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Julia Horwitz

Math 42 Final Project

May 2005


For hundreds of centuries, mathematicians and philosophers have been stumped by the
complexities of perfect, amicable, friendly, and sociable numbers. Each of these types of
numbers is defined by the way the sum of its proper divisors interacts with the number
itself. For mathematical, philosophical, and even astrological reasons, these types of
numbers have provided scholars with some of the most perplexing- and apparently
unsolvable- problems in mathematics.

The Characters

Aliquot parts are the proper divisors of a number, excluding the number itself. The
aliquot parts of the number 6, for example, are 1, 2, and 3- they are all the positive
integers which can be divided into 6 without a remainder. Another way to write this is
that the aliquot parts (a) of a number n are all positive integers such that n ≡ 0 mod a.

Perfect numbers are numbers whose value is equal to the sum of its aliquot parts. While
many modern mathematicians prefer to notate the rule for perfect numbers thusly: ∑(n) =
2n, where the ∑ function represents the summing of all the divisors of the number n
including n, the ancient scholars who made the first discoveries about perfect numbers
preferred to emphasize the relationship between the constituent parts, or divisors, of the
number rather than the number itself. This idea will be more fully examined in the
Philosophy portion of this paper.

Amicable numbers, very frequently used interchangeably with friendly numbers, refers to
a pair of numbers in which the sum of the aliquot parts of one is equal to the value of the
other, and vice versa. Another way of writing this is ∑(a) = m and ∑(b) = n, where a is
the set of the aliquot parts of a number n, and b is the set of the aliquot parts of a different
number m. The smallest known pair of amicable numbers are 220 and 284; the aliquot
parts of 220 (1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 11, 20, 22, 44, 55, and 110) sum to 284, and the aliquot parts
of 284 (1, 2, 4, 71, and 142) sum to 220.

Friendly numbers, very frequently misused in place of “amicable numbers,” refers to a

set of two numbers whose divisor functions yield the same index. In plainer language, if
the function ∑(a)/n for some number n where ∑(a) is the sum of its aliquot numbers, will
yield a number f, and if the function ∑(b)/m for some number m where ∑(b) is the sum of
its aliquot numbers will also yield the same number f, then f is the index of the two
numbers m and n, and m and n are said to be “friendly” with each other. An example of a
friendly pair are the numbers 30 and 140. The aliquot parts of 30 are 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 10, and
15, so ∑(a) = 42 and ∑(a)/n = 42/30 = 7/5. The aliquot parts of 140 are 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 10,
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14, 20, 28, 35, and 70, so ∑(b) = 196 and ∑(b)/m = 196/140 = 7/5. Since the divisor
function for both these numbers and their aliquot parts yield the same index (7/5), they
are said to be friendly with each other.

*Note that, because by definition the sum of the aliquot parts of a perfect number is equal
to the value of that number, the index of any perfect number is n/n = 1. All perfect
numbers are therefore friendly with each other!

Sociable numbers are much like amicable numbers, except that they work in a loop rather
than in a pair. That is to say, given the set of values ∑(a) for some number n, ∑(b) for a
different number m, and ∑(c) for another different number p, where ∑(a), ∑(b), and ∑(c)
refer to the respective sums of the respective aliquot parts of the numbers m, n, and p,
∑(a) = m, ∑(b) = p, and ∑(c) = n. Sociable numbers can occur in sets of varying sizes,
but when they occur in sets of three they are usually called “amicable triples,” to stress
the similarity between the two kinds of numbers.

Appealing numbers refers to any or all of the sociable, friendly, amicable, or perfect

The History

Pythagoras, a 6th century B.C. mathematician and logician, is the first scholar
credited with work on the discovery and exploration of appealing numbers. He was the
first scholar to recognize that there was something significant or different about these
numbers, and discovered many of the known sets of amicable numbers. When asked why
he chose to refer to these sorts of numbers as “friendly” or “amicable,” Pythagoras
famously responded, “[A friend] is another I.” This concept of “another I” has permeated
the study of the appealing numbers throughout history. With this comment, Pythagoras
established the mathematical significance of finding more of these numbers (how
frequently are numbers so unique that they mimic human emotion?) and also provided
the psychology for the mysticism that would later characterize these numbers.
The work of Pythagoras was explored in the fourth century BC, when Euclid, an
Egyptian mathematician, wrote and published his book The Elements. This book was
essentially the first math book ever to be circulated amongst scholars, and provided the
basis for most of the math-related scholarly work in the subsequent centuries. In Book
Nine of the thirteen-book work, Euclid proposes an algorithm and its justification for
finding any perfect numbers. Most significantly, Euclid established the following facts
about perfect numbers:
- The sum of the inverses of the divisors of a perfect number is equal to 2.
- All even perfect numbers terminate in 6 or 8.
- Whenever 2n-1 is prime, 2n-1(2n-1) will yield a perfect number.
- This formula will always yield a perfect number
- Using these facts, he found the first four perfect numbers (6, 28, 496, and
In the 9th century C.E., a Mesopotamian mathematician named Thabit Ibn Qurra
read and translated Euclid’s Elements into Arabic and Greek. Thabit Ibn Qurra was a
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Sabian- a religious sect of star worshippers- so he had particular interest in astrology and
numerology. Euclid’s work on the perfect numbers intrigued him, and inspired him to
look more carefully at the amicable numbers. Thabit wrote a book entitled Book on the
Determination of Amicable Numbers, in which he proved that, if pn-1, pn, and qn are prime
numbers, where pn = 3.2n – 1 , and qn = 9.22n-1 –1 and n>1, then when a = 2npn-1pn and b =
2nqn, a and b are amicable numbers.
The Swiss mathematician Leonard Euler continued to solve for pairs of amicable
numbers and to explore the theory of perfect numbers more carefully in several projects
based on the work of the 16th century French monk Marin Mersenne. Among Euler’s
contributions to the study of the perfect numbers are:
- He worked the partial converse to Euclid’s formula. That is to say, he proved
not only that Euclid’s formula always yields a perfect number, but also that
there is no other way to find a perfect number than by using Euclid’s formula.
- He discovered the eighth perfect number.
- He raised the question about the possible existence of odd perfect numbers.

The Technicalities

Euclid justified his algorithm for obtaining perfect numbers in the following way:

A perfect number, by definition, possesses the quality ∑(n) = 2n for the perfect number n,
because the sum of n’s aliquot numbers equal n, and n added to itself equals 2n. Given
this, it is safe to say that perfect numbers operate in terms of doubling, and that the proof
will somehow involve the ratio 2:1. Euclid called this inevitability the “double
proportion,” which in his proofs came to mean that each number in a series was twice the
preceding one.

It turns out that, while experimenting with the number 2 which arose from the idea of
“double proportion,” some earlier mathematicians had discovered that 2n is always a
deficient number by exactly one. That is to say, ∑(2n) = 2n-1. These mathematicians
realized that, to turn these deficient numbers into potentially perfect numbers, they would
need to multiply them by another factor. Since primes are only divisible by 1 and
therefore easy to work with, these mathematicians decided to try to see if (2n-1)p would
yield any perfect numbers. In the 9th century, Thabit Ibn Qurra confirmed that (2n-1)p
would, in fact, yield a perfect number if for that n (2n+1-1) was prime. Therefore, two
things can be asserted about perfect numbers:
- “doubling” or duplication of the number 2 would have to occur until the sum
of the series yielded a prime, and
- That prime-power of two composite would have to be duplicated until 2n+1 = p
+ 1 is achieved.

Given all this information, Euclid constructed two parallel sequences:

A = 1, 2, 4, …, 2n (for the duplication of the number 2)

B = p, 2p, 4p,…, 2np (for the duplication of the prime)
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He then stated, “If as many numbers as we please beginning from a unit be set out
continuously in double proportion, until the sum of all becomes a prime, and if the sum
multiplied into the last make some number, the product will be perfect.”1

This means that, if you were to sum a sequence of powers of 2 (say, 1+2+4 = 7) and
multiply the sum by the last number in the series (here, 7 is the sum and 4 is the last
number), then you would obtain a perfect number (7*4 = 28, which is perfect).

Because ancient scholars were aware of the fact that powers of two were deficient by 1
(that is to say, 1 + 2 + 4 + ... + 2n-1 = 2n – 1), then substituting these expressions into the
hypothesis gives the equation 2n-1(2n - 1) = P where P is a perfect number.

This proof is somewhat patchy and stitched together, since Euclid relied heavily on other
ancient scholars for some of the facts about series that he took for granted. Still, his
ultimate equation has been extensively tested, and it turns out that his solution was the
best and only way to obtain perfect numbers.


Thabit Ibn Qurra demonstrated his algorithm for obtaining amicable numbers in the
following way:

Write four rows of numbers, such that the first row contains the powers of 2 (1, 2, 4, 8,
16, etc.); the second row contains the powers of two tripled (3, 6, 12, 24, 48, etc.);
subtract one from each number in the second row to obtain the numbers in the third row
(2, 5, 11, 23, 47, etc.); multiply a number in the second row by its left-hand neighbor in
the same row to obtain a product g- the number (g-1) is the entry in the corresponding
place in the fourth row.

The chart should look like this:

1 2 4 8 16 32 64
3 6 12 24 48 96 192
2 5 11 23 47 95 191
17 71 287 1151 4607 18431

If we call any entry in the first row q, the corresponding entry in the second row r, the
corresponding entry in the third row s, and the corresponding entry in the fourth row t,
then a pair of amicable numbers (a,b) is found when s and its left-hand neighbor s-1 are
both prime, and the corresponding number t is also prime. Then a = qs(s-1) and b = qt are
friendly numbers (a,b).

Inter-IREM Commission. History of Mathematics: Histories of Problems. 1997.
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For example, given the pair of amicable numbers (220, 284), 220 = 4*5*11, and 284 =

From this data, he was able to generalize the rule and obtain his algorithm.

Related Problems

Many of Euler’s discoveries were based on the work produced by the French scholar
Marin Mersenne, whose name is attached to a certain kind of prime number. For
centuries, the question about whether numbers of the form 2n- 1 would yield a prime for
all primes n. Over the years, various scholars managed to find examples of primes n, such
as 23, 29, and 37, that did not yield a prime number. Although Mersenne did not solve
this problem, his work was perhaps the most substantial contribution to the study of these
kinds of numbers. As a result, all primes that can be given by the formula p = 2n- 1 are
called Mersenne primes. Obviously, Mersenne primes are a very valuable tool in the
study of perfect numbers. Given Euclid’s formula 2n-1(2n-1) = P (a perfect number) when
2n-1 is prime, then all Mersenne primes will necessarily lead to a perfect number.
Although Mersenne primes were studied and developed independently of perfect
numbers, it turns out to be a constituent factor in determining the perfect numbers.

Euler also raised the question of whether there can exist an odd perfect number. More
than a hundred years earlier, philosopher and mathematician René Descartes had written
in a letter to Marin Mersenne that he thought he might be able to determine whether odd
perfect numbers were possible. He wrote:

I think I am able to prove that there are… no odd perfect numbers, unless
they are composed of a single prime number, multiplied by a square whose
root is composed of several other prime numbers… But, whatever method
one might use, it would require a great deal of time to look for these
numbers, and perhaps the shortest would have more than 15 or 20 digits.2

Once again, a mathematical hunch was quashed by the absence of a calculator.

Euler managed to prove that, if an odd prime existed, it would need to take the
form m = p4λ-1Q2 where p is a prime of the form 4n + 1. Later studies indicated that an odd
perfect number would need to contain 47 or more prime factors. Because of the potential
enormity of this number, in addition to the complicated requirements established by
Euler, no mathematician has been able to solve the problem of the existence of odd
perfect numbers to this day. Number theorists, however, are constantly working on
calculating a solution.

The Supporting Cast

In addition to the appealing numbers (sociable, amicable, friendly, and perfect numbers),
mathematicians have also distinguished between the numbers that mimic the appealing
numbers but are not actually a member of that set. The study of these numbers was
Ibid. Inter-IREM Commission. History of Mathematics: Histories of Problems. 1997.
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crucial in developing theories and discovering properties of the existing appealing


The abundant numbers are those numbers whose aliquot parts sum to a greater value than
the number itself. Twelve, for example, is an abundant number, because its divisors (1, 2,
3, 4, and 6) sum to 16, and 16>12.

Similarly, the deficient numbers are those numbers whose aliquot parts sum to a lesser
value than that of the number itself. Ten is a deficient number, because its aliquot parts
(1, 2, and 5) sum to 8, and 8<10.

*The neo-Pythagorean Nichomachus of Gerasa first explored these concepts and coined
the terms “abundant,” “deficient,” and “perfect.” Note that his distinction between
abundant and deficient numbers is necessary to the discovery of amicable, social, and
friendly numbers, which are defined by their relationships between greater and lesser
values of aliquot parts. Amicable numbers, for example, rely on the idea that an abundant
number can only be balanced out by a deficient number.

A semiperfect or pseudoperfect number is, therefore, an abundant number whose value is

equal to the sum of some subset of its factors. Twenty, for example, is a semiperfect
number, because, of its aliquot parts (1, 2, 4, 5, and 10), the subset (1, 4, 5, and 10) sums
to 20.

*Incidentally, an abundant number that is not semiperfect is called a weird number.

A quasiperfect number is a theoretical number n whose aliquot parts sum to the value 2n
+ 1. No quasiperfect numbers have been discovered yet, but mathematicians speculate
that a quasiperfect number would have to be greater than 1035 and have at least seven

A hyperperfect number is a number n such that, for some integer k, n = 1 + k ∑ (n). The
study of hyperperfects is considered “recreational” by many mathematicians, who solve
for sequences of hyperperfects just for fun.3

Philosophy, Astrology, Rumor, and Other Fun Stuff

For the ancient scholars, an important part of the philosophy of the appealing
numbers was the distinction between their ability to be divided and their relationship to
their constituent parts. Both of these viewpoints ultimately indicate the same thing about
appealing numbers- i.e., that the additive properties of their aliquot parts distinguish them
from other kinds of numbers. The ancients, however, preferred to examine these numbers
in terms of their parts, rather than their divisibility. They liked to define these numbers in
the terminology of construction; they saw appealing numbers as wholes that are utterly
dependent upon its constituent parts.

Wikipedia. “Hyperperfect numbers.” 2005.
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Modern mathematics, however, tends to view the appealing numbers in terms of

their divisibility- that is to say, how they can be broken down. This “deconstructionist”
mindset wars with the philosophy of the ancients, whose focus on the parts rather than the
whole contributed to the mysticism that surrounded these numbers.
According to Thabit Ibn Qurra, the amicable numbers were used as symbols of
friendship and love in 9th century Baghdad. He described how lovers would carve the
amicable pair 220 and 284 into two halves of a fruit, and then each lover would eat one
half. In this way, they imaged that the parts that constituted one lover were equal to the
whole of the other. He also reports that early friendship necklaces were based on these
two numbers- friends would carve the numbers into pieces of leather, and each would
wear one of the numbers on his wrist or neck. Each number had no significance without
the other number, and relied upon the other for completeness. In this way the two young
men would be united in perfect friendship.
In the world of astrology, 6, as the smallest perfect number, has enormous
significance. Because the aliquot parts of 6 are equal to 6 as a whole, the number is
thought to be completely balanced. Its internal structure is completely harmonious with
its outward value- a highly sought-after characteristic in people as well as numbers.
Dreamtime, a modern-day society of astrologists and numerologists, reports that the
number 6 indicates “equilibrium with others” and “peace between all people.” The
society also notes that the number 6 usually indicates “a negotiator and peace-maker.”4

In Conclusion…

For a field of study that has been so widely and broadly pursued, the study of appealing
numbers has little or no impact on practical, usable mathematics. The appealing numbers
provide insights into the study of primes, unite mathematicians from around the world
and across centuries, and help to integrate number theory into everyday life, but they
have almost no impact on the math world outside the field of number theory. As a result,
the study of appealing numbers has become distinctly secondary to other fields of
mathematical study, and remains somewhat unexplored. Perhaps this relative ignorance,
combined with its complex and intricate uselessness and subtle inner beauty, allows the
ancient aura of mysticism to cling to it, rendering it Godlike and mysterious. However it
lacks in practicality, however, the study of appealing numbers requires the kind of
patience, creativity, and detective work that make number theory so enjoyable and
universally popular today.

Dreamtime. “Number Meanings.” 2004.