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Tim Austin, Tanja Eisner, and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our joint paper Nonconventional ergodic averages and multiple recurrence for von Neumann dynamical systems, submitted to Pacific Journal of Mathematics. This project started with the observation that the multiple recurrence theorem of Furstenberg (and the related multiple convergence theorem of Host and Kra) could be interpreted in the language of dynamical systems of commutative finite von Neumann algebras, which naturally raised the question of the extent to which the results hold in the noncommutative setting. The short answer is “yes for small averages, but not for long ones”.
The Furstenberg multiple recurrence theorem can be phrased as follows: if is a probability space with a measure-preserving shift (which naturally induces an isomorphism by setting ), is non-negative with positive trace , and is an integer, then one has
In particular, for all in a set of positive upper density. This result is famously equivalent to Szemerédi’s theorem on arithmetic progressions.
The Host-Kra multiple convergence theorem makes the related assertion that if , then the scalar averages
converge to a limit as ; a fortiori, the function averages
converge in (say) norm.
The space is a commutative example of a von Neumann algebra: an algebra of bounded linear operators on a complex Hilbert space which is closed under the weak operator topology, and under taking adjoints. Indeed, one can take to be , and identify each element of with the multiplier operator . The operation is then a finite trace for this algebra, i.e. a linear map from the algebra to the scalars such that , , and , with equality iff . The shift is then an automorphism of this algebra (preserving shift and conjugation).
We can generalise this situation to the noncommutative setting. Define a von Neumann dynamical system to be a von Neumann algebra with a finite trace and an automorphism . In addition to the commutative examples generated by measure-preserving systems, we give three other examples here:
- (Matrices) is the algebra of complex matrices, with trace and shift , where is a fixed unitary matrix.
- (Group algebras) is the closure of the group algebra of a discrete group (i.e. the algebra of finite formal complex combinations of group elements), which acts on the Hilbert space by convolution (identifying each group element with its Kronecker delta function). A trace is given by , where is the Kronecker delta at the identity. Any automorphism of the group induces a shift .
- (Noncommutative torus) is the von Neumann algebra acting on generated by the multiplier operator and the shifted multiplier operator , where is fixed. A trace is given by , where is the constant function.
Inspired by noncommutative generalisations of other results in commutative analysis, one can then ask the following questions, for a fixed and for a fixed von Neumann dynamical system :
- (Recurrence on average) Whenever is non-negative with positive trace, is it true that
- (Recurrence on a dense set) Whenever is non-negative with positive trace, is it true thatfor all in a set of positive upper density?
- (Weak convergence) With , is it true thatconverges?
- (Strong convergence) With , is it true thatconverges in using the Hilbert-Schmidt norm ?
Note that strong convergence automatically implies weak convergence, and recurrence on average automatically implies recurrence on a dense set.
For , all four questions can trivially be answered “yes”. For , the answer to the above four questions is also “yes”, thanks to the von Neumann ergodic theorem for unitary operators. For , we were able to establish a positive answer to the “recurrence on a dense set”, “weak convergence”, and “strong convergence” results assuming that is ergodic. For general , we have a positive answer to all four questions under the assumption that is asymptotically abelian, which roughly speaking means that the commutators converges to zero (in an appropriate weak sense) as . Both of these proofs adapt the usual ergodic theory arguments; the latter result generalises some earlier work of Niculescu-Stroh-Zsido, Duvenhage, and Beyers-Duvenhage-Stroh. For the result, a key observation is that the van der Corput lemma can be used to control triple averages without requiring any commutativity; the “generalised von Neumann” trick of using multiple applications of the van der Corput trick to control higher averages, however, relies much more strongly on commutativity.
In most other situations we have counterexamples to all of these questions. In particular:
- For , recurrence on average can fail on an ergodic system; indeed, one can even make the average negative. This example is ultimately based on a Behrend example construction and a von Neumann algebra construction known as the crossed product.
- For , recurrence on a dense set can also fail if the ergodicity hypothesis is dropped. This also uses the Behrend example and the crossed product construction.
- For , weak and strong convergence can fail even assuming ergodicity. This uses a group theoretic construction, which amusingly was inspired by Grothendieck’s interpretation of a group as a sheaf of flat connections, which I blogged about recently, and which I will discuss below the fold.
- For , recurrence on a dense set fails even with the ergodicity hypothesis. This uses a fancier version of the Behrend example due to Ruzsa in this paper of Bergelson, Host, and Kra. This example only applies for ; we do not know for whether recurrence on a dense set holds for ergodic systems.
In Lecture 11, we studied compact measure-preserving systems – those systems in which every function was almost periodic, which meant that their orbit was precompact in the 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 of . 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 over the complex numbers, but rather in the Hilbert module over the (commutative) von Neumann algebra . (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 into fibre measures for almost every and working fibre by fibre. We will discuss the connection between the two approaches below.]
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 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.
In this lecture, we describe the simple but fundamental Furstenberg correspondence principle which connects the “soft analysis” subject of ergodic theory (in particular, recurrence theorems) with the “hard analysis” subject of combinatorial number theory (or more generally with results of “density Ramsey theory” type). Rather than try to set up the most general and abstract version of this principle, we shall instead study the canonical example of this principle in action, namely the equating of the Furstenberg multiple recurrence theorem with Szemerédi’s theorem on arithmetic progressions.
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In the previous lecture, we established single recurrence properties for both open sets and for sequences inside a topological dynamical system . In this lecture, we generalise these results to multiple recurrence. More precisely, we shall show
Theorem 1. (Multiple recurrence in open covers) Let be a topological dynamical system, and let be an open cover of X. Then there exists such that for every , we have for infinitely many r.
Note that this theorem includes Theorem 1 from the previous lecture as the special case . This theorem is also equivalent to the following well-known combinatorial result:
Theorem 2. (van der Waerden’s theorem) Suppose the integers are finitely coloured. Then one of the colour classes contains arbitrarily long arithmetic progressions.
Exercise 1. Show that Theorem 1 and Theorem 2 are equivalent.
Exercise 2. Show that Theorem 2 fails if “arbitrarily long” is replaced by “infinitely long”. Deduce that a similar strengthening of Theorem 1 also fails.
Exercise 3. Use Theorem 2 to deduce a finitary version: given any positive integers m and k, there exists an integer N such that whenever is coloured into m colour classes, one of the colour classes contains an arithmetic progression of length k. (Hint: use a “compactness and contradiction” argument, as in my article on hard and soft analysis.)
We also have a stronger version of Theorem 1:
Theorem 3. (Multiple Birkhoff recurrence theorem) Let be a topological dynamical system. Then for any there exists a point and a sequence of integers such that as for all .
These results already have some application to equidistribution of explicit sequences. Here is a simple example (which is also a consequence of Weyl’s equidistribution theorem):
Corollary 1. Let be a real number. Then there exists a sequence of integers such that as .
Proof. Consider the skew shift system with . By Theorem 3, there exists and a sequence such that and both convege to . If we then use the easily verified identity
we obtain the claim.
Exercise 4. Use Theorem 1 or Theorem 2 in place of Theorem 3 to give an alternate derivation of Corollary 1.
As in the previous lecture, we will give both a traditional topological proof and an ultrafilter-based proof of Theorem 1 and Theorem 3; the reader is invited to see how the various proofs are ultimately equivalent to each other.