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In this lecture, we use topological dynamics methods to prove some other Ramsey-type theorems, and more specifically the polynomial van der Waerden theorem, the hypergraph Ramsey theorem, Hindman’s theorem, and the Hales-Jewett theorem. In proving these statements, I have decided to focus on the ultrafilter-based proofs, rather than the combinatorial or topological proofs, though of course these styles of proof are also available for each of the above theorems.

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Recently, I had tentatively announced a forthcoming result with Ben Green establishing the “Gowers inverse conjecture” (or more accurately, the “inverse conjecture for the Gowers uniformity norm”) for vector spaces {\Bbb F}_p^n over a finite field {\Bbb F}_p, in the special case when p=2 and when the function f: {\Bbb F}_p^n \to {\Bbb C} for which the inverse conjecture is to be applied is assumed to be a polynomial phase of bounded degree (thus f= e^{2\pi i P/|{\Bbb F}|}, where P: {\Bbb F}_p^n \to {\Bbb F}_p is a polynomial of some degree d=O(1)). See my FOCS article for some further discussion of this conjecture, which has applications to both polynomiality testing and to various structural decompositions involving the Gowers norm.

This conjecture can be informally stated as follows. By iterating the obvious fact that the derivative of a polynomial of degree at most d is a polynomial of degree at most d-1, we see that a function P: {\Bbb F}_p^n \to {\Bbb F}_p is a polynomial of degree at most d if and only if

\sum_{\omega_1,\ldots,\omega_{d+1} \in \{0,1\}} (-1)^{\omega_1+\ldots+\omega_{d+1}} P(x +\omega_1 h_1 + \ldots + \omega_{d+1} h_{d+1}) = 0

for all x,h_1,\ldots,h_{d+1} \in {\Bbb F}_p^n. From this one can deduce that a function f: {\Bbb F}_p^n \to {\Bbb C} bounded in magnitude by 1 is a polynomial phase of degree at most d if and only if the Gowers norm

\|f\|_{U^{d+1}({\Bbb F}_p^n)} := \bigl( {\Bbb E}_{x,h_1,\ldots,h_{d+1} \in {\Bbb F}_p^n} \prod_{\omega_1,\ldots,\omega_{d+1} \in \{0,1\}}

{\mathcal C}^{\omega_1+\ldots+\omega_{d+1}} f(x + \omega_1 h_1 + \ldots + \omega_{d+1} h_{d+1}) \bigr)^{1/2^{d+1}}

is equal to its maximal value of 1. The inverse conjecture for the Gowers norm, in its usual formulation, says that, more generally, if a function f: {\Bbb F}_p^n \to {\Bbb C} bounded in magnitude by 1 has large Gowers norm (e.g. \|f\|_{U^{d+1}} \geq \varepsilon) then f has some non-trivial correlation with some polynomial phase g (e.g. \langle f, g \rangle > c(\varepsilon) for some c(\varepsilon) > 0). Informally, this conjecture asserts that if a function has biased (d+1)^{th} derivatives, then one should be able to “integrate” this bias and conclude that the function is biased relative to a polynomial of degree d. The conjecture has already been proven for d \leq 2. There are analogues of this conjecture for cyclic groups which are of relevance to Szemerédi’s theorem and to counting linear patterns in primes, but I will not discuss those here.

At the time of the announcement, our paper had not quite been fully written up. This turned out to be a little unfortunate, because soon afterwards we discovered that our arguments at one point had to go through a version of Newton’s interpolation formula, which involves a factor of d! in the denominator and so is only valid when the characteristic p of the field exceeds the degree. So our arguments in fact are only valid in the range p > d, and in particular are rather trivial in the important case p=2; my previous announcement should thus be amended accordingly.

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In the field of analysis, it is common to make a distinction between “hard”, “quantitative”, or “finitary” analysis on one hand, and “soft”, “qualitative”, or “infinitary” analysis on the other. “Hard analysis” is mostly concerned with finite quantities (e.g. the cardinality of finite sets, the measure of bounded sets, the value of convergent integrals, the norm of finite-dimensional vectors, etc.) and their quantitative properties (in particular, upper and lower bounds). “Soft analysis”, on the other hand, tends to deal with more infinitary objects (e.g. sequences, measurable sets and functions, \sigma-algebras, Banach spaces, etc.) and their qualitative properties (convergence, boundedness, integrability, completeness, compactness, etc.). To put it more symbolically, hard analysis is the mathematics of \varepsilon, N, O(), and \leq[1]; soft analysis is the mathematics of 0, \infty, \in, and \to.

At first glance, the two types of analysis look very different; they deal with different types of objects, ask different types of questions, and seem to use different techniques in their proofs. They even use[2] different axioms of mathematics; the axiom of infinity, the axiom of choice, and the Dedekind completeness axiom for the real numbers are often invoked in soft analysis, but rarely in hard analysis. (As a consequence, there are occasionally some finitary results that can be proven easily by soft analysis but are in fact impossible to prove via hard analysis methods; the Paris-Harrington theorem gives a famous example.) Because of all these differences, it is common for analysts to specialise in only one of the two types of analysis. For instance, as a general rule (and with notable exceptions), discrete mathematicians, computer scientists, real-variable harmonic analysts, and analytic number theorists tend to rely on “hard analysis” tools, whereas functional analysts, operator algebraists, abstract harmonic analysts, and ergodic theorists tend to rely on “soft analysis” tools. (PDE is an interesting intermediate case in which both types of analysis are popular and useful, though many practitioners of PDE still prefer to primarily use just one of the two types. Another interesting transition occurs on the interface between point-set topology, which largely uses soft analysis, and metric geometry, which largely uses hard analysis. Also, the ineffective bounds which crop up from time to time in analytic number theory are a sort of hybrid of hard and soft analysis. Finally, there are examples of evolution of a field from soft analysis to hard (e.g. Banach space geometry) or vice versa (e.g. recent developments in extremal combinatorics, particularly in relation to the regularity lemma).)

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