A neat trick to distinguish integers

Something neat from Hector Pasten’s talk at the CYMS seminar: suppose that we want to give a formula for the statement “\(x \neq y\)” where \(x\) and \(y\) are integers, but we want to do so in a positive existential system, i.e., using only the defined arithmetical operations \((+,\times,=)\) and the existential quantifier \(\exists\). In particular, we can’t use negation or the universal quantifier \(\forall\).

At first glance, this might seem difficult – how do we express the concept of “not equal” without using “not”? However, there is a very nice trick. First, observe that \[ x \neq y \iff x-y-1 \ge 0 \vee x-y-1 \le 0. \] We’ve changed the problem from defining \(x \neq y\) to the problem of defining “\(x \ge 0\)” (in a positive existential way). Recall Lagrange’s Four Square Theorem:

Theorem (Lagrange’s Four Square Theorem)

Every nonnegative integer \(n \in \mathbb{N}\) may be written as a sum of four squares: \[ n = x_1^2 + x_2^2 + x_3^2 + x_4^2 \quad x_i \in \mathbb{N}. \]

So, we can write: \[ x \ge 0 \iff \exists x_1,\ldots,x_4 ( x = x_1^2 + x_2^2 + x_3^2 + x_4^2) \] which, in turn, gives us our desired positive existential formula for \(x \neq y\).

Posted October 25, 2012 under math.