As I already mentioned, I was last week at the conference organized to honor R. Bruggeman’s 65th birthday — though both organizers and honoree claimed this was a pretext to have a conference on the analytic theory of automorphic forms in Holland.
It was a very enjoyable week, and an excellent occasion to learn more about some of the newer brands of automorphic objects which have become popular, but which I don’t really understand yet (I must admit I couldn’t tell the difference between a weak harmonic Maass form, a mock theta function, a mixed modular form, or a weak harmonic Jacobi form…). Since I used a beamer presentation for my talk on families of L-functions and cusp forms, here is a link to it. Although it is almost completely “philosophy”, and does not discuss any new result, some of the points, it may be of some interest (at some point, I will probably write a more complete post on the questions which are raised there).
The workshop was held in a conference center located about 10 minutes from Utrecht. This was a very nice location, and since everyone (except for local people) stayed in the same place, and the coffee was as plentiful as I’ve ever seen (and free), the evenings were quite social affairs. During the Thursday evening barbecue, the question arose (at least at my table) of determining which was the silliest conjecture that people had seriously spent time on. Various glorious names were suggested by participants: Goldbach, Fermat, ABC, etc (I will of course hide the identity of those who made these propositions…) A semi-popular favorite was the Lehmer conjecture which claims that
i.e., the non-vanishing of the Ramanujan tau-function. Recall that the latter is defined by the formal power-series expansion
and that Ramanujan had conjectured some of its remarkable properties, including the multiplicativity
and the bound
where d(n) is the number of positive divisors of n. The latter (which is generalized to the “Ramanujan-Petersson conjecture”) was proved by Deligne as a very deep consequence of the Riemann Hypothesis over finite fields.
As a matter of fact, this conjecture of Lehmer had been the topic of one of the morning lectures; E. Bannai had explained his work with T. Miezaki, which gives an interpretation of the Lehmer conjecture in terms of properties of the E8 lattice and spherical design properties of its shells. This suggests that the conjecture is more than a random guess that has every chance to be true, but for no good reason.
In the end, I believe a consensus arose that, at least, the following strengthening of the Lehmer conjecture is an extremely silly question:
“Conjecture”. The tau function is injective.
(this is stronger than Lehmer’s conjecture because if some τ(n) is zero, then by multiplicativity, many others will also be).
This is a question which I had raised (to myself) after reading a paper of Garaev, Garcia and Konyagin which shows, using quite clever arguments, that the Ramanujan function takes “many” different values; at the time I checked it was valid for the largest table of tau that I could find by a quick googling. If there are bigger ones now easily available and obvious counterexamples, I will of course emphasize that this was just a random guess that had every chance to be true for no good reason.
(Note that the example of Hardy apologizing for discussing the tau-function, as seemingly part of the “backwaters of mathematics”, means one must be careful with judgments of value about mathematical problems based on one’s current understanding…)