Let $X\sim \operatorname{Pois}(\lambda)$ and $x_1,\ldots,x_n$ observations following this distribution. I want to derive the analytical solution of the following series: $$\ell(\lambda):=\lim_{x\rightarrow \infty} \frac{1}{n}\sum_{i=1}^n \log P(X=x_i).$$

EDIT: After a few trials, I found a good numerical approximation of the solution: $$\ell(\lambda)=-\frac{1}{2}\log(17.08\cdot \lambda).$$ See the graph below, where the dots represent an approximation of the solution by simulating poisson distributions, while the blue line represents the approximated numerical solution.

y=sapply(x,function(x) mean(log(dpois(rpois(100000,x),x))))

Numerical solution

  • $\begingroup$ That's right on the mark: the constant is $2\pi e \approx 17.07947.$ See the formula for entropy at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poisson_distribution. As a check, follow up with curve(-(log(2*pi*exp(1)*x)/2 - 1/(12*x) - 1/(24*x^2) - 19/(360*x^3)), add=TRUE, col="Red", lwd=2, n=501) as suggested by the formula at that page. BTW, for faster iteration you don't need such a tightly spaced set of $\lambda.$ Use, say, x=exp(seq(0, 20, by=1/2)) and include log="x" as an argument to plot. $\endgroup$
    – whuber
    Feb 2, 2019 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks whuber, I didn't know that what I wanted to calculate was actually the entropy! If you had added an answer instead of commenting my question, I could have selected it as the right answer. $\endgroup$ Feb 3, 2019 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ Your use of the word "serie", with no final "s" makes me wonder if you're more accustomed to French than to English. Or was that just a typo? $\qquad$ $\endgroup$ Feb 3, 2019 at 19:15

1 Answer 1


If you have $n$ samples of a random variables $Y$ (or equivalently, $n$ iid random variables) and you compute the sample mean as

$$ m_n = \frac{1}{n} \sum_{i=1}^n Y_i$$

then, as $n$ grows, (under certain conditions) $m_n$ will converge (in some sense) to the expected value of $Y$, that is $m_n \to E[Y]$. See the law of large numbers, which clarifies those "certain conditions" and in what sense the "convergence" occurs.

In our case, $Y=\log(p(X))$ hence

$$\begin{align} m_n \to E[\log(p(X)]&=\sum_x p_X(x) \log(p_X(x)) \\ &= \sum_{x=0}^\infty e^{-\lambda} \frac{\lambda^x}{x!} (-\lambda + x \log(\lambda) - \log(x!)) \\ &= -\lambda (1 - \log(\lambda)) - e^{-\lambda} \sum_{x=0}^\infty\frac{\lambda^x}{x!}\log(x!) \end{align}$$

This cannot be put in simpler form, but for large $\lambda$ it can be shown that it tends to $ -\frac{1}{2} \log(2 \pi e \lambda)$

Except for the sign, as noted in a comment, this is the entropy of a Poisson distribution, see eg here or the Wikipedia.

BTW, if you look for higher order correction terms, bear in mind that most results in the bibliography imply a base two logarithm (as usual in information theory).


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