This problem is also referred to as the identity problem or the method of zero estimates. It has no formal statement as such but refers to a general problem prevalent in transcendental number 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.
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 for deciding if there are integers a1, ..., an such that
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.
- Richardson, Daniel (1968). "Some Unsolvable Problems Involving Elementary Functions of a Real Variable". Journal of Symbolic Logic 33: 514–520. doi:10.2307/2271358.
- Bailey, David H. (January 1988). "Numerical Results on the Transcendence of Constants Involving π, e, and Euler's Constant" (PDF). Mathematics of Computation 50 (20): 275–281. doi:10.1090/S0025-5718-1988-0917835-1.