A basic object of study in multiplicative number theory are the arithmetic functions: functions from the natural numbers to the complex numbers. Some fundamental examples of such functions include

Given an arithmetic function , we are often interested in statistics such as the summatory function

the logarithmically (or harmonically) weighted summatory function

or the Dirichlet series

In the latter case, one typically has to first restrict to those complex numbers whose real part is large enough in order to ensure the series on the right converges; but in many important cases, one can then extend the Dirichlet series to almost all of the complex plane by analytic continuation. One is also interested in correlations involving additive shifts, such as , but these are significantly more difficult to study and cannot be easily estimated by the methods of classical multiplicative number theory.

A key operation on arithmetic functions is that of Dirichlet convolution, which when given two arithmetic functions , forms a new arithmetic function , defined by the formula

Thus for instance , , , and for any arithmetic function . Dirichlet convolution and Dirichlet series are related by the fundamental formula

at least when the real part of is large enough that all sums involved become absolutely convergent (but in practice one can use analytic continuation to extend this identity to most of the complex plane). There is also the identity

at least when the real part of is large enough to justify interchange of differentiation and summation. As a consequence, many Dirichlet series can be expressed in terms of the Riemann zeta function , thus for instance

Much of the difficulty of multiplicative number theory can be traced back to the discrete nature of the natural numbers , which form a rather complicated abelian semigroup with respect to multiplication (in particular the set of generators is the set of prime numbers). One can obtain a simpler analogue of the subject by working instead with the half-infinite interval , which is a much simpler abelian semigroup under multiplication (being a one-dimensional Lie semigroup). (I will think of this as a sort of “completion” of at the infinite place , hence the terminology.) Accordingly, let us define a *continuous arithmetic function* to be a locally integrable function . The analogue of the summatory function (1) is then an integral

and similarly the analogue of (2) is

The analogue of the Dirichlet series is the Mellin-type transform

which will be well-defined at least if the real part of is large enough and if the continuous arithmetic function does not grow too quickly, and hopefully will also be defined elsewhere in the complex plane by analytic continuation.

For instance, the continuous analogue of the discrete constant function would be the constant function , which maps any to , and which we will denote by in order to keep it distinct from . The two functions and have approximately similar statistics; for instance one has

and

where is the harmonic number, and we are deliberately vague as to what the symbol means. Continuing this analogy, we would expect

which reflects the fact that has a simple pole at with residue , and no other poles. Note that the identity is initially only valid in the region , but clearly the right-hand side can be continued analytically to the entire complex plane except for the pole at , and so one can define in this region also.

In a similar vein, the logarithm function is approximately similar to the logarithm function , giving for instance the crude form

of Stirling’s formula, or the Dirichlet series approximation

The continuous analogue of Dirichlet convolution is multiplicative convolution using the multiplicative Haar measure : given two continuous arithmetic functions , one can define their convolution by the formula

Thus for instance . A short computation using Fubini’s theorem shows the analogue

of (3) whenever the real part of is large enough that Fubini’s theorem can be justified; similarly, differentiation under the integral sign shows that

again assuming that the real part of is large enough that differentiation under the integral sign (or some other tool like this, such as the Cauchy integral formula for derivatives) can be justified.

Direct calculation shows that for any complex number , one has

(at least for the real part of large enough), and hence by several applications of (5)

for any natural number . This can lead to the following heuristic: if a Dirichlet series behaves like a linear combination of poles , in that

for some set of poles and some coefficients and natural numbers (where we again are vague as to what means, and how to interpret the sum if the set of poles is infinite), then one should expect the arithmetic function to behave like the continuous arithmetic function

In particular, if we only have simple poles,

then we expect to have behave like continuous arithmetic function

Integrating this from to , this heuristically suggests an approximation

for the summatory function, and similarly

with the convention that is when , and similarly is when . One can make these sorts of approximations more rigorous by means of Perron’s formula (or one of its variants) combined with the residue theorem, provided that one has good enough control on the relevant Dirichlet series, but we will not pursue these rigorous calculations here. (But see for instance this previous blog post for some examples.)

For instance, using the more refined approximation

to the zeta function near , we have

we would expect that

and thus for instance

which matches what one actually gets from the Dirichlet hyperbola method (see e.g. equation (44) of this previous post).

Or, noting that has a simple pole at and assuming simple zeroes elsewhere, the log derivative will have simple poles of residue at and at all the zeroes, leading to the heuristic

suggesting that should behave like the continuous arithmetic function

leading for instance to the summatory approximation

which is a heuristic form of the Riemann-von Mangoldt explicit formula (see Exercise 45 of these notes for a rigorous version of this formula).

**Exercise 1** Go through some of the other explicit formulae listed at this Wikipedia page and give heuristic justifications for them (up to some lower order terms) by similar calculations to those given above.

Given the “adelic” perspective on number theory, I wonder if there are also -adic analogues of arithmetic functions to which a similar set of heuristics can be applied, perhaps to study sums such as . A key problem here is that there does not seem to be any good interpretation of the expression when is complex and is a -adic number, so it is not clear that one can analyse a Dirichlet series -adically. For similar reasons, we don’t have a canonical way to define for a Dirichlet character (unless its conductor happens to be a power of ), so there doesn’t seem to be much to say in the -aspect either.

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