Generalizations of Fermat’s Little Theorem and combinatorial zeta functions

Everyone who studies elementary number theory learns two different versions of Fermat’s Little Theorem:

Fermat’s Little Theorem, Version 1: If p is prime and a is an integer not divisible by p, then a^{p-1} \equiv 1 \pmod{p}.

Fermat’s Little Theorem, Version 2: If p is prime and a is any integer, then a^{p} \equiv a \pmod{p}.

as well as the following extension of Version 1 of Fermat’s Little Theorem to arbitrary positive integers n:

Euler’s Theorem: If n is a positive integer and (a,n)=1, then a^{\phi(n)} \equiv 1 \pmod{n}, where \phi is Euler’s totient function.

My first goal in this post is to explain a generalization of Version 2 of Fermat’s Little Theorem to arbitrary n. I’ll then explain an extension of this result to m \times m integer matrices, along with a slick proof of all of these results (and more) via “combinatorial zeta functions”.

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Infinitely many primes via generating functions

A few years ago I discovered an amusing proof of Euclid’s theorem that there are infinitely many primes which I thought I’d record here for posterity. (I subsequently learned that a similar argument appears in this paper by Paul Pollack.)

To motivate the proof, and illustrate its working in an (admittedly silly) special case, suppose that there were just two prime numbers, called p and q. Then by the fundamental theorem of arithmetic (i.e., unique factorization into primes) we would have the following identity between generating functions:

\sum_{n=2}^\infty z^n = \sum_{k=1}^\infty z^{kp} + \sum_{k=1}^\infty z^{kq} - \sum_{k=1}^\infty z^{kpq}.

Indeed, there is precisely one term z^n for each integer n \geq 2 on the left-hand side, and the same is true for the right-hand side (consider separately the cases where p \mid n but q \nmid n, q \mid n but p \nmid n, and pq \mid n). Using the formula for the sum of a geometric series, we can rewrite our formula as an identity between complex-analytic functions valid on the open unit disc {\mathbb D} = \{z \in {\mathbb C} \; : \; |z|<1 \}:

\frac{z^2}{1-z} = \frac{z^p}{1-z^p} + \frac{z^q}{1-z^q} - \frac{z^{pq}}{1-z^{pq}}.

This is impossible, however, as we see by letting z approach a primitive pq^{\rm th} root of unity, since each term stays bounded except for \frac{z^{pq}}{1-z^{pq}}, which tends to infinity.

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