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I’ve just uploaded to the arXiv the D.H.J. Polymath paper “Variants of the Selberg sieve, and bounded intervals containing many primes“, which is the second paper to be produced from the Polymath8 project (the first one being discussed here). We’ll refer to this latter paper here as the Polymath8b paper, and the former as the Polymath8a paper. As with Polymath8a, the Polymath8b paper is concerned with the smallest asymptotic prime gap
where denotes the prime, as well as the more general quantities
In the breakthrough paper of Goldston, Pintz, and Yildirim, the bound was obtained under the strong hypothesis of the Elliott-Halberstam conjecture. An unconditional bound on , however, remained elusive until the celebrated work of Zhang last year, who showed that
The Polymath8a paper then improved this to . After that, Maynard introduced a new multidimensional Selberg sieve argument that gave the substantial improvement
unconditionally, and on the Elliott-Halberstam conjecture; furthermore, bounds on for higher were obtained for the first time, and specifically that for all , with the improvements and on the Elliott-Halberstam conjecture. (I had independently discovered the multidimensional sieve idea, although I did not obtain Maynard’s specific numerical results, and my asymptotic bounds were a bit weaker.)
In Polymath8b, we obtain some further improvements. Unconditionally, we have and , together with some explicit bounds on ; on the Elliott-Halberstam conjecture we have and some numerical improvements to the bounds; and assuming the generalised Elliott-Halberstam conjecture we have the bound , which is best possible from sieve-theoretic methods thanks to the parity problem obstruction.
There were a variety of methods used to establish these results. Maynard’s paper obtained a criterion for bounding which reduced to finding a good solution to a certain multidimensional variational problem. When the dimension parameter was relatively small (e.g. ), we were able to obtain good numerical solutions both by continuing the method of Maynard (using a basis of symmetric polynomials), or by using a Krylov iteration scheme. For large , we refined the asymptotics and obtained near-optimal solutions of the variational problem. For the bounds, we extended the reach of the multidimensional Selberg sieve (particularly under the assumption of the generalised Elliott-Halberstam conjecture) by allowing the function in the multidimensional variational problem to extend to a larger region of space than was previously admissible, albeit with some tricky new constraints on (and penalties in the variational problem). This required some unusual sieve-theoretic manipulations, notably an “epsilon trick”, ultimately relying on the elementary inequality , that allowed one to get non-trivial lower bounds for sums such as even if the sum had no non-trivial estimates available; and a way to estimate divisor sums such as even if was permitted to be comparable to or even exceed , by using the fundamental theorem of arithmetic to factorise (after restricting to the case when is almost prime). I hope that these sieve-theoretic tricks will be useful in future work in the subject.
With this paper, the Polymath8 project is almost complete; there is still a little bit of scope to push our methods further and get some modest improvement for instance to the bound, but this would require a substantial amount of effort, and it is probably best to instead wait for some new breakthrough in the subject to come along. One final task we are performing is to write up a retrospective article on both the 8a and 8b experiences, an incomplete writeup of which can be found here. If anyone wishes to contribute some commentary on these projects (whether you were an active contributor, an occasional contributor, or a silent “lurker” in the online discussion), please feel free to do so in the comments to this post.
There are multiple purposes to this blog post.
The first purpose is to announce the uploading of the paper “New equidistribution estimates of Zhang type, and bounded gaps between primes” by D.H.J. Polymath, which is the main output of the Polymath8a project on bounded gaps between primes, to the arXiv, and to describe the main results of this paper below the fold.
The second purpose is to roll over the previous thread on all remaining Polymath8a-related matters (e.g. updates on the submission status of the paper) to a fresh thread. (Discussion of the ongoing Polymath8b project is however being kept on a separate thread, to try to reduce confusion.)
The final purpose of this post is to coordinate the writing of a retrospective article on the Polymath8 experience, which has been solicited for the Newsletter of the European Mathematical Society. I suppose that this could encompass both the Polymath8a and Polymath8b projects, even though the second one is still ongoing (but I think we will soon be entering the endgame there). I think there would be two main purposes of such a retrospective article. The first one would be to tell a story about the process of conducting mathematical research, rather than just describe the outcome of such research; this is an important aspect of the subject which is given almost no attention in most mathematical writing, and it would be good to be able to capture some sense of this process while memories are still relatively fresh. The other would be to draw some tentative conclusions with regards to what the strengths and weaknesses of a Polymath project are, and how appropriate such a format would be for other mathematical problems than bounded gaps between primes. In my opinion, the bounded gaps problem had some fairly unique features that made it particularly amenable to a Polymath project, such as (a) a high level of interest amongst the mathematical community in the problem; (b) a very focused objective (“improve !”), which naturally provided an obvious metric to measure progress; (c) the modular nature of the project, which allowed for people to focus on one aspect of the problem only, and still make contributions to the final goal; and (d) a very reasonable level of ambition (for instance, we did not attempt to prove the twin prime conjecture, which in my opinion would make a terrible Polymath project at our current level of mathematical technology). This is not an exhaustive list of helpful features of the problem; I would welcome other diagnoses of the project by other participants.
With these two objectives in mind, I propose a format for the retrospective article consisting of a brief introduction to the polymath concept in general and the polymath8 project in particular, followed by a collection of essentially independent contributions by different participants on their own experiences and thoughts. Finally we could have a conclusion section in which we make some general remarks on the polymath project (such as the remarks above). I’ve started a dropbox subfolder for this article (currently in a very skeletal outline form only), and will begin writing a section on my own experiences; other participants are of course encouraged to add their own sections (it is probably best to create separate files for these, and then input them into the main file retrospective.tex, to reduce edit conflicts. If there are participants who wish to contribute but do not currently have access to the Dropbox folder, please email me and I will try to have you added (or else you can supply your thoughts by email, or in the comments to this post; we may have a section for shorter miscellaneous comments from more casual participants, for people who don’t wish to write a lengthy essay on the subject).
As for deadlines, the EMS Newsletter would like a submitted article by mid-April in order to make the June issue, but in the worst case, it will just be held over until the issue after that.
I’ve just uploaded to the arXiv the paper “Finite time blowup for an averaged three-dimensional Navier-Stokes equation“, submitted to J. Amer. Math. Soc.. The main purpose of this paper is to formalise the “supercriticality barrier” for the global regularity problem for the Navier-Stokes equation, which roughly speaking asserts that it is not possible to establish global regularity by any “abstract” approach which only uses upper bound function space estimates on the nonlinear part of the equation, combined with the energy identity. This is done by constructing a modification of the Navier-Stokes equations with a nonlinearity that obeys essentially all of the function space estimates that the true Navier-Stokes nonlinearity does, and which also obeys the energy identity, but for which one can construct solutions that blow up in finite time. Results of this type had been previously established by Montgomery-Smith, Gallagher-Paicu, and Li-Sinai for variants of the Navier-Stokes equation without the energy identity, and by Katz-Pavlovic and by Cheskidov for dyadic analogues of the Navier-Stokes equations in five and higher dimensions that obeyed the energy identity (see also the work of Plechac and Sverak and of Hou and Lei that also suggest blowup for other Navier-Stokes type models obeying the energy identity in five and higher dimensions), but to my knowledge this is the first blowup result for a Navier-Stokes type equation in three dimensions that also obeys the energy identity. Intriguingly, the method of proof in fact hints at a possible route to establishing blowup for the true Navier-Stokes equations, which I am now increasingly inclined to believe is the case (albeit for a very small set of initial data).
To state the results more precisely, recall that the Navier-Stokes equations can be written in the form
for a divergence-free velocity field and a pressure field , where is the viscosity, which we will normalise to be one. We will work in the non-periodic setting, so the spatial domain is , and for sake of exposition I will not discuss matters of regularity or decay of the solution (but we will always be working with strong notions of solution here rather than weak ones). Applying the Leray projection to divergence-free vector fields to this equation, we can eliminate the pressure, and obtain an evolution equation
purely for the velocity field, where is a certain bilinear operator on divergence-free vector fields (specifically, . The global regularity problem for Navier-Stokes is then equivalent to the global regularity problem for the evolution equation (1).
An important feature of the bilinear operator appearing in (1) is the cancellation law
(using the inner product on divergence-free vector fields), which leads in particular to the fundamental energy identity
This identity (and its consequences) provide essentially the only known a priori bound on solutions to the Navier-Stokes equations from large data and arbitrary times. Unfortunately, as discussed in this previous post, the quantities controlled by the energy identity are supercritical with respect to scaling, which is the fundamental obstacle that has defeated all attempts to solve the global regularity problem for Navier-Stokes without any additional assumptions on the data or solution (e.g. perturbative hypotheses, or a priori control on a critical norm such as the norm).
Our main result is then (slightly informally stated) as follows
Theorem 1 There exists an averaged version of the bilinear operator , of the form
for some probability space , some spatial rotation operators for , and some Fourier multipliers of order , for which one still has the cancellation law
and for which the averaged Navier-Stokes equation
(There are some integrability conditions on the Fourier multipliers required in the above theorem in order for the conclusion to be non-trivial, but I am omitting them here for sake of exposition.)
Because spatial rotations and Fourier multipliers of order are bounded on most function spaces, automatically obeys almost all of the upper bound estimates that does. Thus, this theorem blocks any attempt to prove global regularity for the true Navier-Stokes equations which relies purely on the energy identity and on upper bound estimates for the nonlinearity; one must use some additional structure of the nonlinear operator which is not shared by an averaged version . Such additional structure certainly exists – for instance, the Navier-Stokes equation has a vorticity formulation involving only differential operators rather than pseudodifferential ones, whereas a general equation of the form (2) does not. However, “abstract” approaches to global regularity generally do not exploit such structure, and thus cannot be used to affirmatively answer the Navier-Stokes problem.
It turns out that the particular averaged bilinear operator that we will use will be a finite linear combination of local cascade operators, which take the form
where is a small parameter, are Schwartz vector fields whose Fourier transform is supported on an annulus, and is an -rescaled version of (basically a “wavelet” of wavelength about centred at the origin). Such operators were essentially introduced by Katz and Pavlovic as dyadic models for ; they have the essentially the same scaling property as (except that one can only scale along powers of , rather than over all positive reals), and in fact they can be expressed as an average of in the sense of the above theorem, as can be shown after a somewhat tedious amount of Fourier-analytic symbol manipulations.
If we consider nonlinearities which are a finite linear combination of local cascade operators, then the equation (2) more or less collapses to a system of ODE in certain “wavelet coefficients” of . The precise ODE that shows up depends on what precise combination of local cascade operators one is using. Katz and Pavlovic essentially considered a single cascade operator together with its “adjoint” (needed to preserve the energy identity), and arrived (more or less) at the system of ODE
where are scalar fields for each integer . (Actually, Katz-Pavlovic worked with a technical variant of this particular equation, but the differences are not so important for this current discussion.) Note that the quadratic terms on the RHS carry a higher exponent of than the dissipation term; this reflects the supercritical nature of this evolution (the energy is monotone decreasing in this flow, so the natural size of given the control on the energy is ). There is a slight technical issue with the dissipation if one wishes to embed (3) into an equation of the form (2), but it is minor and I will not discuss it further here.
In principle, if the mode has size comparable to at some time , then energy should flow from to at a rate comparable to , so that by time or so, most of the energy of should have drained into the mode (with hardly any energy dissipated). Since the series is summable, this suggests finite time blowup for this ODE as the energy races ever more quickly to higher and higher modes. Such a scenario was indeed established by Katz and Pavlovic (and refined by Cheskidov) if the dissipation strength was weakened somewhat (the exponent has to be lowered to be less than ). As mentioned above, this is enough to give a version of Theorem 1 in five and higher dimensions.
On the other hand, it was shown a few years ago by Barbato, Morandin, and Romito that (3) in fact admits global smooth solutions (at least in the dyadic case , and assuming non-negative initial data). Roughly speaking, the problem is that as energy is being transferred from to , energy is also simultaneously being transferred from to , and as such the solution races off to higher modes a bit too prematurely, without absorbing all of the energy from lower modes. This weakens the strength of the blowup to the point where the moderately strong dissipation in (3) is enough to kill the high frequency cascade before a true singularity occurs. Because of this, the original Katz-Pavlovic model cannot quite be used to establish Theorem 1 in three dimensions. (Actually, the original Katz-Pavlovic model had some additional dispersive features which allowed for another proof of global smooth solutions, which is an unpublished result of Nazarov.)
To get around this, I had to “engineer” an ODE system with similar features to (3) (namely, a quadratic nonlinearity, a monotone total energy, and the indicated exponents of for both the dissipation term and the quadratic terms), but for which the cascade of energy from scale to scale was not interrupted by the cascade of energy from scale to scale . To do this, I needed to insert a delay in the cascade process (so that after energy was dumped into scale , it would take some time before the energy would start to transfer to scale ), but the process also needed to be abrupt (once the process of energy transfer started, it needed to conclude very quickly, before the delayed transfer for the next scale kicked in). It turned out that one could build a “quadratic circuit” out of some basic “quadratic gates” (analogous to how an electrical circuit could be built out of basic gates such as amplifiers or resistors) that achieved this task, leading to an ODE system essentially of the form
where is a suitable large parameter and is a suitable small parameter (much smaller than ). To visualise the dynamics of such a system, I found it useful to describe this system graphically by a “circuit diagram” that is analogous (but not identical) to the circuit diagrams arising in electrical engineering:
The coupling constants here range widely from being very large to very small; in practice, this makes the and modes absorb very little energy, but exert a sizeable influence on the remaining modes. If a lot of energy is suddenly dumped into , what happens next is roughly as follows: for a moderate period of time, nothing much happens other than a trickle of energy into , which in turn causes a rapid exponential growth of (from a very low base). After this delay, suddenly crosses a certain threshold, at which point it causes and to exchange energy back and forth with extreme speed. The energy from then rapidly drains into , and the process begins again (with a slight loss in energy due to the dissipation). If one plots the total energy as a function of time, it looks schematically like this:
As in the previous heuristic discussion, the time between cascades from one frequency scale to the next decay exponentially, leading to blowup at some finite time . (One could describe the dynamics here as being similar to the famous “lighting the beacons” scene in the Lord of the Rings movies, except that (a) as each beacon gets ignited, the previous one is extinguished, as per the energy identity; (b) the time between beacon lightings decrease exponentially; and (c) there is no soundtrack.)
There is a real (but remote) possibility that this sort of construction can be adapted to the true Navier-Stokes equations. The basic blowup mechanism in the averaged equation is that of a von Neumann machine, or more precisely a construct (built within the laws of the inviscid evolution ) that, after some time delay, manages to suddenly create a replica of itself at a finer scale (and to largely erase its original instantiation in the process). In principle, such a von Neumann machine could also be built out of the laws of the inviscid form of the Navier-Stokes equations (i.e. the Euler equations). In physical terms, one would have to build the machine purely out of an ideal fluid (i.e. an inviscid incompressible fluid). If one could somehow create enough “logic gates” out of ideal fluid, one could presumably build a sort of “fluid computer”, at which point the task of building a von Neumann machine appears to reduce to a software engineering exercise rather than a PDE problem (providing that the gates are suitably stable with respect to perturbations, but (as with actual computers) this can presumably be done by converting the analog signals of fluid mechanics into a more error-resistant digital form). The key thing missing in this program (in both senses of the word) to establish blowup for Navier-Stokes is to construct the logic gates within the laws of ideal fluids. (Compare with the situation for cellular automata such as Conway’s “Game of Life“, in which Turing complete computers, universal constructors, and replicators have all been built within the laws of that game.)
I’ve just uploaded to the arXiv my article “Algebraic combinatorial geometry: the polynomial method in arithmetic combinatorics, incidence combinatorics, and number theory“, submitted to the new journal “EMS surveys in the mathematical sciences“. This is the first draft of a survey article on the polynomial method – a technique in combinatorics and number theory for controlling a relevant set of points by comparing it with the zero set of a suitably chosen polynomial, and then using tools from algebraic geometry (e.g. Bezout’s theorem) on that zero set. As such, the method combines algebraic geometry with combinatorial geometry, and could be viewed as the philosophy of a combined field which I dub “algebraic combinatorial geometry”. There is also an important extension of this method when one is working overthe reals, in which methods from algebraic topology (e.g. the ham sandwich theorem and its generalisation to polynomials), and not just algebraic geometry, come into play also.
The polynomial method has been used independently many times in mathematics; for instance, it plays a key role in the proof of Baker’s theorem in transcendence theory, or Stepanov’s method in giving an elementary proof of the Riemann hypothesis for finite fields over curves; in combinatorics, the nullstellenatz of Alon is also another relatively early use of the polynomial method. More recently, it underlies Dvir’s proof of the Kakeya conjecture over finite fields and Guth and Katz’s near-complete solution to the Erdos distance problem in the plane, and can be used to give a short proof of the Szemeredi-Trotter theorem. One of the aims of this survey is to try to present all of these disparate applications of the polynomial method in a somewhat unified context; my hope is that there will eventually be a systematic foundation for algebraic combinatorial geometry which naturally contains all of these different instances the polynomial method (and also suggests new instances to explore); but the field is unfortunately not at that stage of maturity yet.
This is something of a first draft, so comments and suggestions are even more welcome than usual. (For instance, I have already had my attention drawn to some additional uses of the polynomial method in the literature that I was not previously aware of.)
Van Vu and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our joint paper “Local universality of zeroes of random polynomials“. This paper is a sequel to our previous work on local universality of eigenvalues of (non-Hermitian) random matrices with independent entries. One can re-interpret these previous results as a universality result for a certain type of random polynomial , namely the characteristic polynomial of the random matrix . In this paper, we consider the analogous problem for a different model of random polynomial, namely polynomials with independent random coefficients. More precisely, we consider random polynomials of the form
where are deterministic complex coefficients, and are independent identically distributed copies of a complex random variable , which we normalise to have mean zero and variance one. For simplicity we will ignore the technical issue that the leading coefficient is allowed to vanish; then has zeroes (counting multiplicity), which can be viewed as a random point process in the complex plane. In analogy with other models (such as random matrix models), we expect the (suitably normalised) asymptotic statistics of this point process in the limit to be universal, in the sense that it is largely independent of the precise distribution of the atom variable .
Our results are fairly general with regard to the choice of coefficients , but we isolate three particular choice of coefficients that are particularly natural and well-studied in the literature:
- Flat polynomials (or Weyl polynomials) in which .
- Elliptic polynomials (or binomial polynomials) in which .
- Kac polynomials in which .
The flat and elliptic polynomials enjoy special symmetries in the model case when the atom distribution is a complex Gaussian . Indeed, the zeroes of elliptic polynomials with complex Gaussian coefficients have a distribution which is invariant with respect to isometries of the Riemann sphere (thus has the same distribution as ), while the zeroes of the limiting case of the flat polynomials with complex Gaussian coefficients are similarly invariant with respect to isometries of the complex plane . (For a nice geometric proof of this facts, I recommend the nice book of Hough, Krishnapur, Peres, and Virag.)
The global (i.e. coarse-scale) distribution of zeroes of these polynomials is well understood, first in the case of gaussian distributions using the fundamental tool of the Kac-Rice formula, and then for more general choices of atom distribution in the recent work of Kabluchko and Zaporozhets. The zeroes of the flat polynomials are asymptotically distributed according to the circular law, normalised to be uniformly distributed on the disk of radius centred at the origin. To put it a bit informally, the zeroes are asymptotically distributed according to the measure , where denotes Lebesgue measure on the complex plane. One can non-rigorously see the scale appear by observing that when is much larger than , we expect the leading term of the flat polynomial to dominate, so that the polynomial should not have any zeroes in this region.
Similarly, the distribution of the elliptic polynomials is known to be asymptotically distributed according to a Cauchy-type distribution . The Kac polynomials behave differently; the zeroes concentrate uniformly on the unit circle (which is reasonable, given that one would expect the top order term to dominate for and the bottom order term to dominate for ). In particular, whereas the typical spacing between zeroes in the flat and elliptic cases would be expected to be comparable to , the typical spacing between zeroes for a Kac polynomial would be expected instead to be comparable to .
In our paper we studied the local distribution of zeroes at the scale of the typical spacing. In the case of polynomials with continuous complex atom disribution , the natural statistic to measure here is the -point correlation function , which for distinct complex numbers can be defined as the probability that there is a zero in each of the balls for some infinitesimal , divided by the normalising factor . (One can also define a -point correlation function in the case of a discrete distribution, but it will be a measure rather than a function in that case.) Our first main theorem is a general replacement principle which asserts, very roughly speaking, that the asymptotic -point correlation functions of two random polynomials will agree if the log-magnitudes have asymptotically the same distribution (actually we have to consider the joint distribution of for several points , but let us ignore this detail for now), and if the polynomials obeys a “non-clustering property” which asserts, roughly speaking, that not too many of the zeroes of can typically concentrate in a small ball. This replacement principle was implicit in our previous paper (and can be viewed as a local-scale version of the global-scale replacement principle in this earlier paper of ours). Specialising the replacement principle to the elliptic or flat polynomials, and using the Lindeberg swapping argument, we obtain a Two Moment Theorem that asserts, roughly speaking, that the asymptotic behaviour of the -point correlation functions depends only on the first two moments of the real and imaginary components of , as long as one avoids some regions of space where universality is expected to break down. (In particular, because does not have a universal distribution, one does not expect universality to hold near the origin; there is a similar problem near infinity.) Closely related results, by a slightly different method, have also been obtained recently by Ledoan, Merkli, and Starr. A similar result holds for the Kac polynomials after rescaling to account for the narrower spacing between zeroes.
We also have analogous results in the case of polynomials with real coefficients (so that the coefficients and the atom distribution are both real). In this case one expects to see a certain number of real zeroes, together with conjugate pairs of complex zeroes. Instead of the -point correlation function , the natural object of study is now the mixed -point correlation function that (roughly speaking) controls how often one can find a real zero near the real numbers , and a complex zero near the points . It turns out that one can disentangle the real and strictly complex zeroes and obtain separate universality results for both zeroes, provided that at least one of the polynomials involved obeys a “weak repulsion estimate” that shows that the real zeroes do not cluster very close to each other (and that the complex zeroes do not cluster very close to their complex conjugates). Such an estimate is needed to avoid the situation of two nearby real zeroes “colliding” to create a (barely) complex zero and its complex conjugate, or the time reversal of such a collision. Fortunately, in the case of real gaussian polynomials one can use the Kac-Rice formula to establish such a weak repulsion estimate, allowing analogues of the above universality results for complex random polynomials in the real case. Among other things, this gives universality results for the number of real zeroes of a random flat or elliptic polynomial; it turns out this number is typically equal to and respectively. (For Kac polynomials, the situation is somewhat different; it was already known that thanks to a long series of papers, starting with the foundational work of Kac and culminating in the work of Ibragimov and Maslova.)
While our methods are based on our earlier work on eigenvalues of random matrices, the situation with random polynomials is actually somewhat easier to deal with. This is because the log-magnitude of a random polynomial with independent coefficients is significantly easier to control than the log-determinant of a random matrix, as the former can be controlled by the central limit theorem, while the latter requires significantly more difficult arguments (in particular, bounds on the least singular value combined with Girko’s Hermitization trick). As such, one could view the current paper as an introduction to our more complicated previous paper, and with this in mind we have written the current paper to be self-contained (though this did make the paper somewhat lengthy, checking in at 68 pages).
The purpose of this post is to link to a short unpublished note of mine that I wrote back in 2010 but forgot to put on my web page at the time. Entitled “A physical space proof of the bilinear Strichartz and local smoothing estimates for the Schrodinger equation“, it gives a proof of two standard estimates for the free (linear) Schrodinger equation in flat Euclidean space, namely the bilinear Strichartz estimate and the local smoothing estimate, using primarily “physical space” methods such as integration by parts, instead of “frequency space” methods based on the Fourier transform, although a small amount of Fourier analysis (basically sectoral projection to make the Schrodinger waves move roughly in a given direction) is still needed. This is somewhat in the spirit of an older paper of mine with Klainerman and Rodnianski doing something similar for the wave equation, and is also very similar to a paper of Planchon and Vega from 2009. The hope was that by avoiding the finer properties of the Fourier transform, one could obtain a more robust argument which could also extend to nonlinear, non-free, or non-flat situations. These notes were cited once or twice by some people that I had privately circulated them to, so I decided to put them online here for reference.
UPDATE, July 24: Fabrice Planchon has kindly supplied another note in which he gives a particularly simple proof of local smoothing in one dimension, and discusses some other variants of the method (related to the paper of Planchon and Vega cited earlier).
Tamar Ziegler and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our joint paper “A multi-dimensional Szemerédi theorem for the primes via a correspondence principle“. This paper is related to an earlier result of Ben Green and mine in which we established that the primes contain arbitrarily long arithmetic progressions. Actually, in that paper we proved a more general result:
Theorem 1 (Szemerédi’s theorem in the primes) Let be a subset of the primes of positive relative density, thus . Then contains arbitrarily long arithmetic progressions.
This result was based in part on an earlier paper of Green that handled the case of progressions of length three. With the primes replaced by the integers, this is of course the famous theorem of Szemerédi.
Szemerédi’s theorem has now been generalised in many different directions. One of these is the multidimensional Szemerédi theorem of Furstenberg and Katznelson, who used ergodic-theoretic techniques to show that any dense subset of necessarily contained infinitely many constellations of any prescribed shape. Our main result is to relativise that theorem to the primes as well:
Theorem 2 (Multidimensional Szemerédi theorem in the primes) Let , and let be a subset of the Cartesian power of the primes of positive relative density, thus
Then for any , contains infinitely many “constellations” of the form with and a positive integer.
In the case when is itself a Cartesian product of one-dimensional sets (in particular, if is all of ), this result already follows from Theorem 1, but there does not seem to be a similarly easy argument to deduce the general case of Theorem 2 from previous results. Simultaneously with this paper, an independent proof of Theorem 2 using a somewhat different method has been established by Cook, Maygar, and Titichetrakun.
The result is reminiscent of an earlier result of mine on finding constellations in the Gaussian primes (or dense subsets thereof). That paper followed closely the arguments of my original paper with Ben Green, namely it first enclosed (a W-tricked version of) the primes or Gaussian primes (in a sieve theoretic-sense) by a slightly larger set (or more precisely, a weight function ) of almost primes or almost Gaussian primes, which one could then verify (using methods closely related to the sieve-theoretic methods in the ongoing Polymath8 project) to obey certain pseudorandomness conditions, known as the linear forms condition and the correlation condition. Very roughly speaking, these conditions assert statements of the following form: if is a randomly selected integer, then the events of simultaneously being an almost prime (or almost Gaussian prime) are approximately independent for most choices of . Once these conditions are satisfied, one can then run a transference argument (initially based on ergodic-theory methods, but nowadays there are simpler transference results based on the Hahn-Banach theorem, due to Gowers and Reingold-Trevisan-Tulsiani-Vadhan) to obtain relative Szemerédi-type theorems from their absolute counterparts.
However, when one tries to adapt these arguments to sets such as , a new difficulty occurs: the natural analogue of the almost primes would be the Cartesian square of the almost primes – pairs whose entries are both almost primes. (Actually, for technical reasons, one does not work directly with a set of almost primes, but would instead work with a weight function such as that is concentrated on a set such as , but let me ignore this distinction for now.) However, this set does not enjoy as many pseudorandomness conditions as one would need for a direct application of the transference strategy to work. More specifically, given any fixed , and random , the four events
do not behave independently (as they would if were replaced for instance by the Gaussian almost primes), because any three of these events imply the fourth. This blocks the transference strategy for constellations which contain some right-angles to them (e.g. constellations of the form ) as such constellations soon turn into rectangles such as the one above after applying Cauchy-Schwarz a few times. (But a few years ago, Cook and Magyar showed that if one restricted attention to constellations which were in general position in the sense that any coordinate hyperplane contained at most one element in the constellation, then this obstruction does not occur and one can establish Theorem 2 in this case through the transference argument.) It’s worth noting that very recently, Conlon, Fox, and Zhao have succeeded in removing of the pseudorandomness conditions (namely the correlation condition) from the transference principle, leaving only the linear forms condition as the remaining pseudorandomness condition to be verified, but unfortunately this does not completely solve the above problem because the linear forms condition also fails for (or for weights concentrated on ) when applied to rectangular patterns.
There are now two ways known to get around this problem and establish Theorem 2 in full generality. The approach of Cook, Magyar, and Titichetrakun proceeds by starting with one of the known proofs of the multidimensional Szemerédi theorem – namely, the proof that proceeds through hypergraph regularity and hypergraph removal – and attach pseudorandom weights directly within the proof itself, rather than trying to add the weights to the result of that proof through a transference argument. (A key technical issue is that weights have to be added to all the levels of the hypergraph – not just the vertices and top-order edges – in order to circumvent the failure of naive pseudorandomness.) As one has to modify the entire proof of the multidimensional Szemerédi theorem, rather than use that theorem as a black box, the Cook-Magyar-Titichetrakun argument is lengthier than ours; on the other hand, it is more general and does not rely on some difficult theorems about primes that are used in our paper.
In our approach, we continue to use the multidimensional Szemerédi theorem (or more precisely, the equivalent theorem of Furstenberg and Katznelson concerning multiple recurrence for commuting shifts) as a black box. The difference is that instead of using a transference principle to connect the relative multidimensional Szemerédi theorem we need to the multiple recurrence theorem, we instead proceed by a version of the Furstenberg correspondence principle, similar to the one that connects the absolute multidimensional Szemerédi theorem to the multiple recurrence theorem. I had discovered this approach many years ago in an unpublished note, but had abandoned it because it required an infinite number of linear forms conditions (in contrast to the transference technique, which only needed a finite number of linear forms conditions and (until the recent work of Conlon-Fox-Zhao) a correlation condition). The reason for this infinite number of conditions is that the correspondence principle has to build a probability measure on an entire -algebra; for this, it is not enough to specify the measure of a single set such as , but one also has to specify the measure of “cylinder sets” such as where could be arbitrarily large. The larger gets, the more linear forms conditions one needs to keep the correspondence under control.
With the sieve weights we were using at the time, standard sieve theory methods could indeed provide a finite number of linear forms conditions, but not an infinite number, so my idea was abandoned. However, with my later work with Green and Ziegler on linear equations in primes (and related work on the Mobius-nilsequences conjecture and the inverse conjecture on the Gowers norm), Tamar and I realised that the primes themselves obey an infinite number of linear forms conditions, so one can basically use the primes (or a proxy for the primes, such as the von Mangoldt function ) as the enveloping sieve weight, rather than a classical sieve. Thus my old idea of using the Furstenberg correspondence principle to transfer Szemerédi-type theorems to the primes could actually be realised. In the one-dimensional case, this simply produces a much more complicated proof of Theorem 1 than the existing one; but it turns out that the argument works as well in higher dimensions and yields Theorem 2 relatively painlessly, except for the fact that it needs the results on linear equations in primes, the known proofs of which are extremely lengthy (and also require some of the transference machinery mentioned earlier). The problem of correlations in rectangles is avoided in the correspondence principle approach because one can compensate for such correlations by performing a suitable weighted limit to compute the measure of cylinder sets, with each requiring a different weighted correction. (This may be related to the Cook-Magyar-Titichetrakun strategy of weighting all of the facets of the hypergraph in order to recover pseudorandomness, although our contexts are rather different.)
Vitaly Bergelson, Tamar Ziegler, and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our joint paper “Multiple recurrence and convergence results associated to -actions“. This paper is primarily concerned with limit formulae in the theory of multiple recurrence in ergodic theory. Perhaps the most basic formula of this type is the mean ergodic theorem, which (among other things) asserts that if is a measure-preserving -system (which, in this post, means that is a probability space and is measure-preserving and invertible, thus giving an action of the integers), and are functions, and is ergodic (which means that contains no -invariant functions other than the constants (up to almost everywhere equivalence, of course)), then the average
converges as to the expression
see e.g. this previous blog post. Informally, one can interpret this limit formula as an equidistribution result: if is drawn at random from (using the probability measure ), and is drawn at random from for some large , then the pair becomes uniformly distributed in the product space (using product measure ) in the limit as .
If we allow to be non-ergodic, then we still have a limit formula, but it is a bit more complicated. Let be the -invariant measurable sets in ; the -system can then be viewed as a factor of the original system , which is equivalent (in the sense of measure-preserving systems) to a trivial system (known as the invariant factor) in which the shift is trivial. There is then a projection map to the invariant factor which is a factor map, and the average (1) converges in the limit to the expression
where is the pushforward map associated to the map ; see e.g. this previous blog post. We can interpret this as an equidistribution result. If is a pair as before, then we no longer expect complete equidistribution in in the non-ergodic, because there are now non-trivial constraints relating with ; indeed, for any -invariant function , we have the constraint ; putting all these constraints together we see that (for almost every , at least). The limit (2) can be viewed as an assertion that this constraint are in some sense the “only” constraints between and , and that the pair is uniformly distributed relative to these constraints.
Limit formulae are known for multiple ergodic averages as well, although the statement becomes more complicated. For instance, consider the expression
for three functions ; this is analogous to the combinatorial task of counting length three progressions in various sets. For simplicity we assume the system to be ergodic. Naively one might expect this limit to then converge to
which would roughly speaking correspond to an assertion that the triplet is asymptotically equidistributed in . However, even in the ergodic case there can be additional constraints on this triplet that cannot be seen at the level of the individual pairs , . The key obstruction here is that of eigenfunctions of the shift , that is to say non-trivial functions that obey the eigenfunction equation almost everywhere for some constant (or -invariant) . Each such eigenfunction generates a constraint
tying together , , and . However, it turns out that these are in some sense the only constraints on that are relevant for the limit (3). More precisely, if one sets to be the sub-algebra of generated by the eigenfunctions of , then it turns out that the factor is isomorphic to a shift system known as the Kronecker factor, for some compact abelian group and some (irrational) shift ; the factor map pushes eigenfunctions forward to (affine) characters on . It is then known that the limit of (3) is
where is the closed subgroup
and is the Haar probability measure on ; see this previous blog post. The equation defining corresponds to the constraint (4) mentioned earlier. Among other things, this limit formula implies Roth’s theorem, which in the context of ergodic theory is the assertion that the limit (or at least the limit inferior) of (3) is positive when is non-negative and not identically vanishing.
If one considers a quadruple average
(analogous to counting length four progressions) then the situation becomes more complicated still, even in the ergodic case. In addition to the (linear) eigenfunctions that already showed up in the computation of the triple average (3), a new type of constraint also arises from quadratic eigenfunctions , which obey an eigenfunction equation in which is no longer constant, but is now a linear eigenfunction. For such functions, behaves quadratically in , and one can compute the existence of a constraint
between , , , and that is not detected at the triple average level. As it turns out, this is not the only type of constraint relevant for (5); there is a more general class of constraint involving two-step nilsystems which we will not detail here, but see e.g. this previous blog post for more discussion. Nevertheless there is still a similar limit formula to previous examples, involving a special factor which turns out to be an inverse limit of two-step nilsystems; this limit theorem can be extracted from the structural theory in this paper of Host and Kra combined with a limit formula for nilsystems obtained by Lesigne, but will not be reproduced here. The pattern continues to higher averages (and higher step nilsystems); this was first done explicitly by Ziegler, and can also in principle be extracted from the structural theory of Host-Kra combined with nilsystem equidistribution results of Leibman. These sorts of limit formulae can lead to various recurrence results refining Roth’s theorem in various ways; see this paper of Bergelson, Host, and Kra for some examples of this.
The above discussion was concerned with -systems, but one can adapt much of the theory to measure-preserving -systems for other discrete countable abelian groups , in which one now has a family of shifts indexed by rather than a single shift, obeying the compatibility relation . The role of the intervals in this more general setting is replaced by that of Folner sequences. For arbitrary countable abelian , the theory for double averages (1) and triple limits (3) is essentially identical to the -system case. But when one turns to quadruple and higher limits, the situation becomes more complicated (and, for arbitrary , still not fully understood). However one model case which is now well understood is the finite field case when is an infinite-dimensional vector space over a finite field (with the finite subspaces then being a good choice for the Folner sequence). Here, the analogue of the structural theory of Host and Kra was worked out by Vitaly, Tamar, and myself in these previous papers (treating the high characteristic and low characteristic cases respectively). In the finite field setting, it turns out that nilsystems no longer appear, and one only needs to deal with linear, quadratic, and higher order eigenfunctions (known collectively as phase polynomials). It is then natural to look for a limit formula that asserts, roughly speaking, that if is drawn at random from a -system and drawn randomly from a large subspace of , then the only constraints between are those that arise from phase polynomials. The main theorem of this paper is to establish this limit formula (which, again, is a little complicated to state explicitly and will not be done here). In particular, we establish for the first time that the limit actually exists (a result which, for -systems, was one of the main results of this paper of Host and Kra).
As a consequence, we can recover finite field analogues of most of the results of Bergelson-Host-Kra, though interestingly some of the counterexamples demonstrating sharpness of their results for -systems (based on Behrend set constructions) do not seem to be present in the finite field setting (cf. this previous blog post on the cap set problem). In particular, we are able to largely settle the question of when one has a Khintchine-type theorem that asserts that for any measurable set in an ergodic -system and any , one has
for a syndetic set of , where are distinct residue classes. It turns out that Khintchine-type theorems always hold for (and for ergodicity is not required), and for it holds whenever form a parallelogram, but not otherwise (though the counterexample here was such a painful computation that we ended up removing it from the paper, and may end up putting it online somewhere instead), and for larger we could show that the Khintchine property failed for generic choices of , though the problem of determining exactly the tuples for which the Khintchine property failed looked to be rather messy and we did not completely settle it.
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