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Having studied compact extensions in the previous lecture, we now consider the opposite type of extension, namely that of a weakly mixing extension. Just as compact extensions are “relative” versions of compact systems, weakly mixing extensions are “relative” versions of weakly mixing systems, in which the underlying algebra of scalars {\Bbb C} is replaced by L^\infty(Y). As in the case of unconditionally weakly mixing systems, we will be able to use the van der Corput lemma to neglect “conditionally weakly mixing” functions, thus allowing us to lift the uniform multiple recurrence property (UMR) from a system to any weakly mixing extension of that system.

To finish the proof of the Furstenberg recurrence theorem requires two more steps. One is a relative version of the dichotomy between mixing and compactness: if a system is not weakly mixing relative to some factor, then that factor has a non-trivial compact extension. This will be accomplished using the theory of conditional Hilbert-Schmidt operators in this lecture. Finally, we need the (easy) result that the UMR property is preserved under limits of chains; this will be accomplished in the next lecture.

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In Lecture 11, we studied compact measure-preserving systems – those systems (X, {\mathcal X}, \mu, T) in which every function f \in L^2(X, {\mathcal X}, \mu) was almost periodic, which meant that their orbit \{ T^n f: n \in {\Bbb Z}\} was precompact in the L^2(X, {\mathcal X}, \mu) topology. Among other things, we were able to easily establish the Furstenberg recurrence theorem (Theorem 1 from Lecture 11) for such systems.

In this lecture, we generalise these results to a “relative” or “conditional” setting, in which we study systems which are compact relative to some factor (Y, {\mathcal Y}, \nu, S) of (X, {\mathcal X}, \mu, T). Such systems are to compact systems as isometric extensions are to isometric systems in topological dynamics. The main result we establish here is that the Furstenberg recurrence theorem holds for such compact extensions whenever the theorem holds for the base. The proof is essentially the same as in the compact case; the main new trick is to not to work in the Hilbert spaces L^2(X,{\mathcal X},\mu) over the complex numbers, but rather in the Hilbert module L^2(X,{\mathcal X},\mu|Y, {\mathcal Y}, \nu) over the (commutative) von Neumann algebra L^\infty(Y,{\mathcal Y},\nu). (Modules are to rings as vector spaces are to fields.) Because of the compact nature of the extension, it turns out that results from topological dynamics (and in particular, van der Waerden’s theorem) can be exploited to good effect in this argument.

[Note: this operator-algebraic approach is not the only way to understand these extensions; one can also proceed by disintegrating \mu into fibre measures \mu_y for almost every y \in Y and working fibre by fibre. We will discuss the connection between the two approaches below.]

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The primary objective of this lecture and the next few will be to give a proof of the Furstenberg recurrence theorem (Theorem 2 from the previous lecture). Along the way we will develop a structural theory for measure-preserving systems.

The basic strategy of Furstenberg’s proof is to first prove the recurrence theorems for very simple systems – either those with “almost periodic” (or compact) dynamics or with “weakly mixing” dynamics. These cases are quite easy, but don’t manage to cover all the cases. To go further, we need to consider various combinations of these systems. For instance, by viewing a general system as an extension of the maximal compact factor, we will be able to prove Roth’s theorem (which is equivalent to the k=3 form of the Furstenberg recurrence theorem). To handle the general case, we need to consider compact extensions of compact factors, compact extensions of compact extensions of compact factors, etc., as well as weakly mixing extensions of all the previously mentioned factors.

In this lecture, we will consider those measure-preserving systems (X, {\mathcal X}, \mu, T) which are compact or almost periodic. These systems are analogous to the equicontinuous or isometric systems in topological dynamics discussed in Lecture 6, and as with those systems, we will be able to characterise such systems (or more precisely, the ergodic ones) algebraically as Kronecker systems, though this is not strictly necessary for the proof of the recurrence theorem.

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We now begin the study of recurrence in topological dynamical systems (X, {\mathcal F}, T) – how often a non-empty open set U in X returns to intersect itself, or how often a point x in X returns to be close to itself. Not every set or point needs to return to itself; consider for instance what happens to the shift x \mapsto x+1 on the compactified integers \{-\infty\} \cup {\Bbb Z} \cup \{+\infty\}. Nevertheless, we can always show that at least one set (from any open cover) returns to itself:

Theorem 1. (Simple recurrence in open covers) Let (X,{\mathcal F},T) be a topological dynamical system, and let (U_\alpha)_{\alpha \in A} be an open cover of X. Then there exists an open set U_\alpha in this cover such that U_\alpha \cap T^n U_\alpha \neq \emptyset for infinitely many n.

Proof. By compactness of X, we can refine the open cover to a finite subcover. Now consider an orbit T^{\Bbb Z} x = \{ T^n x: n \in {\Bbb Z} \} of some arbitrarily chosen point x \in X. By the infinite pigeonhole principle, one of the sets U_\alpha must contain an infinite number of the points T^n x counting multiplicity; in other words, the recurrence set S := \{ n: T^n x \in U_\alpha \} is infinite. Letting n_0 be an arbitrary element of S, we thus conclude that U_\alpha \cap T^{n_0-n} U_\alpha contains T^{n_0} x for every n \in S, and the claim follows. \Box

Exercise 1. Conversely, use Theorem 1 to deduce the infinite pigeonhole principle (i.e. that whenever {\Bbb Z} is coloured into finitely many colours, one of the colour classes is infinite). Hint: look at the orbit closure of c inside A^{\Bbb Z}, where A is the set of colours and c: {\Bbb Z} \to A is the colouring function.) \diamond

Now we turn from recurrence of sets to recurrence of individual points, which is a somewhat more difficult, and highlights the role of minimal dynamical systems (as introduced in the previous lecture) in the theory. We will approach the subject from two (largely equivalent) approaches, the first one being the more traditional “epsilon and delta” approach, and the second using the Stone-Čech compactification \beta {\Bbb Z} of the integers (i.e. ultrafilters).

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