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I am trying to perform a simple arithmetic in complex algebra.

       a := Subscript[a, 1] + I*Subscript[a, 2];
       b := Subscript[b, 1] + I*Subscript[b, 2];
       r[z_] := a/(b - z) + a\[Conjugate]/(b\[Conjugate] - z);

when I try to evaluate r[0], mathematica gives me the following message

       $RecursionLimit::reclim: Recursion depth of 256 exceeded.

I was expecting something like the following

       2*Re[a/b] = 2 (a_1 * b_1 + a_2 * b_2)/(b_1 ^2 + b_2 ^2)

Could someone please point out where I did mess up?

share|improve this question
Subscript is a function too so Mathematica tries to evaluate the value of a ad infinitum inside it. Just change them to a1 and a2 for example. The same applies to b. – Spawn1701D Apr 15 '13 at 2:40
unbelievable, it worked. and i have been trying to understand what is going on for an hour. How come subscript is a function, that makes no sense at all. I cannot define a variable a_1 ? in any case, thank you so much @ Spawn1701D – Korben Dallas Apr 15 '13 at 2:43
At Mathematica every object is a function, that gives incredible power but it comes with a cost ... If you really need to have the subscripts, use ToString[Subscript[a, 1], TraditionalForm] when defining a and b. But make sure that you have cleared any previous values of them. And use = instead of :=. – Spawn1701D Apr 15 '13 at 2:48
thanks a lot, Spawn1701D – Korben Dallas Apr 15 '13 at 3:01
@Spawn, maybe write an answer to settle this? :) – J. M. Apr 15 '13 at 3:50
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I did this and it seems to work:

SetAttributes[Subscript, HoldAll];

a := Subscript[a, 1] + I*Subscript[a, 2];
b := Subscript[b, 1] + I*Subscript[b, 2];
r[z_] := a/(b - z) + a\[Conjugate]/(b\[Conjugate] - z);

r[0] // ComplexExpand // Simplify

I'm not really sure if this will work in a more general setting though.

share|improve this answer
Yes, that's a way around the problem (+1). And if you have other cases where Subscript needs its arguments evaluated, you just have to wrap those in Evaluate. – Jens Apr 15 '13 at 4:07
You just have to be careful around Evaluate. Especially with Plot. – Spawn1701D Apr 15 '13 at 4:10
I am not familiar with SetAttributes, and I will look into it now. Thank you @amr, Jens, and Spawn1701D – Korben Dallas Apr 15 '13 at 4:15
Yea the attributes can be surprisingly powerful. I recently found this out when I realized I could set UndirectedEdge to Orderless and thus have Gather[{a <-> b, b <-> a}] work as expected. – amr Apr 15 '13 at 4:27

Attributes are powerful, but so is With, which is what I would use here.

With[{a = Subscript[a, 1] + I*Subscript[a, 2],
      b = Subscript[b, 1] + I*Subscript[b, 2]}, 
  r[z_] := a/(b - z) + a\[Conjugate]/(b\[Conjugate] - z)]

r[0] // ComplexExpand // Simplify
(2*(Subscript[a, 1]*Subscript[b, 1] + Subscript[a, 2]*Subscript[b, 2])) /  
    (Subscript[b, 1]^2 + Subscript[b, 2]^2)

This works because the a on the lhs of assignment is now distinct from the a on the rhs. Same goes for b.

share|improve this answer
thanks @m_goldberg – Korben Dallas Apr 17 '13 at 2:15

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