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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.

One of the first non-trivial theorems one encounters in classical algebraic geometry is Bézout’s theorem, which we will phrase as follows:

Theorem 1 (Bézout’s theorem)Let be a field, and let be non-zero polynomials in two variables with no common factor. Then the two curves and have no common components, and intersect in at most points.

This theorem can be proven by a number of means, for instance by using the classical tool of resultants. It has many strengthenings, generalisations, and variants; see for instance this previous blog post on Bézout’s inequality. Bézout’s theorem asserts a fundamental algebraic dichotomy, of importance in combinatorial incidence geometry: any two algebraic curves either share a common component, or else have a bounded finite intersection; there is no intermediate case in which the intersection is unbounded in cardinality, but falls short of a common component. This dichotomy is closely related to the integrality gap in algebraic dimension: an algebraic set can have an integer dimension such as or , but cannot attain any intermediate dimensions such as . This stands in marked contrast to sets of analytic, combinatorial, or probabilistic origin, whose “dimension” is typically not necessarily constrained to be an integer.

Bézout’s inequality tells us, roughly speaking, that the intersection of a curve of degree and a curve of degree forms a set of at most points. One can consider the converse question: given a set of points in the plane , can one find two curves of degrees with and no common components, whose intersection contains these points?

A model example that supports the possibility of such a converse is a grid that is a Cartesian product of two finite subsets of with . In this case, one can take one curve to be the union of vertical lines, and the other curve to be the union of horizontal lines, to obtain the required decomposition. Thus, if the proposed converse to Bézout’s inequality held, it would assert that any set of points was essentially behaving like a “nonlinear grid” of size .

Unfortunately, the naive converse to Bézout’s theorem is false. A counterexample can be given by considering a set of points for some large perfect square , where is a by grid of the form described above, and consists of points on an line (e.g. a or grid). Each of the two component sets can be written as the intersection between two curves whose degrees multiply up to ; in the case of , we can take the two families of parallel lines (viewed as reducible curves of degree ) as the curves, and in the case of , one can take as one curve, and the graph of a degree polynomial on vanishing on for the second curve. But, if is large enough, one cannot cover by the intersection of a single pair of curves with no common components whose degrees multiply up to . Indeed, if this were the case, then without loss of generality we may assume that , so that . By Bézout’s theorem, either contains , or intersects in at most points. Thus, in order for to capture all of , it must contain , which forces to not contain . But has to intersect in points, so by Bézout’s theorem again we have , thus . But then (by more applications of Bézout’s theorem) can only capture of the points of , a contradiction.

But the above counterexample suggests that even if an arbitrary set of (or ) points cannot be covered by the single intersection of a pair of curves with degree multiplying up to , one may be able to cover such a set by a small number of such intersections. The purpose of this post is to record the simple observation that this is, indeed, the case:

Theorem 2 (Partial converse to Bézout’s theorem)Let be a field, and let be a set of points in for some . Then one can find and pairs of coprime non-zero polynomials for such that

Informally, every finite set in the plane is (a dense subset of) the union of logarithmically many nonlinear grids. The presence of the logarithm is necessary, as can be seen by modifying the example to be the union of logarithmically many Cartesian products of distinct dimensions, rather than just a pair of such products.

Unfortunately I do not know of any application of this converse, but I thought it was cute anyways. The proof is given below the fold.

One of the basic problems in analytic number theory is to obtain bounds and asymptotics for sums of the form

in the limit , where ranges over natural numbers less than , and is some arithmetic function of number-theoretic interest. (It is also often convenient to replace this sharply truncated sum with a smoother sum such as , but we will not discuss this technicality here.) For instance, the prime number theorem is equivalent to the assertion

where is the von Mangoldt function, while the Riemann hypothesis is equivalent to the stronger assertion

It is thus of interest to develop techniques to estimate such sums . Of course, the difficulty of this task depends on how “nice” the function is. The functions that come up in number theory lie on a broad spectrum of “niceness”, with some particularly nice functions being quite easy to sum, and some being insanely difficult.

At the easiest end of the spectrum are those functions that exhibit some sort of regularity or “smoothness”. Examples of smoothness include “Archimedean” smoothness, in which is the restriction of some smooth function from the reals to the natural numbers, and the derivatives of are well controlled. A typical example is

One can already get quite good bounds on this quantity by comparison with the integral , namely

with sharper bounds available by using tools such as the Euler-Maclaurin formula (see this blog post). Exponentiating such asymptotics, incidentally, leads to one of the standard proofs of Stirling’s formula (as discussed in this blog post).

One can also consider “non-Archimedean” notions of smoothness, such as periodicity relative to a small period . Indeed, if is periodic with period (and is thus essentially a function on the cyclic group ), then one has the easy bound

In particular, we have the fundamental estimate

This is a good estimate when is much smaller than , but as approaches in magnitude, the error term begins to overwhelm the main term , and one needs much more delicate information on the fractional part of in order to obtain good estimates at this point.

One can also consider functions which combine “Archimedean” and “non-Archimedean” smoothness into an “adelic” smoothness. We will not define this term precisely here (though the concept of a Schwartz-Bruhat function is one way to capture this sort of concept), but a typical example might be

where is periodic with some small period . By using techniques such as summation by parts, one can estimate such sums using the techniques used to estimate sums of periodic functions or functions with (Archimedean) smoothness.

Another class of functions that is reasonably well controlled are the multiplicative functions, in which whenever are coprime. Here, one can use the powerful techniques of multiplicative number theory, for instance by working with the Dirichlet series

which are clearly related to the partial sums (essentially via the Mellin transform, a cousin of the Fourier and Laplace transforms); for this post we ignore the (important) issue of how to make sense of this series when it is not absolutely convergent (but see this previous blog post for more discussion). A primary reason that this technique is effective is that the Dirichlet series of a multiplicative function factorises as an Euler product

One also obtains similar types of representations for functions that are not quite multiplicative, but are closely related to multiplicative functions, such as the von Mangoldt function (whose Dirichlet series is not given by an Euler product, but instead by the logarithmic derivative of an Euler product).

Moving another notch along the spectrum between well-controlled and ill-controlled functions, one can consider functions that are *divisor sums* such as

for some other arithmetic function , and some *level* . This is a linear combination of periodic functions and is thus *technically* periodic in (with period equal to the least common multiple of all the numbers from to ), but in practice this periodic is far too large to be useful (except for extremely small levels , e.g. ). Nevertheless, we can still control the sum simply by rearranging the summation:

and thus by (1) one can bound this by the sum of a main term and an error term . As long as the level is significantly less than , one may expect the main term to dominate, and one can often estimate this term by a variety of techniques (for instance, if is multiplicative, then multiplicative number theory techniques are quite effective, as mentioned previously). Similarly for other slight variants of divisor sums, such as expressions of the form

or expressions of the form

where each is periodic with period .

One of the simplest examples of this comes when estimating the divisor function

which counts the number of divisors up to . This is a multiplicative function, and is therefore most efficiently estimated using the techniques of multiplicative number theory; but for reasons that will become clearer later, let us “forget” the multiplicative structure and estimate the above sum by more elementary methods. By applying the preceding method, we see that

Here, we are (barely) able to keep the error term smaller than the main term; this is right at the edge of the divisor sum method, because the level in this case is equal to . Unfortunately, at this high choice of level, it is not always possible to always keep the error term under control like this. For instance, if one wishes to use the standard divisor sum representation

where is the Möbius function, to compute , then one ends up looking at

From Dirichlet series methods, it is not difficult to establish the identities

and

This suggests (but does not quite prove) that one has

in the sense of conditionally convergent series. Assuming one can justify this (which, ultimately, requires one to exclude zeroes of the Riemann zeta function on the line , as discussed in this previous post), one is eventually left with the estimate , which is useless as a lower bound (and recovers only the classical Chebyshev estimate as the upper bound). The inefficiency here when compared to the situation with the divisor function can be attributed to the signed nature of the Möbius function , which causes some cancellation in the divisor sum expansion that needs to be compensated for with improved estimates.

However, there are a number of tricks available to reduce the level of divisor sums. The simplest comes from exploiting the change of variables , which can in principle reduce the level by a square root. For instance, when computing the divisor function , one can observe using this change of variables that every divisor of above is paired with one below , and so we have

except when is a perfect square, in which case one must subtract one from the right-hand side. Using this reduced-level divisor sum representation, one can obtain an improvement to (2), namely

This type of argument is also known as the Dirichlet hyperbola method. A variant of this argument can also deduce the prime number theorem from (3), (4) (and with some additional effort, one can even drop the use of (4)); this is discussed at this previous blog post.

Using this square root trick, one can now also control divisor sums such as

(Note that has no multiplicativity properties in , and so multiplicative number theory techniques cannot be directly applied here.) The level of the divisor sum here is initially of order , which is too large to be useful; but using the square root trick, we can expand this expression as

which one can rewrite as

The constraint is periodic in with period , so we can write this as

where is the number of solutions in to the equation , and so

The function is multiplicative, and can be easily computed at primes and prime powers using tools such as quadratic reciprocity and Hensel’s lemma. For instance, by Fermat’s two-square theorem, is equal to for and for . From this and standard multiplicative number theory methods (e.g. by obtaining asymptotics on the Dirichlet series ), one eventually obtains the asymptotic

and also

and thus

Similar arguments give asymptotics for on other quadratic polynomials; see for instance this paper of Hooley and these papers by McKee. Note that the irreducibility of the polynomial will be important. If one considers instead a sum involving a reducible polynomial, such as , then the analogous quantity becomes significantly larger, leading to a larger growth rate (of order rather than ) for the sum.

However, the square root trick is insufficient by itself to deal with higher order sums involving the divisor function, such as

the level here is initially of order , and the square root trick only lowers this to about , creating an error term that overwhelms the main term. And indeed, the asymptotic for such this sum has not yet been rigorously established (although if one heuristically drops error terms, one can arrive at a reasonable conjecture for this asymptotic), although some results are known if one averages over additional parameters (see e.g. this paper of Greaves, or this paper of Matthiesen).

Nevertheless, there is an ingenious argument of Erdös that allows one to obtain good *upper* and *lower* bounds for these sorts of sums, in particular establishing the asymptotic

for any *fixed* irreducible non-constant polynomial that maps to (with the implied constants depending of course on the choice of ). There is also the related moment bound

for any fixed (not necessarily irreducible) and any fixed , due to van der Corput; this bound is in fact used to dispose of some error terms in the proof of (6). These should be compared with what one can obtain from the divisor bound and the trivial bound , giving the bounds

for any fixed .

The lower bound in (6) is easy, since one can simply lower the level in (5) to obtain the lower bound

for any , and the preceding methods then easily allow one to obtain the lower bound by taking small enough (more precisely, if has degree , one should take equal to or less). The upper bounds in (6) and (7) are more difficult. Ideally, if we could obtain upper bounds of the form

for any fixed , then the preceding methods would easily establish both results. Unfortunately, this bound can fail, as illustrated by the following example. Suppose that is the product of distinct primes , each of which is close to . Then has divisors, with of them close to for each . One can think of (the logarithms of) these divisors as being distributed according to what is essentially a Bernoulli distribution, thus a randomly selected divisor of has magnitude about , where is a random variable which has the same distribution as the number of heads in independently tossed fair coins. By the law of large numbers, should concentrate near when is large, which implies that the majority of the divisors of will be close to . Sending , one can show that the bound (8) fails whenever .

This however can be fixed in a number of ways. First of all, even when , one can show weaker substitutes for (8). For instance, for any fixed and one can show a bound of the form

for some depending only on . This nice elementary inequality (first observed by Landreau) already gives a quite short proof of van der Corput’s bound (7).

For Erdös’s upper bound (6), though, one cannot afford to lose these additional factors of , and one must argue more carefully. Here, the key observation is that the counterexample discussed earlier – when the natural number is the product of a large number of fairly small primes – is quite atypical; most numbers have at least one large prime factor. For instance, the number of natural numbers less than that contain a prime factor between and is equal to

which, thanks to Mertens’ theorem

for some absolute constant , is comparable to . In a similar spirit, one can show by similarly elementary means that the number of natural numbers less than that are *-smooth*, in the sense that all prime factors are at most , is only about or so. Because of this, one can hope that the bound (8), while not true in full generality, will still be true for *most* natural numbers , with some slightly weaker substitute available (such as (7)) for the exceptional numbers . This turns out to be the case by an elementary but careful argument.

The Erdös argument is quite robust; for instance, the more general inequality

for fixed irreducible and , which improves van der Corput’s inequality (8) was shown by Delmer using the same methods. (A slight error in the original paper of Erdös was also corrected in this latter paper.) In a forthcoming revision to my paper on the Erdös-Straus conjecture, Christian Elsholtz and I have also applied this method to obtain bounds such as

which turn out to be enough to obtain the right asymptotics for the number of solutions to the equation .

Below the fold I will provide some more details of the arguments of Landreau and of Erdös.

I have blogged several times in the past about nonstandard analysis, which among other things is useful in allowing one to import tools from infinitary (or qualitative) mathematics in order to establish results in finitary (or quantitative) mathematics. One drawback, though, to using nonstandard analysis methods is that the bounds one obtains by such methods are usually *ineffective*: in particular, the conclusions of a nonstandard analysis argument may involve an unspecified constant that is known to be finite but for which no explicit bound is obviously available. (In many cases, a bound can eventually be worked out by performing *proof mining* on the argument, and in particular by carefully unpacking the *proofs* of all the various results from infinitary mathematics that were used in the argument, as opposed to simply using them as “black boxes”, but this is a time-consuming task and the bounds that one eventually obtains tend to be quite poor (e.g. tower exponential or Ackermann type bounds are not uncommon).)

Because of this fact, it would seem that quantitative bounds, such as polynomial type bounds that show that one quantity is controlled in a polynomial fashion by another quantity , are not easily obtainable through the ineffective methods of nonstandard analysis. Actually, this is not the case; as I will demonstrate by an example below, nonstandard analysis can certainly yield polynomial type bounds. The catch is that the exponent in such bounds will be ineffective; but nevertheless such bounds are still good enough for many applications.

Let us now illustrate this by reproving a lemma from this paper of Mei-Chu Chang (Lemma 2.14, to be precise), which was recently pointed out to me by Van Vu. Chang’s paper is focused primarily on the sum-product problem, but she uses a quantitative lemma from algebraic geometry which is of independent interest. To motivate the lemma, let us first establish a qualitative version:

Lemma 1 (Qualitative solvability)Let be a finite number of polynomials in several variables with rational coefficients. If there is a complex solution to the simultaneous system of equationsthen there also exists a solution whose coefficients are algebraic numbers (i.e. they lie in the algebraic closure of the rationals).

*Proof:* Suppose there was no solution to over . Applying Hilbert’s nullstellensatz (which is available as is algebraically closed), we conclude the existence of some polynomials (with coefficients in ) such that

as polynomials. In particular, we have

for all . This shows that there is no solution to over , as required.

Remark 1Observe that in the above argument, one could replace and by any other pair of fields, with the latter containing the algebraic closure of the former, and still obtain the same result.

The above lemma asserts that if a system of rational equations is solvable at all, then it is solvable with some algebraic solution. But it gives no bound on the complexity of that solution in terms of the complexity of the original equation. Chang’s lemma provides such a bound. If is an integer, let us say that an algebraic number has height at most if its minimal polynomial (after clearing denominators) consists of integers of magnitude at most .

Lemma 2 (Quantitative solvability)Let be a finite number of polynomials of degree at most with rational coefficients, each of height at most . If there is a complex solution to the simultaneous system of equationsthen there also exists a solution whose coefficients are algebraic numbers of degree at most and height at most , where depends only on , and .

Chang proves this lemma by essentially establishing a quantitative version of the nullstellensatz, via elementary elimination theory (somewhat similar, actually, to the approach I took to the nullstellensatz in my own blog post). She also notes that one could also establish the result through the machinery of Gröbner bases. In each of these arguments, it was not possible to use Lemma 1 (or the closely related nullstellensatz) as a black box; one actually had to unpack one of the proofs of that lemma or nullstellensatz to get the polynomial bound. However, using nonstandard analysis, it is possible to get such polynomial bounds (albeit with an ineffective value of the constant ) directly from Lemma 1 (or more precisely, the generalisation in Remark 1) *without* having to inspect the proof, and instead simply using it as a black box, thus providing a “soft” proof of Lemma 2 that is an alternative to the “hard” proofs mentioned above.

Here’s how the proof works. Informally, the idea is that Lemma 2 should follow from Lemma 1 after replacing the field of rationals with “the field of rationals of polynomially bounded height”. Unfortunately, the latter object does not really make sense as a field in standard analysis; nevertheless, it is a perfectly sensible object in nonstandard analysis, and this allows the above informal argument to be made rigorous.

We turn to the details. As is common whenever one uses nonstandard analysis to prove finitary results, we use a “compactness and contradiction” argument (or more precisely, an “ultralimit and contradiction” argument). Suppose for contradiction that Lemma 2 failed. Carefully negating the quantifiers (and using the axiom of choice), we conclude that there exists such that for each natural number , there is a positive integer and a family of polynomials of degree at most and rational coefficients of height at most , such that there exist at least one complex solution to

but such that there does not exist any such solution whose coefficients are algebraic numbers of degree at most and height at most .

Now we take ultralimits (see e.g. this previous blog post of a quick review of ultralimit analysis, which we will assume knowledge of in the argument that follows). Let be a non-principal ultrafilter. For each , the ultralimit

of the (standard) polynomials is a nonstandard polynomial of degree at most , whose coefficients now lie in the nonstandard rationals . Actually, due to the height restriction, we can say more. Let be the ultralimit of the , this is a nonstandard natural number (which will almost certainly be unbounded, but we will not need to use this). Let us say that a nonstandard integer is *of polynomial size* if we have for some standard natural number , and say that a nonstandard rational number is *of polynomial height* if , are of polynomial size. Let be the collection of all nonstandard rationals of polynomial height. (In the language of nonstandard analysis, is an *external* set rather than an internal one, because it is not itself an ultraproduct of standard sets; but this will not be relevant for the argument that follows.) It is easy to see that is a field, basically because the sum or product of two integers of polynomial size, remains of polynomial size. By construction, it is clear that the coefficients of are nonstandard rationals of polynomial height, and thus are defined over .

Meanwhile, if we let be the ultralimit of the solutions in (1), we have

thus are solvable in . Applying Lemma 1 (or more precisely, the generalisation in Remark 1), we see that are also solvable in . (Note that as is algebraically closed, is also (by Los’s theorem), and so contains .) Thus, there exists with

As lies in , we can write as an ultralimit of standard complex vectors . By construction, the coefficients of each obey a non-trivial polynomial equation of degree at most and whose coefficients are nonstandard integers of magnitude at most , for some standard natural number . Undoing the ultralimit, we conclude that for sufficiently close to , the coefficients of obey a non-trivial polynomial equation of degree at most whose coefficients are *standard* integers of magnitude at most . In particular, these coefficients have height at most . Also, we have

But for larger than , this contradicts the construction of the , and the claim follows. (Note that as is non-principal, any neighbourhood of in will contain arbitrarily large natural numbers.)

Remark 2The same argument actually gives a slightly stronger version of Lemma 2, namely that the integer coefficients used to define the algebraic solution can be taken to be polynomials in the coefficients of , with degree and coefficients bounded by .

Tamar Ziegler and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our paper “The inverse conjecture for the Gowers norm over finite fields in low characteristic“, submitted to Annals of Combinatorics. This paper completes another case of the inverse conjecture for the Gowers norm, this time for vector spaces over a fixed finite field of prime order; with Vitaly Bergelson, we had previously established this claim when the characteristic of the field was large, so the main new result here is the extension to the low characteristic case. (The case of a cyclic group or interval was established by Ben Green and ourselves in another recent paper. For an arbitrary abelian (or nilpotent) group, a general but less explicit description of the obstructions to Gowers uniformity was recently obtained by Szegedy; the latter result recovers the high-characteristic case of our result (as was done in a subsequent paper of Szegedy), as well as our results with Green, but it is not immediately evident whether Szegedy’s description of the obstructions matches up with the one predicted by the inverse conjecture in low characteristic.)

The statement of the main theorem is as follows. Given a finite-dimensional vector space and a function , and an integer , one can define the Gowers uniformity norm by the formula

where . If is bounded in magnitude by , it is easy to see that is bounded by also, with equality if and only if for some *non-classical polynomial* of degree at most , where , and a non-classical polynomial of degree at most is a function whose “derivatives” vanish in the sense that

for all , where . Our result generalises this to the case when the uniformity norm is not equal to , but is still bounded away from zero:

Theorem 1 (Inverse conjecture)Let be bounded by with for some . Then there exists a non-classical polynomial of degree at most such that , where is a positive quantity depending only on the indicated parameters.

This theorem is trivial for , and follows easily from Fourier analysis for . The case was done in odd characteristic by Ben Green and myself, and in even characteristic by Samorodnitsky. In two papers, one with Vitaly Bergelson, we established this theorem in the “high characteristic” case when the characteristic of was greater than (in which case there is essentially no distinction between non-classical polynomials and their classical counterparts, as discussed previously on this blog). The need to deal with genuinely non-classical polynomials is the main new difficulty in this paper that was not dealt with in previous literature.

In our previous paper with Bergelson, a “weak” version of the above theorem was proven, in which the polynomial in the conclusion had bounded degree , rather than being of degree at most . In the current paper, we use this weak inverse theorem to reduce the inverse conjecture to a statement purely about polynomials:

Theorem 2 (Inverse conjecture for polynomials)Let , and let be a non-classical polynomial of degree at most such that . Then hasbounded rankin the sense that is a function of polynomials of degree at most .

This type of inverse theorem was first introduced by Bogdanov and Viola. The deduction of Theorem 1 from Theorem 2 and the weak inverse Gowers conjecture is fairly standard, so the main difficulty is to show Theorem 2.

The quantity of a polynomial of degree at most was denoted the *analytic rank* of by Gowers and Wolf. They observed that the analytic rank of was closely related to the rank of , defined as the least number of degree polynomials needed to express . For instance, in the quadratic case the two ranks are identical (in odd characteristic, at least). For general , it was easy to see that bounded rank implied bounded analytic rank; Theorem 2 is the converse statement.

We tried a number of ways to show that bounded analytic rank implied bounded rank, in particular spending a lot of time on ergodic-theoretic approaches, but eventually we settled on a “brute force” approach that relies on classifying those polynomials of bounded analytic rank as precisely as possible. The argument splits up into establishing three separate facts:

- (Classical case) If a
*classical*polynomial has bounded analytic rank, then it has bounded rank. - (Multiplication by ) If a non-classical polynomial (of degree at most ) has bounded analytic rank, then (which can be shown to have degree at most ) also has bounded analytic rank.
- (Division by ) If is a non-clsasical polynomial of degree of bounded rank, then there is a non-classical polynomial of degree at most of bounded rank such that .

The multiplication by and division by facts allow one to easily extend the classical case of the theorem to the non-classical case of the theorem, basically because classical polynomials are the kernel of the multiplication-by- homomorphism. Indeed, if is a non-classical polynomial of bounded analytic rank of the right degree, then the multiplication by claim tells us that also has bounded analytic rank, which by an induction hypothesis implies that has bounded rank. Applying the division by claim, we find a bounded rank polynomial such that , thus differs from by a classical polynomial, which necessarily has bounded analytic rank, hence bounded rank by the classical claim, and the claim follows.

Of the three claims, the multiplication-by- claim is the easiest to prove using known results; after a bit of Fourier analysis, it turns out to follow more or less immediately from the multidimensional Szemerédi theorem over finite fields of Bergelson, Leibman, and McCutcheon (one can also use the density Hales-Jewett theorem here if one desires).

The next easiest claim is the classical case. Here, the idea is to analyse a degree classical polynomial via its derivative , defined by the formula

for any (the RHS is independent of as has degree ). This is a multilinear form, and if has bounded analytic rank, this form is biased (in the sense that the mean of is large). Applying a general equidistribution theorem of Kaufman and Lovett (based on this earlier paper of Green and myself) this implies that is a function of a bounded number of multilinear forms of lower degree. Using some “regularity lemma” theory to clean up these forms so that they have good equidistribution properties, it is possible to understand exactly how the original multilinear form depends on these lower degree forms; indeed, the description one eventually obtains is so explicit that one can write down by inspection another bounded rank polynomial such that is equal to . Thus differs from the bounded rank polynomial by a lower degree error, which is automatically of bounded rank also, and the claim follows.

The trickiest thing to establish is the division by claim. The polynomial is some function of lower degree polynomials . Ideally, one would like to find a function of the same polynomials with , such that has the correct degree; however, we have counterexamples that show that this is not always possible. (These counterexamples are the main obstruction to making the ergodic theory approach work: in ergodic theory, one is only allowed to work with “measurable” functions, which are roughly analogous in this context to functions of the indicated polynomials and their shifts.) To get around this we have to first apply a regularity lemma to place in a suitably equidistributed form (although the fact that may be non-classical leads to a rather messy and technical description of this equidistribution), and then we have to *extend* each to a higher degree polynomial with . There is a crucial “exact roots” property of polynomials that allows one to do this, with having degree exactly higher than . It turns out that it is possible to find a function of these extended polynomials that have the right degree and which solves the required equation ; this is established by classifying completely all functions of the equidistributed polynomials or that are of a given degree.

In Notes 3, we saw that the number of additive patterns in a given set was (in principle, at least) controlled by *the Gowers uniformity norms* of functions associated to that set.

Such norms can be defined on any finite additive group (and also on some other types of domains, though we will not discuss this point here). In particular, they can be defined on the finite-dimensional vector spaces over a finite field .

In this case, the Gowers norms are closely tied to the space of polynomials of degree at most . Indeed, as noted in Exercise 20 of Notes 4, a function of norm has norm equal to if and only if for some ; thus polynomials solve the “ inverse problem” for the trivial inequality . They are also a crucial component of the solution to the “ inverse problem” and “ inverse problem”. For the former, we will soon show:

Proposition 1 ( inverse theorem for )Let be such that and for some . Then there exists such that , where is a constant depending only on .

Thus, for the Gowers norm to be almost completely saturated, one must be very close to a polynomial. The converse assertion is easily established:

Exercise 1 (Converse to inverse theorem for )If and for some , then , where is a constant depending only on .

In the world, one no longer expects to be close to a polynomial. Instead, one expects to *correlate* with a polynomial. Indeed, one has

Lemma 2 (Converse to the inverse theorem for )If and are such that , where , then .

*Proof:* From the definition of the norm (equation (18) from Notes 3), the monotonicity of the Gowers norms (Exercise 19 of Notes 3), and the polynomial phase modulation invariance of the Gowers norms (Exercise 21 of Notes 3), one has

and the claim follows.

In the high characteristic case at least, this can be reversed:

Theorem 3 ( inverse theorem for )Suppose that . If is such that and , then there exists such that .

This result is sometimes referred to as the *inverse conjecture for the Gowers norm* (in high, but bounded, characteristic). For small , the claim is easy:

Exercise 2Verify the cases of this theorem. (Hint:to verify the case, use the Fourier-analytic identities and , where is the space of all homomorphisms from to , and are the Fourier coefficients of .)

This conjecture for larger values of are more difficult to establish. The case of the theorem was established by Ben Green and myself in the high characteristic case ; the low characteristic case was independently and simultaneously established by Samorodnitsky. The cases in the high characteristic case was established in two stages, firstly using a modification of the Furstenberg correspondence principle, due to Ziegler and myself. to convert the problem to an ergodic theory counterpart, and then using a modification of the methods of Host-Kra and Ziegler to solve that counterpart, as done in this paper of Bergelson, Ziegler, and myself.

The situation with the low characteristic case in general is still unclear. In the high characteristic case, we saw from Notes 4 that one could replace the space of non-classical polynomials in the above conjecture with the essentially equivalent space of classical polynomials . However, as we shall see below, this turns out not to be the case in certain low characteristic cases (a fact first observed by Lovett, Meshulam, and Samorodnitsky, and independently by Ben Green and myself), for instance if and ; this is ultimately due to the existence in those cases of non-classical polynomials which exhibit no significant correlation with classical polynomials of equal or lesser degree. This distinction between classical and non-classical polynomials appears to be a rather non-trivial obstruction to understanding the low characteristic setting; it may be necessary to obtain a more complete theory of non-classical polynomials in order to fully settle this issue.

The inverse conjecture has a number of consequences. For instance, it can be used to establish the analogue of Szemerédi’s theorem in this setting:

Theorem 4 (Szemerédi’s theorem for finite fields)Let be a finite field, let , and let be such that . If is sufficiently large depending on , then contains an (affine) line for some with .

Exercise 3Use Theorem 4 to establish the following generalisation: with the notation as above, if and is sufficiently large depending on , then contains an affine -dimensional subspace.

We will prove this theorem in two different ways, one using a density increment method, and the other using an energy increment method. We discuss some other applications below the fold.

In the previous lectures, we have focused mostly on the equidistribution or linear patterns on a subset of the integers , and in particular on intervals . The integers are of course a very important domain to study in additive combinatorics; but there are also other fundamental model examples of domains to study. One of these is that of a vector space over a finite field of prime order. Such domains are of interest in computer science (particularly when ) and also in number theory; but they also serve as an important simplified “dyadic model” for the integers. See this survey article of Green for further discussion of this point.

The additive combinatorics of the integers , and of vector spaces over finite fields, are analogous, but not quite identical. For instance, the analogue of an arithmetic progression in is a subspace of . In many cases, the finite field theory is a little bit simpler than the integer theory; for instance, subspaces are closed under addition, whereas arithmetic progressions are only “almost” closed under addition in various senses. (For instance, is closed under addition approximately half of the time.) However, there are some ways in which the integers are better behaved. For instance, because the integers can be generated by a single generator, a homomorphism from to some other group can be described by a single group element : . However, to specify a homomorphism from a vector space to one would need to specify one group element for each dimension of . Thus we see that there is a tradeoff when passing from (or ) to a vector space model; one gains a bounded torsion property, at the expense of conceding the bounded generation property. (Of course, if one wants to deal with arbitrarily large domains, one has to concede one or the other; the only additive groups that have both bounded torsion and boundedly many generators, are bounded.)

The starting point for this course (Notes 1) was the study of equidistribution of polynomials from the integers to the unit circle. We now turn to the parallel theory of equidistribution of polynomials from vector spaces over finite fields to the unit circle. Actually, for simplicity we will mostly focus on the *classical* case, when the polynomials in fact take values in the roots of unity (where is the characteristic of the field ). As it turns out, the non-classical case is also of importance (particularly in low characteristic), but the theory is more difficult; see these notes for some further discussion.

Jean-Pierre Serre (whose papers are, of course, always worth reading) recently posted a lovely lecture on the arXiv entitled “How to use finite fields for problems concerning infinite fields”. In it, he describes several ways in which algebraic statements over fields of zero characteristic, such as , can be deduced from their positive characteristic counterparts such as , despite the fact that there is no non-trivial field homomorphism between the two types of fields. In particular finitary tools, including such basic concepts as cardinality, can now be deployed to establish infinitary results. This leads to some simple and elegant proofs of non-trivial algebraic results which are not easy to establish by other means.

One deduction of this type is based on the idea that positive characteristic fields can partially *model* zero characteristic fields, and proceeds like this: if a certain algebraic statement failed over (say) , then there should be a “finitary algebraic” obstruction that “witnesses” this failure over . Because this obstruction is both finitary and algebraic, it must also be definable in some (large) finite characteristic, thus leading to a comparable failure over a finite characteristic field. Taking contrapositives, one obtains the claim.

Algebra is definitely not my own field of expertise, but it is interesting to note that similar themes have also come up in my own area of additive combinatorics (and more generally arithmetic combinatorics), because the combinatorics of addition and multiplication on finite sets is definitely of a “finitary algebraic” nature. For instance, a recent paper of Vu, Wood, and Wood establishes a finitary “Freiman-type” homomorphism from (finite subsets of) the complex numbers to large finite fields that allows them to pull back many results in arithmetic combinatorics in finite fields (e.g. the sum-product theorem) to the complex plane. (Van Vu and I also used a similar trick to control the singularity property of random sign matrices by first mapping them into finite fields in which cardinality arguments became available.) And I have a particular fondness for correspondences between finitary and infinitary mathematics; the correspondence Serre discusses is slightly different from the one I discuss for instance in here or here, although there seems to be a common theme of “compactness” (or of model theory) tying these correspondences together.

As one of his examples, Serre cites one of my own favourite results in algebra, discovered independently by Ax and by Grothendieck (and then rediscovered many times since). Here is a special case of that theorem:

Theorem 1 (Ax-Grothendieck theorem, special case)Let be a polynomial map from a complex vector space to itself. If is injective, then is bijective.

The full version of the theorem allows one to replace by an algebraic variety over any algebraically closed field, and for to be an morphism from the algebraic variety to itself, but for simplicity I will just discuss the above special case. This theorem is not at all obvious; it is not too difficult (see Lemma 4 below) to show that the Jacobian of is non-degenerate, but this does not come close to solving the problem since one would then be faced with the notorious Jacobian conjecture. Also, the claim fails if “polynomial” is replaced by “holomorphic”, due to the existence of Fatou-Bieberbach domains.

In this post I would like to give the proof of Theorem 1 based on finite fields as mentioned by Serre, as well as another elegant proof of Rudin that combines algebra with some elementary complex variable methods. (There are several other proofs of this theorem and its generalisations, for instance a topological proof by Borel, which I will not discuss here.)

*Update, March 8: Some corrections to the finite field proof. Thanks to Matthias Aschenbrenner also for clarifying the relationship with Tarski’s theorem and some further references.*

Vitaly Bergelson, Tamar Ziegler, and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our paper “An inverse theorem for the uniformity seminorms associated with the action of “. This paper establishes the ergodic inverse theorems that are needed in our other recent paper to establish the inverse conjecture for the Gowers norms over finite fields in high characteristic (and to establish a partial result in low characteristic), as follows:

Theorem.Let be a finite field of characteristic p. Suppose that is a probability space with an ergodic measure-preserving action of . Let be such that the Gowers-Host-Kra seminorm (defined in a previous post) is non-zero.

- In the high-characteristic case , there exists a phase polynomial g of degree <k (as defined in the previous post) such that .
- In general characteristic, there exists a phase polynomial of degree <C(k) for some C(k) depending only on k such that .

This theorem is closely analogous to a similar theorem of Host and Kra on ergodic actions of , in which the role of phase polynomials is played by functions that arise from nilsystem factors of X. Indeed, our arguments rely heavily on the machinery of Host and Kra.

The paper is rather technical (60+ pages!) and difficult to describe in detail here, but I will try to sketch out (in very broad brush strokes) what the key steps in the proof of part 2 of the theorem are. (Part 1 is similar but requires a more delicate analysis at various stages, keeping more careful track of the degrees of various polynomials.)

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