomly chosen number n is prime is inversely proportional to its number of digits, or to the logarithm of n.

Many questions regarding prime numbers remain open, such as Goldbach’s conjecture (that every even integer greater than 2 can be expressed as the sum of two primes), and the twin prime conjecture (that there are infinitely many pairs of primes whose difference is 2). Such questions spurred the development of various branches of number theory, focusing on analytic or algebraic aspects of numbers. Primes are used in several routines in information technology, such as public-key cryptography, which makes use of properties such as the difficulty of factoring large numbers into their prime factors. Prime numbers give rise to various generalizations in other mathematical domains, mainly algebra, such as prime elements and prime ideals.

The first 168 prime numbers (all the prime numbers less than 1000) are:

2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97, 101, 103, 107, 109, 113, 127, 131, 137, 139, 149, 151, 157, 163, 167, 173, 179, 181, 191, 193, 197, 199, 211, 223, 227, 229, 233, 239, 241, 251, 257, 263, 269, 271, 277, 281, 283, 293, 307, 311, 313, 317, 331, 337, 347, 349, 353, 359, 367, 373, 379, 383, 389, 397, 401, 409, 419, 421, 431, 433, 439, 443, 449, 457, 461, 463, 467, 479, 487, 491, 499, 503, 509, 521, 523, 541, 547, 557, 563, 569, 571, 577, 587, 593, 599, 601, 607, 613, 617, 619, 631, 641, 643, 647, 653, 659, 661, 673, 677, 683, 691, 701, 709, 719, 727, 733, 739, 743, 751, 757, 761, 769, 773, 787, 797, 809, 811, 821, 823, 827, 829, 839, 853, 857, 859, 863, 877, 881, 883, 887, 907, 911, 919, 929, 937, 941, 947, 953, 967, 971, 977, 983, 991, 997 (sequence A000040 in OEIS).

Fundamental theorem of arithmetic: The crucial importance of prime numbers to number theory and mathematics in general stems from the fundamental theorem of arithmetic, which states that every integer larger than 1 can be written as a product of one or more primes in a way that is unique except for the order of the prime factors. Primes can thus be considered the “basic building blocks” of the natural numbers.

History: The Sieve of Eratosthenes is a simple algorithm for finding all prime numbers up to a specified integer. It was created in the 3rd century BC by Eratosthenes, an ancient Greek mathematician. The Sieve of Eratosthenes, attributed to Eratosthenes, is a simple method to compute primes, although the large primes found today with computers are not generated this way.

There are hints in the surviving records of the ancient Egyptians that they had some knowledge of prime numbers: the Egyptian fraction expansions in the Rhind papyrus, for instance, have quite different forms for primes and for composites. However, the earliest surviving records of the explicit study of prime numbers come from the Ancient Greeks. Euclid’s Elements (circa 300 BC) contain important theorems about primes, including the infinitude of primes and the fundamental theorem of arithmetic. Euclid also showed how to construct a perfect number from a Mersenne prime.

At the start of the 19th century, Legendre and Gauss independently conjectured that as x tends to infinity, the number of primes up to x is asymptotic to x/ln(x), where ln(x) is the natural logarithm of x. Ideas of Riemann in his 1859 paper on the zeta-function sketched a program that would lead to a proof of the prime number theorem. This outline was completed by Hadamard and de la Vallée Poussin, who independently proved the prime number theorem in 1896.

Proving a number is prime is not done (for large numbers) by trial division. Many mathematicians have worked on primality tests for large numbers, often restricted to specific number forms. This includes Pépin’s test for Fermat numbers (1877), Proth’s theorem (around 1878), the Lucas–Lehmer primality test (originated 1856), and the generalized Lucas primality test. More recent algorithms like APRT-CL, ECPP, and AKS work on arbitrary numbers but remain much slower.

For a long time, prime numbers were thought to have extremely limited application outside of pure mathematics. This changed in the 1970s when the concepts of public-key cryptography were invented, in which prime numbers formed the basis of the first algorithms such as the RSA cryptosystem algorithm.

Since 1951 all the largest known primes have been found by computers. The search for ever larger primes has generated interest outside mathematical circles. The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search and other distributed computing projects to find large primes have become popular, while mathematicians continue to struggle with the theory of primes.

Testing primality and integer factorization: There are various methods to determine whether a given number n is prime. The most basic routine, trial division, is of little practical use because of its slowness. One group of modern primality tests is applicable to arbitrary numbers, while more efficient tests are available for particular numbers. Most such methods only tell whether n is prime or not. Routines also yielding one (or all) prime factors of n are called factorization algorithms.

Trial division: The most basic method of checking the primality of a given integer n is called trial division. This routine consists of dividing n by each integer m that is greater than 1 and less than or equal to the square root of n. If the result of any of these divisions is an integer, then n is not a prime, otherwise it is a prime. Indeed, if n=a b is composite (with a and b ≠ 1) then one of the factors a or b is necessarily at most the square root of n. For example, for n = 37 , the trial divisions are by m = 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. None of these numbers divides 37, so 37 is prime. This routine can be implemented more efficiently if a complete list of primes up to the square root of n is known—then trial divisions need to be checked only for those m that are prime. For example, to check the primality of 37, only three divisions are necessary (m = 2, 3, and 5), given that 4 and 6 are composite.

While a simple method, trial division quickly becomes impractical for testing large integers because the number of possible factors grows too rapidly as n increases. According to the prime number theorem explained below, the number of prime numbers less than sqrt(n) is approximately given by sqrt(n) / ln(sqrt(n)), so the algorithm may need up to this number of trial divisions to check the primality of n. For n = 1020, this number is 450 million—too large for many practical applications.

Primality testing versus primality proving: Modern primality tests for general numbers n can be divided into two main classes, probabilistic (or “Monte Carlo”) and deterministic algorithms. Deterministic algorithms provide a way to tell for sure whether a given number is prime or not. For example, trial division is a deterministic algorithm because, if performed correctly, it will always identify a prime number as prime and a composite number as composite. Probabilistic algorithms are normally faster, but do not completely prove that a number is prime. These tests rely on testing a given number in a partly random way.

Deterministic algorithms do not erroneously report composite numbers as prime. In practice, the fastest such method is known as elliptic curve primality proving. Analyzing its run time is based on heuristic arguments, as opposed to the rigorously proven complexity of the more recent AKS primality test. Deterministic methods are typically slower than probabilistic ones, so the latter ones are typically applied first before a more time-consuming deterministic routine is employed.

Distribution: In 1975, number theorist Don Zagier commented that primes both grow like weeds among the natural numbers, seeming to obey no other law than that of chance [but also] exhibit stunning regularity [and] that there are laws governing their behavior, and that they obey these laws with almost military precision.

The distribution of primes in the large, such as the question how many primes are smaller than a given, large threshold, is described by the prime number theorem, but no efficient formula for the n-th prime is known.

Formulas for primes: There is no known efficient formula for primes. There is no non-constant polynomial, even in several variables, that takes only prime values. However, there is a set of Diophantine equations in 9 variables and one parameter with the following property: the parameter is prime if and only if the resulting system of equations has a solution over the natural numbers. This can be used to obtain a single formula with the property that all its positive values are prime.

Open questions (Zeta function and the Riemann hypothesis): The Riemann zeta function is closely related to prime numbers. The unproven Riemann hypothesis, dating from 1859, states that except for s = −2, −4, …, all zeroes of the zeta-function have real part equal to 1/2. The connection to prime numbers is that it essentially says that the primes are as regularly distributed as possible. From a physical viewpoint, it roughly states that the irregularity in the distribution of primes only comes from random noise. From a mathematical viewpoint, it roughly states that the asymptotic distribution of primes (about x/log x of numbers less than x are primes, the prime number theorem) also holds for much shorter intervals of length about the square root of x (for intervals near x). This hypothesis is generally believed to be correct. In particular, the simplest assumption is that primes should have no significant irregularities without good reason.

Applications: For a long time, number theory in general, and the study of prime numbers in particular, was seen as the canonical example of pure mathematics, with no applications outside of the self-interest of studying the topic with the exception of use of prime numbered gear teeth to distribute wear evenly. In particular, number theorists such as British mathematician G. H. Hardy prided themselves on doing work that had absolutely no military significance. However, this vision was shattered in the 1970s, when it was publicly announced that prime numbers could be used as the basis for the creation of public key cryptography algorithms. Prime numbers are also used for hash tables and pseudorandom number generators.

Some rotor machines were designed with a different number of pins on each rotor, with the number of pins on any one rotor either prime, or coprime to the number of pins on any other rotor. This helped generate the full cycle of possible rotor positions before repeating any position.

The International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) work with a check digit, which exploits the fact that 11 is a prime.

Public-key cryptography: Several public-key cryptography algorithms, such as RSA and the Diffie–Hellman key exchange, are based on large prime numbers (for example 512 bit primes are frequently used for RSA and 1024 bit primes are typical for Diffie–Hellman.). RSA relies on the assumption that it is much easier (i.e., more efficient) to perform the multiplication of two (large) numbers x and y than to calculate x and y (assumed coprime) if only the product xy is known. The Diffie–Hellman key exchange relies on the fact that there are efficient algorithms for modular exponentiation, while the reverse operation the discrete logarithm is thought to be a hard problem.

Prime numbers in nature: The evolutionary strategy used by cicadas of the genus Magicicada make use of prime numbers. These insects spend most of their lives as grubs underground. They only pupate and then emerge from their burrows after 7, 13 or 17 years, at which point they fly about, breed, and then die after a few weeks at most. The logic for this is believed to be that the prime number intervals between emergences make it very difficult for predators to evolve that could specialize as predators on Magicicadas. If Magicicadas appeared at a non-prime number intervals, say every 12 years, then predators appearing every 2, 3, 4, 6, or 12 years would be sure to meet them. Over a 200-year period, average predator populations during hypothetical outbreaks of 14- and 15-year cicadas would be up to 2% higher than during outbreaks of 13- and 17-year cicadas. Though small, this advantage appears to have been enough to drive natural selection in favour of a prime-numbered life-cycle for these insects.

In the arts and literature: Prime numbers have influenced many artists and writers. The French composer Olivier Messiaen used prime numbers to create ametrical music through “natural phenomena”. In works such as La Nativité du Seigneur (1935) and Quatre études de rythme (1949–50), he simultaneously employs motifs with lengths given by different prime numbers to create unpredictable rhythms: the primes 41, 43, 47 and 53 appear in the third étude, “Neumes rythmiques”. According to Messiaen this way of composing was “inspired by the movements of nature, movements of free and unequal durations”.

In his science fiction novel Contact, NASA scientist Carl Sagan suggested that prime numbers could be used as a means of communicating with aliens, an idea that he had first developed informally with American astronomer Frank Drake in 1975. In the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, the narrator arranges the sections of the story by consecutive prime numbers.

Many films, such as Cube, Sneakers, The Mirror Has Two Faces and A Beautiful Mind reflect a popular fascination with the mysteries of prime numbers and cryptography. Prime numbers are used as a metaphor for loneliness and isolation in the Paolo Giordano novel The Solitude of Prime Numbers, in which they are portrayed as “outsiders” among integers.

Part II

This Part II presents the proper development and the verification of an equation for modelling the distribution of primes along the natural numbers. It is the aim of this article and presents original ideas only.

First of all, we will introduce the definition of the golden functions psi_i(t), as presented in Equation (1).






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