This story began yesterday, with this blog-post: https://robertlovespi.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/pythagorean-and-fermatian-triples-and-quadruples/ — but it hasn’t ended there. When discussing this with my wife (who, like myself, is also a teacher of mathematics) while writing that post, she speculated that more interesting things might happen — such as a “no solutions” situation, as is the case with Fermat’s Last Theorem — with a search for a Fermatian quadruple, if the exponent used were larger than three, the exponent I checked yesterday.
Tonight, therefore, I modified the program I used for the last post on this subject. Instead of searching for whole-number solutions to an + bn + cn = dn with n = 3, as I did yesterday, I looked for solutions to a4 + b4 + c4 = d4. As I did yesterday, I started with a search of all possibilities with numbers from 1 to 10, and was unsurprised when that quick, preliminary search yielded no solutions. I then ran the program again, but used it to search all possibilities using numbers for a, b, c, and d from 1 to 100. This took a while, for, with loops nested four deep, my computer had to check 1004 = 100 000 000 possibilities. The results are — tentatively — exciting, for this search, indeed, yielded no solutions, which is reminiscent of Fermat’s Last Theorem:
We are now wondering if Fermat’s Last Theorem can be generalized indefinitely. Andrew J. Wiles proved that an + bn = cn has no solutions if n > 2. I’ve now written a program, and checked, and know that an + bn + cn = dn has no solutions, with n = 4, for values of a, b, c, and d up to 100.
Could it be that an + bn + cn = dn has no solutions for any value of n > 3 — like Fermat’s Last Theorem, but with one more term added, and the exponent simply bumped up one place? If that is true, then, might it also be true that an + bn + cn + dn = en has no solutions if n > 4? Might it be possible to extend this idea indefinitely, so that, with an equation containing k terms added together, to equal a single term, there are no solutions if n > k?
I know this much, at this point:
- I can either find a counterexample, to disprove one of these conjectured “sequels” to Fermat’s Last Theorem, if that counterexample is of reasonable size, provided a “smallish” counterexample actually exists, or
- With the assistance of friends of mine whose ability with mathematics, and computer programming, exceeds my own, we can extend this search for counterexamples to much higher limits, or
- This set of conjectures is, in fact, true, in which case we will find no counterexamples — and, if that is the case, I’m going to need to find some major-league help for this problem, for, well, if true, it’s going to be one monster of a job to prove it is true, especially in the general, unlimited form.
- Finally, I know that the prospect of playing any role, whatsoever, in extending Fermat’s Last Theorem to new levels is tremendously exciting.
I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.
[Update: I’d like to thank my friend Andrew for finding the answer to this puzzle for me. Counterexamples have indeed been found for the four-term and five-term cases, one of which is 26824404 + 153656394 + 187967604 = 206156734. For six terms or more, this remains an unsolved problem. For more information related to this, please visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euler’s_sum_of_powers_conjecture.]