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In the traditional foundations of probability theory, one selects a probability space , and makes a distinction between *deterministic* mathematical objects, which do not depend on the sampled state , and *stochastic* (or *random*) mathematical objects, which do depend (but in a measurable fashion) on the sampled state . For instance, a *deterministic real number* would just be an element , whereas a *stochastic real number* (or *real random variable*) would be a measurable function , where in this post will always be endowed with the Borel -algebra. (For readers familiar with nonstandard analysis, the adjectives “deterministic” and “stochastic” will be used here in a manner analogous to the uses of the adjectives “standard” and “nonstandard” in nonstandard analysis. The analogy is particularly close when comparing with the “cheap nonstandard analysis” discussed in this previous blog post. We will also use “relative to ” as a synonym for “stochastic”.)

Actually, for our purposes we will adopt the philosophy of identifying stochastic objects that agree almost surely, so if one was to be completely precise, we should define a stochastic real number to be an *equivalence class* of measurable functions , up to almost sure equivalence. However, we shall often abuse notation and write simply as .

More generally, given any measurable space , we can talk either about deterministic elements , or about stochastic elements of , that is to say equivalence classes of measurable maps up to almost sure equivalence. We will use to denote the set of all stochastic elements of . (For readers familiar with sheaves, it may helpful for the purposes of this post to think of as the space of measurable global sections of the trivial -bundle over .) Of course every deterministic element of can also be viewed as a stochastic element given by (the equivalence class of) the constant function , thus giving an embedding of into . We do not attempt here to give an interpretation of for sets that are not equipped with a -algebra .

Remark 1In my previous post on the foundations of probability theory, I emphasised the freedom to extend the sample space to a larger sample space whenever one wished to inject additional sources of randomness. This is of course an important freedom to possess (and in the current formalism, is the analogue of the important operation of base change in algebraic geometry), but in this post we will focus on a single fixed sample space , and not consider extensions of this space, so that one only has to consider two types of mathematical objects (deterministic and stochastic), as opposed to having many more such types, one for each potential choice of sample space (with the deterministic objects corresponding to the case when the sample space collapses to a point).

Any (measurable) -ary operation on deterministic mathematical objects then extends to their stochastic counterparts by applying the operation pointwise. For instance, the addition operation on deterministic real numbers extends to an addition operation , by defining the class for to be the equivalence class of the function ; this operation is easily seen to be well-defined. More generally, any measurable -ary deterministic operation between measurable spaces extends to an stochastic operation in the obvious manner.

There is a similar story for -ary relations , although here one has to make a distinction between a deterministic reading of the relation and a stochastic one. Namely, if we are given stochastic objects for , the relation does not necessarily take values in the deterministic Boolean algebra , but only in the stochastic Boolean algebra – thus may be true with some positive probability and also false with some positive probability (with the event that being stochastically true being determined up to null events). Of course, the deterministic Boolean algebra embeds in the stochastic one, so we can talk about a relation being determinstically true or deterministically false, which (due to our identification of stochastic objects that agree almost surely) means that is almost surely true or almost surely false respectively. For instance given two stochastic objects , one can view their equality relation as having a stochastic truth value. This is distinct from the way the equality symbol is used in mathematical logic, which we will now call “equality in the deterministic sense” to reduce confusion. Thus, in the deterministic sense if and only if the stochastic truth value of is equal to , that is to say that for almost all .

Any universal identity for deterministic operations (or universal implication between identities) extends to their stochastic counterparts: for instance, addition is commutative, associative, and cancellative on the space of deterministic reals , and is therefore commutative, associative, and cancellative on stochastic reals as well. However, one has to be more careful when working with mathematical laws that are not expressible as universal identities, or implications between identities. For instance, is an integral domain: if are deterministic reals such that , then one must have or . However, if are *stochastic* reals such that (in the deterministic sense), then it is no longer necessarily the case that (in the deterministic sense) or that (in the deterministic sense); however, it is still true that “ or ” is true in the deterministic sense if one interprets the boolean operator “or” stochastically, thus “ or ” is true for almost all . Another way to properly obtain a stochastic interpretation of the integral domain property of is to rewrite it as

and then make all sets stochastic to obtain the true statement

thus we have to allow the index for which vanishing occurs to also be stochastic, rather than deterministic. (A technical note: when one proves this statement, one has to select in a measurable fashion; for instance, one can choose to equal when , and otherwise (so that in the “tie-breaking” case when and both vanish, one always selects to equal ).)

Similarly, the law of the excluded middle fails when interpreted deterministically, but remains true when interpreted stochastically: if is a stochastic statement, then it is not necessarily the case that is either deterministically true or deterministically false; however the sentence “ or not-” is still deterministically true if the boolean operator “or” is interpreted stochastically rather than deterministically.

To avoid having to keep pointing out which operations are interpreted stochastically and which ones are interpreted deterministically, we will use the following convention: if we assert that a mathematical sentence involving stochastic objects is true, then (unless otherwise specified) we mean that is deterministically true, assuming that all relations used inside are interpreted stochastically. For instance, if are stochastic reals, when we assert that “Exactly one of , , or is true”, then by default it is understood that the relations , , and the boolean operator “exactly one of” are interpreted stochastically, and the assertion is that the sentence is deterministically true.

In the above discussion, the stochastic objects being considered were elements of a deterministic space , such as the reals . However, it can often be convenient to generalise this situation by allowing the ambient space to also be stochastic. For instance, one might wish to consider a stochastic vector inside a stochastic vector space , or a stochastic edge of a stochastic graph . In order to formally describe this situation within the classical framework of measure theory, one needs to place all the ambient spaces inside a measurable space. This can certainly be done in many contexts (e.g. when considering random graphs on a deterministic set of vertices, or if one is willing to work up to equivalence and place the ambient spaces inside a suitable moduli space), but is not completely natural in other contexts. For instance, if one wishes to consider stochastic vector spaces of potentially unbounded dimension (in particular, potentially larger than any given cardinal that one might specify in advance), then the class of all possible vector spaces is so large that it becomes a proper class rather than a set (even if one works up to equivalence), making it problematic to give this class the structure of a measurable space; furthermore, even once one does so, one needs to take additional care to pin down what it would mean for a random vector lying in a random vector space to depend “measurably” on .

Of course, in any reasonable application one can avoid the set theoretic issues at least by various *ad hoc* means, for instance by restricting the dimension of all spaces involved to some fixed cardinal such as . However, the measure-theoretic issues can require some additional effort to resolve properly.

In this post I would like to describe a different way to formalise stochastic spaces, and stochastic elements of these spaces, by viewing the spaces as measure-theoretic analogue of a sheaf, but being over the probability space rather than over a topological space; stochastic objects are then *sections* of such sheaves. Actually, for minor technical reasons it is convenient to work in the slightly more general setting in which the base space is a finite measure space rather than a probability space, thus can take any value in rather than being normalised to equal . This will allow us to easily localise to subevents of without the need for normalisation, even when is a null event (though we caution that the map from deterministic objects ceases to be injective in this latter case). We will however still continue to use probabilistic terminology. despite the lack of normalisation; thus for instance, sets in will be referred to as *events*, the measure of such a set will be referred to as the *probability* (which is now permitted to exceed in some cases), and an event whose complement is a null event shall be said to hold *almost surely*. It is in fact likely that almost all of the theory below extends to base spaces which are -finite rather than finite (for instance, by damping the measure to become finite, without introducing any further null events), although we will not pursue this further generalisation here.

The approach taken in this post is “topos-theoretic” in nature (although we will not use the language of topoi explicitly here), and is well suited to a “pointless” or “point-free” approach to probability theory, in which the role of the stochastic state is suppressed as much as possible; instead, one strives to always adopt a “relative point of view”, with all objects under consideration being viewed as stochastic objects relative to the underlying base space . In this perspective, the stochastic version of a set is as follows.

Definition 1 (Stochastic set)Unless otherwise specified, we assume that we are given a fixed finite measure space (which we refer to as thebase space). Astochastic set(relative to ) is a tuple consisting of the following objects:

- A set assigned to each event ; and
- A
restriction mapfrom to to each pair of nested events . (Strictly speaking, one should indicate the dependence on in the notation for the restriction map, e.g. using instead of , but we will abuse notation by omitting the dependence.)We refer to elements of as

local stochastic elementsof the stochastic set , localised to the event , and elements of asglobal stochastic elements(or simplyelements) of the stochastic set. (In the language of sheaves, one would use “sections” instead of “elements” here, but I prefer to use the latter terminology here, for compatibility with conventional probabilistic notation, where for instance measurable maps from to are referred to as real random variables, rather than sections of the reals.)Furthermore, we impose the following axioms:

- (Category) The map from to is the identity map, and if are events in , then for all .
- (Null events trivial) If is a null event, then the set is a singleton set. (In particular, is always a singleton set; this is analogous to the convention that for any number .)
- (Countable gluing) Suppose that for each natural number , one has an event and an element such that for all . Then there exists a unique such that for all .
If is an event in , we define the

localisationof the stochastic set to to be the stochastic setrelative to . (Note that there is no need to renormalise the measure on , as we are not demanding that our base space have total measure .)

The following fact is useful for actually verifying that a given object indeed has the structure of a stochastic set:

Exercise 1Show that to verify the countable gluing axiom of a stochastic set, it suffices to do so under the additional hypothesis that the events are disjoint. (Note that this is quite different from the situation with sheaves over a topological space, in which the analogous gluing axiom is often trivial in the disjoint case but has non-trivial content in the overlapping case. This is ultimately because a -algebra is closed under all Boolean operations, whereas a topology is only closed under union and intersection.)

Let us illustrate the concept of a stochastic set with some examples.

Example 1 (Discrete case)A simple case arises when is a discrete space which is at most countable. If we assign a set to each , with a singleton if . One then sets , with the obvious restriction maps, giving rise to a stochastic set . (Thus, a local element of can be viewed as a map on that takes values in for each .) Conversely, it is not difficult to see that any stochastic set over an at most countable discrete probability space is of this form up to isomorphism. In this case, one can think of as a bundle of sets over each point (of positive probability) in the base space . One can extend this bundle interpretation of stochastic sets to reasonably nice sample spaces (such as standard Borel spaces) and similarly reasonable ; however, I would like to avoid this interpretation in the formalism below in order to be able to easily work in settings in which and are very “large” (e.g. not separable in any reasonable sense). Note that we permit some of the to be empty, thus it can be possible for to be empty whilst for some strict subevents of to be non-empty. (This is analogous to how it is possible for a sheaf to have local sections but no global sections.) As such, the space of global elements does not completely determine the stochastic set ; one sometimes needs to localise to an event in order to see the full structure of such a set. Thus it is important to distinguish between a stochastic set and its space of global elements. (As such, it is a slight abuse of the axiom of extensionality to refer to global elements of simply as “elements”, but hopefully this should not cause too much confusion.)

Example 2 (Measurable spaces as stochastic sets)Returning now to a general base space , any (deterministic) measurable space gives rise to a stochastic set , with being defined as in previous discussion as the measurable functions from to modulo almost everywhere equivalence (in particular, a singleton set when is null), with the usual restriction maps. The constraint of measurability on the maps , together with the quotienting by almost sure equivalence, means that is now more complicated than a plain Cartesian product of fibres, but this still serves as a useful first approximation to what is for the purposes of developing intuition. Indeed, the measurability constraint is so weak (as compared for instance to topological or smooth constraints in other contexts, such as sheaves of continuous or smooth sections of bundles) that the intuition of essentially independent fibres is quite an accurate one, at least if one avoids consideration of an uncountable number of objects simultaneously.

Example 3 (Extended Hilbert modules)This example is the one that motivated this post for me. Suppose that one has an extension of the base space , thus we have a measurable factor map such that the pushforward of the measure by is equal to . Then we have a conditional expectation operator , defined as the adjoint of the pullback map . As is well known, the conditional expectation operator also extends to a contraction ; by monotone convergence we may also extend to a map from measurable functions from to the extended non-negative reals , to measurable functions from to . We then define the “extended Hilbert module” to be the space of functions with finite almost everywhere. This is an extended version of the Hilbert module , which is defined similarly except that is required to lie in ; this is a Hilbert module over which is of particular importance in the Furstenberg-Zimmer structure theory of measure-preserving systems. We can then define the stochastic set by settingwith the obvious restriction maps. In the case that are standard Borel spaces, one can

disintegrateas an integral of probability measures (supported in the fibre ), in which case this stochastic set can be viewed as having fibres (though if is not discrete, there are still some measurability conditions in on the local and global elements that need to be imposed). However, I am interested in the case when are not standard Borel spaces (in fact, I will take them to be algebraic probability spaces, as defined in this previous post), in which case disintegrations are not available. However, it appears that the stochastic analysis developed in this blog post can serve as a substitute for the tool of disintegration in this context.

We make the remark that if is a stochastic set and are events that are equivalent up to null events, then one can identify with (through their common restriction to , with the restriction maps now being bijections). As such, the notion of a stochastic set does not require the full structure of a concrete probability space ; one could also have defined the notion using only the abstract -algebra consisting of modulo null events as the base space, or equivalently one could define stochastic sets over the algebraic probability spaces defined in this previous post. However, we will stick with the classical formalism of concrete probability spaces here so as to keep the notation reasonably familiar.

As a corollary of the above observation, we see that if the base space has total measure , then all stochastic sets are trivial (they are just points).

Exercise 2If is a stochastic set, show that there exists an event with the property that for any event , is non-empty if and only if is contained in modulo null events. (In particular, is unique up to null events.)Hint:consider the numbers for ranging over all events with non-empty, and form a maximising sequence for these numbers. Then use all three axioms of a stochastic set.

One can now start take many of the fundamental objects, operations, and results in set theory (and, hence, in most other categories of mathematics) and establish analogues relative to a finite measure space. Implicitly, what we will be doing in the next few paragraphs is endowing the category of stochastic sets with the structure of an elementary topos. However, to keep things reasonably concrete, we will not explicitly emphasise the topos-theoretic formalism here, although it is certainly lurking in the background.

Firstly, we define a *stochastic function* between two stochastic sets to be a collection of maps for each which form a natural transformation in the sense that for all and nested events . In the case when is discrete and at most countable (and after deleting all null points), a stochastic function is nothing more than a collection of functions for each , with the function then being a direct sum of the factor functions :

Thus (in the discrete, at most countable setting, at least) stochastic functions do not mix together information from different states in a sample space; the value of at depends only on the value of at . The situation is a bit more subtle for continuous probability spaces, due to the identification of stochastic objects that agree almost surely, nevertheness it is still good intuition to think of stochastic functions as essentially being “pointwise” or “local” in nature.

One can now form the stochastic set of functions from to , by setting for any event to be the set of local stochastic functions of the localisations of to ; this is a stochastic set if we use the obvious restriction maps. In the case when is discrete and at most countable, the fibre at a point of positive measure is simply the set of functions from to .

In a similar spirit, we say that one stochastic set is a (stochastic) subset of another , and write , if we have a stochastic inclusion map, thus for all events , with the restriction maps being compatible. We can then define the power set of a stochastic set by setting for any event to be the set of all stochastic subsets of relative to ; it is easy to see that is a stochastic set with the obvious restriction maps (one can also identify with in the obvious fashion). Again, when is discrete and at most countable, the fibre of at a point of positive measure is simply the deterministic power set .

Note that if is a stochastic function and is a stochastic subset of , then the inverse image , defined by setting for any event to be the set of those with , is a stochastic subset of . In particular, given a -ary relation , the inverse image is a stochastic subset of , which by abuse of notation we denote as

In a similar spirit, if is a stochastic subset of and is a stochastic function, we can define the image by setting to be the set of those with ; one easily verifies that this is a stochastic subset of .

Remark 2One should caution that in the definition of the subset relation , it is important that for all events , not just the global event ; in particular, just because a stochastic set has no global sections, does not mean that it is contained in the stochastic empty set .

Now we discuss Boolean operations on stochastic subsets of a given stochastic set . Given two stochastic subsets of , the stochastic intersection is defined by setting to be the set of that lie in both and :

This is easily verified to again be a stochastic subset of . More generally one may define stochastic countable intersections for any sequence of stochastic subsets of . One *could* extend this definition to uncountable families if one wished, but I would advise against it, because some of the usual laws of Boolean algebra (e.g. the de Morgan laws) may break down in this setting.

Stochastic unions are a bit more subtle. The set should not be defined to simply be the union of and , as this would not respect the gluing axiom. Instead, we define to be the set of all such that one can cover by measurable subevents such that for ; then may be verified to be a stochastic subset of . Thus for instance is the stochastic union of and . Similarly for countable unions of stochastic subsets of , although for uncountable unions are extremely problematic (they are disliked by both the measure theory and the countable gluing axiom) and will not be defined here. Finally, the stochastic difference set is defined as the set of all in such that for any subevent of of positive probability. One may verify that in the case when is discrete and at most countable, these Boolean operations correspond to the classical Boolean operations applied separately to each fibre of the relevant sets . We also leave as an exercise to the reader to verify the usual laws of Boolean arithmetic, e.g. the de Morgan laws, provided that one works with at most countable unions and intersections.

One can also consider a stochastic finite union in which the number of sets in the union is itself stochastic. More precisely, let be a stochastic set, let be a stochastic natural number, and let be a stochastic function from the stochastic set (defined by setting )) to the stochastic power set . Here we are considering to be a natural number, to allow for unions that are possibly empty, with used for the positive natural numbers. We also write for the stochastic function . Then we can define the stochastic union by setting for an event to be the set of local elements with the property that there exists a covering of by measurable subevents for , such that one has and . One can verify that is a stochastic set (with the obvious restriction maps). Again, in the model case when is discrete and at most countable, the fibre is what one would expect it to be, namely .

The Cartesian product of two stochastic sets may be defined by setting for all events , with the obvious restriction maps; this is easily seen to be another stochastic set. This lets one define the concept of a -ary operation from stochastic sets to another stochastic set , or a -ary relation . In particular, given for , the relation may be deterministically true, deterministically false, or have some other stochastic truth value.

Remark 3In the degenerate case when is null, stochastic logic becomes a bit weird: all stochastic statements are deterministically true, as are their stochastic negations, since every event in (even the empty set) now holds with full probability. Among other pathologies, the empty set now has a global element over (this is analogous to the notorious convention ), and any two deterministic objects become equal over : .

The following simple observation is crucial to subsequent discussion. If is a sequence taking values in the global elements of a stochastic space , then we may also define global elements for *stochastic* indices as well, by appealing to the countable gluing axiom to glue together restricted to the set for each deterministic natural number to form . With this definition, the map is a stochastic function from to ; indeed, this creates a one-to-one correspondence between external sequences (maps from to ) and stochastic sequences (stochastic functions from to ). Similarly with replaced by any other at most countable set. This observation will be important in allowing many deterministic arguments involving sequences will be able to be carried over to the stochastic setting.

We now specialise from the extremely broad discipline of set theory to the more focused discipline of real analysis. There are two fundamental axioms that underlie real analysis (and in particular distinguishes it from real *algebra*). The first is the Archimedean property, which we phrase in the “no infinitesimal” formulation as follows:

Proposition 2 (Archimedean property)Let be such that for all positive natural numbers . Then .

The other is the least upper bound axiom:

Proposition 3 (Least upper bound axiom)Let be a non-empty subset of which has an upper bound , thus for all . Then there exists a unique real number with the following properties:

- for all .
- For any real , there exists such that .
- .
Furthermore, does not depend on the choice of .

The Archimedean property extends easily to the stochastic setting:

Proposition 4 (Stochastic Archimedean property)Let be such that for all deterministic natural numbers . Then .

Remark 4Here, incidentally, is one place in which this stochastic formalism deviates from the nonstandard analysis formalism, as the latter certainly permits the existence of infinitesimal elements. On the other hand, we caution that stochastic real numbers are permitted to be unbounded, so that formulation of Archimedean property is not valid in the stochastic setting.

The proof is easy and is left to the reader. The least upper bound axiom also extends nicely to the stochastic setting, but the proof requires more work (in particular, our argument uses the monotone convergence theorem):

Theorem 5 (Stochastic least upper bound axiom)Let be a stochastic subset of which has a global upper bound , thus for all , and is globally non-empty in the sense that there is at least one global element . Then there exists a unique stochastic real number with the following properties:

- for all .
- For any stochastic real , there exists such that .
- .
Furthermore, does not depend on the choice of .

For future reference, we note that the same result holds with replaced by throughout, since the latter may be embedded in the former, for instance by mapping to and to . In applications, the above theorem serves as a reasonable substitute for the countable axiom of choice, which does not appear to hold in unrestricted generality relative to a measure space; in particular, it can be used to generate various extremising sequences for stochastic functionals on various stochastic function spaces.

*Proof:* Uniqueness is clear (using the Archimedean property), as well as the independence on , so we turn to existence. By using an order-preserving map from to (e.g. ) we may assume that is a subset of , and that .

We observe that is a lattice: if , then and also lie in . Indeed, may be formed by appealing to the countable gluing axiom to glue (restricted the set ) with (restricted to the set ), and similarly for . (Here we use the fact that relations such as are Borel measurable on .)

Let denote the deterministic quantity

then (by Proposition 3!) is well-defined; here we use the hypothesis that is finite. Thus we may find a sequence of elements of such that

Using the lattice property, we may assume that the are non-decreasing: whenever . If we then define (after choosing measurable representatives of each equivalence class ), then is a stochastic real with .

If , then , and so

From this and (1) we conclude that

From monotone convergence, we conclude that

and so , as required.

Now let be a stochastic real. After choosing measurable representatives of each relevant equivalence class, we see that for almost every , we can find a natural number with . If we choose to be the first such positive natural number when it exists, and (say) otherwise, then is a stochastic positive natural number and . The claim follows.

Remark 5One can abstract away the role of the measure here, leaving only the ideal of null sets. The property that the measure is finite is then replaced by the more general property that given any non-empty family of measurable sets, there is an at most countable union of sets in that family that is an upper bound modulo null sets for all elements in that faily.

Using Proposition 4 and Theorem 5, one can then revisit many of the other foundational results of deterministic real analysis, and develop stochastic analogues; we give some examples of this below the fold (focusing on the Heine-Borel theorem and a case of the spectral theorem). As an application of this formalism, we revisit some of the Furstenberg-Zimmer structural theory of measure-preserving systems, particularly that of relatively compact and relatively weakly mixing systems, and interpret them in this framework, basically as stochastic versions of compact and weakly mixing systems (though with the caveat that the shift map is allowed to act non-trivially on the underlying probability space). As this formalism is “point-free”, in that it avoids explicit use of fibres and disintegrations, it will be well suited for generalising this structure theory to settings in which the underlying probability spaces are not standard Borel, and the underlying groups are uncountable; I hope to discuss such generalisations in future blog posts.

Remark 6Roughly speaking, stochastic real analysis can be viewed as a restricted subset of classical real analysis in which all operations have to be “measurable” with respect to the base space. In particular, indiscriminate application of the axiom of choice is not permitted, and one should largely restrict oneself to performing countable unions and intersections rather than arbitrary unions or intersections. Presumably one can formalise this intuition with a suitable “countable transfer principle”, but I was not able to formulate a clean and general principle of this sort, instead verifying various assertions about stochastic objects by hand rather than by direct transfer from the deterministic setting. However, it would be desirable to have such a principle, since otherwise one is faced with the tedious task of redoing all the foundations of real analysis (or whatever other base theory of mathematics one is going to be working in) in the stochastic setting by carefully repeating all the arguments.More generally, topos theory is a good formalism for capturing precisely the informal idea of performing mathematics with certain operations, such as the axiom of choice, the law of the excluded middle, or arbitrary unions and intersections, being somehow “prohibited” or otherwise “restricted”.

Let be a field. A definable set over is a set of the form

where is a natural number, and is a predicate involving the ring operations of , the equality symbol , an arbitrary number of constants and free variables in , the quantifiers , boolean operators such as , and parentheses and colons, where the quantifiers are always understood to be over the field . Thus, for instance, the set of quadratic residues

is definable over , and any algebraic variety over is also a definable set over . Henceforth we will abbreviate “definable over ” simply as “definable”.

If is a finite field, then every subset of is definable, since finite sets are automatically definable. However, we can obtain a more interesting notion in this case by restricting the *complexity* of a definable set. We say that is a *definable set of complexity at most * if , and can be written in the form (1) for some predicate of length at most (where all operators, quantifiers, relations, variables, constants, and punctuation symbols are considered to have unit length). Thus, for instance, a hypersurface in dimensions of degree would be a definable set of complexity . We will then be interested in the regime where the complexity remains bounded, but the field size (or field characteristic) becomes large.

In a recent paper, I established (in the large characteristic case) the following regularity lemma for dense definable graphs, which significantly strengthens the Szemerédi regularity lemma in this context, by eliminating “bad” pairs, giving a polynomially strong regularity, and also giving definability of the cells:

Lemma 1 (Algebraic regularity lemma)Let be a finite field, let be definable non-empty sets of complexity at most , and let also be definable with complexity at most . Assume that the characteristic of is sufficiently large depending on . Then we may partition and with , with the following properties:

My original proof of this lemma was quite complicated, based on an explicit calculation of the “square”

of using the Lang-Weil bound and some facts about the étale fundamental group. It was the reliance on the latter which was the main reason why the result was restricted to the large characteristic setting. (I then applied this lemma to classify expanding polynomials over finite fields of large characteristic, but I will not discuss these applications here; see this previous blog post for more discussion.)

Recently, Anand Pillay and Sergei Starchenko (and independently, Udi Hrushovski) have observed that the theory of the étale fundamental group is not necessary in the argument, and the lemma can in fact be deduced from quite general model theoretic techniques, in particular using (a local version of) the concept of stability. One of the consequences of this new proof of the lemma is that the hypothesis of large characteristic can be omitted; the lemma is now known to be valid for arbitrary finite fields (although its content is trivial if the field is not sufficiently large depending on the complexity at most ).

Inspired by this, I decided to see if I could find yet another proof of the algebraic regularity lemma, again avoiding the theory of the étale fundamental group. It turns out that the spectral proof of the Szemerédi regularity lemma (discussed in this previous blog post) adapts very nicely to this setting. The key fact needed about definable sets over finite fields is that their cardinality takes on an essentially discrete set of values. More precisely, we have the following fundamental result of Chatzidakis, van den Dries, and Macintyre:

Proposition 2Let be a finite field, and let .

- (Discretised cardinality) If is a non-empty definable set of complexity at most , then one has
where is a natural number, and is a positive rational number with numerator and denominator . In particular, we have .

- (Definable cardinality) Assume is sufficiently large depending on . If , and are definable sets of complexity at most , so that can be viewed as a definable subset of that is definably parameterised by , then for each natural number and each positive rational with numerator and denominator , the set
is definable with complexity , where the implied constants in the asymptotic notation used to define (4) are the same as those that appearing in (3). (Informally: the “dimension” and “measure” of depends definably on .)

We will take this proposition as a black box; a proof can be obtained by combining the description of definable sets over pseudofinite fields (discussed in this previous post) with the Lang-Weil bound (discussed in this previous post). (The former fact is phrased using nonstandard analysis, but one can use standard compactness-and-contradiction arguments to convert such statements to statements in standard analysis, as discussed in this post.)

The above proposition places severe restrictions on the cardinality of definable sets; for instance, it shows that one cannot have a definable set of complexity at most and cardinality , if is sufficiently large depending on . If are definable sets of complexity at most , it shows that for some rational with numerator and denominator ; furthermore, if , we may improve this bound to . In particular, we obtain the following “self-improving” properties:

- If are definable of complexity at most and for some , then (if is sufficiently small depending on and is sufficiently large depending on ) this forces .
- If are definable of complexity at most and for some and positive rational , then (if is sufficiently small depending on and is sufficiently large depending on ) this forces .

It turns out that these self-improving properties can be applied to the coefficients of various matrices (basically powers of the adjacency matrix associated to ) that arise in the spectral proof of the regularity lemma to significantly improve the bounds in that lemma; we describe how this is done below the fold. We also make some connections to the stability-based proofs of Pillay-Starchenko and Hrushovski.

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 is replaced by . 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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