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I have just uploaded to the arXiv the paper “An inverse theorem for an inequality of Kneser“, submitted to a special issue of the Proceedings of the Steklov Institute of Mathematics in honour of Sergei Konyagin. It concerns an inequality of Kneser discussed previously in this blog, namely that

whenever are compact non-empty subsets of a compact connected additive group with probability Haar measure . (A later result of Kemperman extended this inequality to the nonabelian case.) This inequality is non-trivial in the regime

The connectedness of is essential, otherwise one could form counterexamples involving proper subgroups of of positive measure. In the blog post, I indicated how this inequality (together with a more “robust” strengthening of it) could be deduced from submodularity inequalities such as

which in turn easily follows from the identity and the inclusion , combined with the inclusion-exclusion formula.

In the non-trivial regime (2), equality can be attained in (1), for instance by taking to be the unit circle and to be arcs in that circle (obeying (2)). A bit more generally, if is an arbitrary connected compact abelian group and is a non-trivial character (i.e., a continuous homomorphism), then must be surjective (as has no non-trivial connected subgroups), and one can take and for some arcs in that circle (again choosing the measures of these arcs to obey (2)). The main result of this paper is an inverse theorem that asserts that this is the only way in which equality can occur in (1) (assuming (2)); furthermore, if (1) is close to being satisfied with equality and (2) holds, then must be close (in measure) to an example of the above form . Actually, for technical reasons (and for the applications we have in mind), it is important to establish an inverse theorem not just for (1), but for the more robust version mentioned earlier (in which the sumset is replaced by the partial sumset consisting of “popular” sums).

Roughly speaking, the idea is as follows. Let us informally call a *critical pair* if (2) holds and the inequality (1) (or more precisely, a robust version of this inequality) is almost obeyed with equality. The notion of a critical pair obeys some useful closure properties. Firstly, it is symmetric in , and invariant with respect to translation of either or . Furthermore, from the submodularity inequality (3), one can show that if and are critical pairs (with and positive), then and are also critical pairs. (Note that this is consistent with the claim that critical pairs only occur when come from arcs of a circle.) Similarly, from associativity , one can show that if and are critical pairs, then so are and .

One can combine these closure properties to obtain further ones. For instance, suppose is such that , so that all translates , intersect each other in a set of positive measure. Suppose also that is a critical pair and . Then (cheating a little bit), one can show that is also a critical pair, basically because is the union of the , , the are all critical pairs, and the all intersect each other. This argument doesn’t quite work as stated because one has to apply the closure property under union an uncountable number of times, but it turns out that if one works with the robust version of sumsets and uses a random sampling argument to approximate by the union of finitely many of the , then the argument can be made to work.

Using all of these closure properties, it turns out that one can start with an arbitrary critical pair and end up with a small set such that and are also critical pairs for all (say), where is the -fold sumset of . (Intuitively, if are thought of as secretly coming from the pullback of arcs by some character , then should be the pullback of a much shorter arc by the same character.) In particular, exhibits linear growth, in that for all . One can now use standard technology from inverse sumset theory to show first that has a very large Fourier coefficient (and thus is biased with respect to some character ), and secondly that is in fact almost of the form for some arc , from which it is not difficult to conclude similar statements for and and thus finish the proof of the inverse theorem.

In order to make the above argument rigorous, one has to be more precise about what the modifier “almost” means in the definition of a critical pair. I chose to do this in the language of “cheap” nonstandard analysis (aka asymptotic analysis), as discussed in this previous blog post; one could also have used the full-strength version of nonstandard analysis, but this does not seem to convey any substantial advantages. (One can also work in a more traditional “non-asymptotic” framework, but this requires one to keep much more careful account of various small error terms and leads to a messier argument.)

*[Update, Nov 15: Corrected the attribution of the inequality (1) to Kneser instead of Kemperman. Thanks to John Griesmer for pointing out the error.]*

A basic object of study in multiplicative number theory are the arithmetic functions: functions from the natural numbers to the complex numbers. Some fundamental examples of such functions include

- The constant function ;
- The Kronecker delta function ;
- The natural logarithm function ;
- The divisor function ;
- The von Mangoldt function , with defined to equal when is a power of a prime for some , and defined to equal zero otherwise; and
- The Möbius function , with defined to equal when is the product of distinct primes, and defined to equal zero otherwise.

Given an arithmetic function , we are often interested in statistics such as the summatory function

the logarithmically (or harmonically) weighted summatory function

or the Dirichlet series

In the latter case, one typically has to first restrict to those complex numbers whose real part is large enough in order to ensure the series on the right converges; but in many important cases, one can then extend the Dirichlet series to almost all of the complex plane by analytic continuation. One is also interested in correlations involving additive shifts, such as , but these are significantly more difficult to study and cannot be easily estimated by the methods of classical multiplicative number theory.

A key operation on arithmetic functions is that of Dirichlet convolution, which when given two arithmetic functions , forms a new arithmetic function , defined by the formula

Thus for instance , , , and for any arithmetic function . Dirichlet convolution and Dirichlet series are related by the fundamental formula

at least when the real part of is large enough that all sums involved become absolutely convergent (but in practice one can use analytic continuation to extend this identity to most of the complex plane). There is also the identity

at least when the real part of is large enough to justify interchange of differentiation and summation. As a consequence, many Dirichlet series can be expressed in terms of the Riemann zeta function , thus for instance

Much of the difficulty of multiplicative number theory can be traced back to the discrete nature of the natural numbers , which form a rather complicated abelian semigroup with respect to multiplication (in particular the set of generators is the set of prime numbers). One can obtain a simpler analogue of the subject by working instead with the half-infinite interval , which is a much simpler abelian semigroup under multiplication (being a one-dimensional Lie semigroup). (I will think of this as a sort of “completion” of at the infinite place , hence the terminology.) Accordingly, let us define a *continuous arithmetic function* to be a locally integrable function . The analogue of the summatory function (1) is then an integral

and similarly the analogue of (2) is

The analogue of the Dirichlet series is the Mellin-type transform

which will be well-defined at least if the real part of is large enough and if the continuous arithmetic function does not grow too quickly, and hopefully will also be defined elsewhere in the complex plane by analytic continuation.

For instance, the continuous analogue of the discrete constant function would be the constant function , which maps any to , and which we will denote by in order to keep it distinct from . The two functions and have approximately similar statistics; for instance one has

and

where is the harmonic number, and we are deliberately vague as to what the symbol means. Continuing this analogy, we would expect

which reflects the fact that has a simple pole at with residue , and no other poles. Note that the identity is initially only valid in the region , but clearly the right-hand side can be continued analytically to the entire complex plane except for the pole at , and so one can define in this region also.

In a similar vein, the logarithm function is approximately similar to the logarithm function , giving for instance the crude form

of Stirling’s formula, or the Dirichlet series approximation

The continuous analogue of Dirichlet convolution is multiplicative convolution using the multiplicative Haar measure : given two continuous arithmetic functions , one can define their convolution by the formula

Thus for instance . A short computation using Fubini’s theorem shows the analogue

of (3) whenever the real part of is large enough that Fubini’s theorem can be justified; similarly, differentiation under the integral sign shows that

again assuming that the real part of is large enough that differentiation under the integral sign (or some other tool like this, such as the Cauchy integral formula for derivatives) can be justified.

Direct calculation shows that for any complex number , one has

(at least for the real part of large enough), and hence by several applications of (5)

for any natural number . This can lead to the following heuristic: if a Dirichlet series behaves like a linear combination of poles , in that

for some set of poles and some coefficients and natural numbers (where we again are vague as to what means, and how to interpret the sum if the set of poles is infinite), then one should expect the arithmetic function to behave like the continuous arithmetic function

In particular, if we only have simple poles,

then we expect to have behave like continuous arithmetic function

Integrating this from to , this heuristically suggests an approximation

for the summatory function, and similarly

with the convention that is when , and similarly is when . One can make these sorts of approximations more rigorous by means of Perron’s formula (or one of its variants) combined with the residue theorem, provided that one has good enough control on the relevant Dirichlet series, but we will not pursue these rigorous calculations here. (But see for instance this previous blog post for some examples.)

For instance, using the more refined approximation

to the zeta function near , we have

we would expect that

and thus for instance

which matches what one actually gets from the Dirichlet hyperbola method (see e.g. equation (44) of this previous post).

Or, noting that has a simple pole at and assuming simple zeroes elsewhere, the log derivative will have simple poles of residue at and at all the zeroes, leading to the heuristic

suggesting that should behave like the continuous arithmetic function

leading for instance to the summatory approximation

which is a heuristic form of the Riemann-von Mangoldt explicit formula (see Exercise 45 of these notes for a rigorous version of this formula).

Exercise 1Go through some of the other explicit formulae listed at this Wikipedia page and give heuristic justifications for them (up to some lower order terms) by similar calculations to those given above.

Given the “adelic” perspective on number theory, I wonder if there are also -adic analogues of arithmetic functions to which a similar set of heuristics can be applied, perhaps to study sums such as . A key problem here is that there does not seem to be any good interpretation of the expression when is complex and is a -adic number, so it is not clear that one can analyse a Dirichlet series -adically. For similar reasons, we don’t have a canonical way to define for a Dirichlet character (unless its conductor happens to be a power of ), so there doesn’t seem to be much to say in the -aspect either.

Alice Guionnet, Assaf Naor, Gilles Pisier, Sorin Popa, Dimitri Shylakhtenko, and I are organising a three month program here at the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM) on the topic of Quantitative Linear Algebra. The purpose of this program is to bring together mathematicians and computer scientists (both junior and senior) working in various quantitative aspects of linear operators, particularly in large finite dimension. Such aspects include, but are not restricted to discrepancy theory, spectral graph theory, random matrices, geometric group theory, ergodic theory, von Neumann algebras, as well as specific research directions such as the Kadison-Singer problem, the Connes embedding conjecture and the Grothendieck inequality. There will be several workshops and tutorials during the program (for instance I will be giving a series of introductory lectures on random matrix theory).

While we already have several confirmed participants, we are still accepting applications for this program until Dec 4; details of the application process may be found at this page.

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