I am aware of at least three equivalent definitions of $\limsup$ and $\liminf$. I shall only write the definitions for $\limsup$. Here $(a_n)_{n \in \mathbf{N}}$ refers to a sequence of real numbers.

  1. $\limsup (a_n) := \lim_{n \to \infty} \left( \sup_{k \geq n} (a_{k}) \right)$
  2. $\limsup (a_n) := \sup \{x : x < a_n \ \text{for infinitely many} \ n \}$
  3. $\limsup (a_n) := \sup \{x : x \ \text{is a limit point of} \ (a_n)_{n \in \mathbf{N}} \}$

The concept of $\limsup$ ($\liminf$) is used all the time in mathematics, but when did mathematicians first make use of the concept? For example, did Cauchy systematically use the notion in his work? Which of the above equivalent definitions came first, and under what circumstances? I'm aware that definition $(2)$ is useful in proving the Bolzano-Weierstrass's Theorem, but I'm not sure if Bolzano and/or Weierstrass actually "called out explicitly" these concepts in their work.

Other motivating historical examples which brought $\limsup$ and $\liminf$ to the fore naturally would also help.

By the way, I'm also curious about the use of $\liminf$ in formulating the twin prime conjecture:

$\liminf_{n \to \infty} \ (p_{n+1}-p_{n}) = 2$

It's a really neat way to formulate the problem. Who first wrote it this way?

Edit: Before this question gets thrown into the dustbin of MO, I would at least like to read a note of clarification by the users who voted to close, on the difference between my question and the couple of questions linked in the comment below, so as to be more vigilant of what counts as an acceptable question on this site.


closed as off-topic by Andrés E. Caicedo, Alexey Ustinov, Stefan Kohl, Mark Sapir, Alexandre Eremenko Jul 1 '17 at 15:15

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about research level mathematics within the scope defined in the help center." – Andrés E. Caicedo, Alexey Ustinov, Stefan Kohl, Mark Sapir, Alexandre Eremenko
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is not an appropriate place to ask this question. You may try History of Science and Mathematics. I suppose that the first appearance of the upper limit is in Hadamard's formula for the radius of convergence, but I did not check this. $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Eremenko Jul 1 '17 at 15:17
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Dear @AlexandreEremenko, what is the difference between my question, and this mathoverflow.net/questions/59456/whence-commutative-diagrams and this mathoverflow.net/questions/194377/… ? $\endgroup$ – Maxis Jaisi Jul 2 '17 at 5:21
  • $\begingroup$ Jaisi: I agree that there is no much difference. $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Eremenko Jul 2 '17 at 5:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Arguably, commutative diagrams are a more advanced concept than lim sup and lim inf -- at least students are taught the latter in their first year of study, but the former usually only later. Also, mentioning a notorious open problem like the twin prime conjecture in a context like this typically accelerates closure of the question. Another aspect is that the two questions you refer to have been asked years ago, when MO was somewhat more welcoming to such questions. $\endgroup$ – Stefan Kohl Jul 2 '17 at 10:09
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Encykl. math. Wiss. (I A 3, 1898, p. 71) attributes the concept to Cauchy (Cours d'analyse, 1821, p.132). $\endgroup$ – Francois Ziegler Jul 2 '17 at 12:33

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.