# Constant problem

In mathematics, the constant problem is the problem of deciding if a given expression is equal to zero.

## The problem

This problem is also referred to as the identity problem[1] or the method of zero estimates. It has no formal statement as such but refers to a general problem prevalent in transcendence theory. Often proofs in transcendence theory are proofs by contradiction, specifically they use some auxiliary function to create an integer n ≥ 0 which is shown to satisfy n < 1. Clearly this means that n must have the value zero, and so a contradiction arises if one can show that in fact n is not zero.

In many transcendence proofs, proving that n ≠ 0 is very difficult, and hence a lot of work has been done to develop methods that can be used to prove the non-vanishing of certain expressions. The sheer generality of the problem is what makes it difficult to prove general results or come up with general methods for attacking it. The number n that arises may involve integrals, limits, polynomials, other functions, and determinants of matrices.

## Results

In certain cases algorithms or other methods exist for proving that a given expression is non-zero, or of showing that the problem is undecidable. For example, if x1, ..., xn are real numbers then there is an algorithm[2] for deciding if there are integers a1, ..., an such that

$|a_1 x_1+{}\cdots{}+a_n x_n|=0.\,$

If the expression we are interested in contains a function which oscillates, such as the sine or cosine function, then it has been shown that the problem is undecidable, a result known as Richardson's theorem. In general, methods specific to the expression being studied are required to prove that it cannot be zero.