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Let be some domain (such as the real numbers). For any natural number , let denote the space of symmetric real-valued functions on variables , thus

for any permutation . For instance, for any natural numbers , the elementary symmetric polynomials

will be an element of . With the pointwise product operation, becomes a commutative real algebra. We include the case , in which case consists solely of the real constants.

Given two natural numbers , one can “lift” a symmetric function of variables to a symmetric function of variables by the formula

where ranges over all injections from to (the latter formula making it clearer that is symmetric). Thus for instance

and

Also we have

With these conventions, we see that vanishes for , and is equal to if . We also have the transitivity

if .

The lifting map is a linear map from to , but it is not a ring homomorphism. For instance, when , one has

In general, one has the identity

for all natural numbers and , , where range over all injections , with . Combinatorially, the identity (2) follows from the fact that given any injections and with total image of cardinality , one has , and furthermore there exist precisely triples of injections , , such that and .

Example 1When , one haswhich is just a restatement of the identity

Note that the coefficients appearing in (2) do not depend on the final number of variables . We may therefore abstract the role of from the law (2) by introducing the real algebra of formal sums

where for each , is an element of (with only finitely many of the being non-zero), and with the formal symbol being formally linear, thus

and

for and scalars , and with multiplication given by the analogue

of (2). Thus for instance, in this algebra we have

and

Informally, is an abstraction (or “inverse limit”) of the concept of a symmetric function of an unspecified number of variables, which are formed by summing terms that each involve only a bounded number of these variables at a time. One can check (somewhat tediously) that is indeed a commutative real algebra, with a unit . (I do not know if this algebra has previously been studied in the literature; it is somewhat analogous to the abstract algebra of finite linear combinations of Schur polynomials, with multiplication given by a Littlewood-Richardson rule. )

For natural numbers , there is an obvious specialisation map from to , defined by the formula

Thus, for instance, maps to and to . From (2) and (3) we see that this map is an algebra homomorphism, even though the maps and are not homomorphisms. By inspecting the component of we see that the homomorphism is in fact surjective.

Now suppose that we have a measure on the space , which then induces a product measure on every product space . To avoid degeneracies we will assume that the integral is strictly positive. Assuming suitable measurability and integrability hypotheses, a function can then be integrated against this product measure to produce a number

In the event that arises as a lift of another function , then from Fubini’s theorem we obtain the formula

is an element of the formal algebra , then

Note that by hypothesis, only finitely many terms on the right-hand side are non-zero.

Now for a key observation: whereas the left-hand side of (6) only makes sense when is a natural number, the right-hand side is meaningful when takes a fractional value (or even when it takes negative or complex values!), interpreting the binomial coefficient as a polynomial in . As such, this suggests a way to introduce a “virtual” concept of a symmetric function on a fractional power space for such values of , and even to integrate such functions against product measures , even if the fractional power does not exist in the usual set-theoretic sense (and similarly does not exist in the usual measure-theoretic sense). More precisely, for arbitrary real or complex , we now *define* to be the space of abstract objects

with and (and now interpreted as formal symbols, with the structure of a commutative real algebra inherited from , thus

In particular, the multiplication law (2) continues to hold for such values of , thanks to (3). Given any measure on , we formally define a measure on with regards to which we can integrate elements of by the formula (6) (providing one has sufficient measurability and integrability to make sense of this formula), thus providing a sort of “fractional dimensional integral” for symmetric functions. Thus, for instance, with this formalism the identities (4), (5) now hold for fractional values of , even though the formal space no longer makes sense as a set, and the formal measure no longer makes sense as a measure. (The formalism here is somewhat reminiscent of the technique of dimensional regularisation employed in the physical literature in order to assign values to otherwise divergent integrals. See also this post for an unrelated abstraction of the integration concept involving integration over supercommutative variables (and in particular over fermionic variables).)

Example 2Suppose is a probability measure on , and is a random variable; on any power , we let be the usual independent copies of on , thus for . Then for any real or complex , the formal integralcan be evaluated by first using the identity

(cf. (1)) and then using (6) and the probability measure hypothesis to conclude that

For a natural number, this identity has the probabilistic interpretation

whenever are jointly independent copies of , which reflects the well known fact that the sum has expectation and variance . One can thus view (7) as an abstract generalisation of (8) to the case when is fractional, negative, or even complex, despite the fact that there is no sensible way in this case to talk about independent copies of in the standard framework of probability theory.

In this particular case, the quantity (7) is non-negative for every nonnegative , which looks plausible given the form of the left-hand side. Unfortunately, this sort of non-negativity does not always hold; for instance, if has mean zero, one can check that

and the right-hand side can become negative for . This is a shame, because otherwise one could hope to start endowing with some sort of commutative von Neumann algebra type structure (or the abstract probability structure discussed in this previous post) and then interpret it as a genuine measure space rather than as a virtual one. (This failure of positivity is related to the fact that the characteristic function of a random variable, when raised to the power, need not be a characteristic function of any random variable once is no longer a natural number: “fractional convolution” does not preserve positivity!) However, one vestige of positivity remains: if is non-negative, then so is

One can wonder what the point is to all of this abstract formalism and how it relates to the rest of mathematics. For me, this formalism originated implicitly in an old paper I wrote with Jon Bennett and Tony Carbery on the multilinear restriction and Kakeya conjectures, though we did not have a good language for working with it at the time, instead working first with the case of natural number exponents and appealing to a general extrapolation theorem to then obtain various identities in the fractional case. The connection between these fractional dimensional integrals and more traditional integrals ultimately arises from the simple identity

(where the right-hand side should be viewed as the fractional dimensional integral of the unit against ). As such, one can manipulate powers of ordinary integrals using the machinery of fractional dimensional integrals. A key lemma in this regard is

Lemma 3 (Differentiation formula)Suppose that a positive measure on depends on some parameter and varies by the formula

for some function . Let be any real or complex number. Then, assuming sufficient smoothness and integrability of all quantities involved, we have

for all that are independent of . If we allow to now depend on also, then we have the more general total derivative formula

again assuming sufficient amounts of smoothness and regularity.

*Proof:* We just prove (10), as (11) then follows by same argument used to prove the usual product rule. By linearity it suffices to verify this identity in the case for some symmetric function for a natural number . By (6), the left-hand side of (10) is then

Differentiating under the integral sign using (9) we have

and similarly

where are the standard copies of on :

By the product rule, we can thus expand (12) as

where we have suppressed the dependence on for brevity. Since , we can write this expression using (6) as

where is the symmetric function

But from (2) one has

and the claim follows.

Remark 4It is also instructive to prove this lemma in the special case when is a natural number, in which case the fractional dimensional integral can be interpreted as a classical integral. In this case, the identity (10) is immediate from applying the product rule to (9) to conclude thatOne could in fact derive (10) for arbitrary real or complex from the case when is a natural number by an extrapolation argument; see the appendix of my paper with Bennett and Carbery for details.

Let us give a simple PDE application of this lemma as illustration:

Proposition 5 (Heat flow monotonicity)Let be a solution to the heat equation with initial data a rapidly decreasing finite non-negative Radon measure, or more explicitlyfor al . Then for any , the quantity

is monotone non-decreasing in for , constant for , and monotone non-increasing for .

*Proof:* By a limiting argument we may assume that is absolutely continuous, with Radon-Nikodym derivative a test function; this is more than enough regularity to justify the arguments below.

For any , let denote the Radon measure

Then the quantity can be written as a fractional dimensional integral

Observe that

and thus by Lemma 3 and the product rule

where we use for the variable of integration in the factor space of .

To simplify this expression we will take advantage of integration by parts in the variable. Specifically, in any direction , we have

and hence by Lemma 3

Multiplying by and integrating by parts, we see that

where we use the Einstein summation convention in . Similarly, if is any reasonable function depending only on , we have

and hence on integration by parts

We conclude that

and thus by (13)

The choice of that then achieves the most cancellation turns out to be (this cancels the terms that are linear or quadratic in the ), so that . Repeating the calculations establishing (7), one has

and

where is the random variable drawn from with the normalised probability measure . Since , one thus has

This expression is clearly non-negative for , equal to zero for , and positive for , giving the claim. (One could simplify here as if desired, though it is not strictly necessary to do so for the proof.)

Remark 6As with Remark 4, one can also establish the identity (14) first for natural numbers by direct computation avoiding the theory of fractional dimensional integrals, and then extrapolate to the case of more general values of . This particular identity is also simple enough that it can be directly established by integration by parts without much difficulty, even for fractional values of .

A more complicated version of this argument establishes the non-endpoint multilinear Kakeya inequality (without any logarithmic loss in a scale parameter ); this was established in my previous paper with Jon Bennett and Tony Carbery, but using the “natural number first” approach rather than using the current formalism of fractional dimensional integration. However, the arguments can be translated into this formalism without much difficulty; we do so below the fold. (To simplify the exposition slightly we will not address issues of establishing enough regularity and integrability to justify all the manipulations, though in practice this can be done by standard limiting arguments.)

The AMS and MAA have recently published (and made available online) a collection of essays entitled “Living Proof: Stories of Resilience Along the Mathematical Journey”. Each author contributes a story of how they encountered some internal or external difficulty in advancing their mathematical career, and how they were able to deal with such difficulties. I myself have contributed one of these essays; I was initially somewhat surprised when I was approached for a contribution, as my career trajectory has been somewhat of an outlier, and I have been very fortunate to not experience to the same extent many of the obstacles that other contributors write about in this text. Nevertheless there was a turning point in my career that I write about here during my graduate years, when I found that the improvised and poorly disciplined study habits that were able to get me into graduate school due to an over-reliance on raw mathematical ability were completely inadequate to handle the graduate qualifying exam. With a combination of an astute advisor and some sheer luck, I was able to pass the exam and finally develop a more sustainable approach to learning and doing mathematics, but it could easily have gone quite differently. (My ~~20~~ 25-year old writeup of this examination, complete with spelling errors, may be found here.)

The following situation is very common in modern harmonic analysis: one has a large scale parameter (sometimes written as in the literature for some small scale parameter , or as for some large radius ), which ranges over some unbounded subset of (e.g. all sufficiently large real numbers , or all powers of two), and one has some positive quantity depending on that is known to be of *polynomial size* in the sense that

for all in the range and some constant , and one wishes to obtain a *subpolynomial upper bound* for , by which we mean an upper bound of the form

for all and all in the range, where can depend on but is independent of . In many applications, this bound is nearly tight in the sense that one can easily establish a matching lower bound

in which case the property of having a subpolynomial upper bound is equivalent to that of being *subpolynomial size* in the sense that

for all and all in the range. It would naturally be of interest to tighten these bounds further, for instance to show that is polylogarithmic or even bounded in size, but a subpolynomial bound is already sufficient for many applications.

Let us give some illustrative examples of this type of problem:

Example 1 (Kakeya conjecture)Here ranges over all of . Let be a fixed dimension. For each , we pick a maximal -separated set of directions . We let be the smallest constant for which one has the Kakeya inequalitywhere is a -tube oriented in the direction . The Kakeya maximal function conjecture is then equivalent to the assertion that has a subpolynomial upper bound (or equivalently, is of subpolynomial size). Currently this is only known in dimension .

Example 2 (Restriction conjecture for the sphere)Here ranges over all of . Let be a fixed dimension. We let be the smallest constant for which one has the restriction inequalityfor all bounded measurable functions on the unit sphere equipped with surface measure , where is the ball of radius centred at the origin. The restriction conjecture of Stein for the sphere is then equivalent to the assertion that has a subpolynomial upper bound (or equivalently, is of subpolynomial size). Currently this is only known in dimension .

Example 3 (Multilinear Kakeya inequality)Again ranges over all of . Let be a fixed dimension, and let be compact subsets of the sphere which aretransversein the sense that there is a uniform lower bound for the wedge product of directions for (equivalently, there is no hyperplane through the origin that intersects all of the ). For each , we let be the smallest constant for which one has the multilinear Kakeya inequalitywhere for each , is a collection of infinite tubes in of radius oriented in a direction in , which are separated in the sense that for any two tubes in , either the directions of differ by an angle of at least , or are disjoint; and is our notation for the geometric mean

The multilinear Kakeya inequality of Bennett, Carbery, and myself establishes that is of subpolynomial size; a later argument of Guth improves this further by showing that is bounded (and in fact comparable to ).

Example 4 (Multilinear restriction theorem)Once again ranges over all of . Let be a fixed dimension, and let be compact subsets of the sphere which aretransverseas in the previous example. For each , we let be the smallest constant for which one has the multilinear restriction inequalityfor all bounded measurable functions on for . Then the multilinear restriction theorem of Bennett, Carbery, and myself establishes that is of subpolynomial size; it is known to be bounded for (as can be easily verified from Plancherel’s theorem), but it remains open whether it is bounded for any .

Example 5 (Decoupling for the paraboloid)now ranges over the square numbers. Let , and subdivide the unit cube into cubes of sidelength . For any , define the extension operatorsand

for and . We also introduce the weight function

For any , let be the smallest constant for which one has the decoupling inequality

The decoupling theorem of Bourgain and Demeter asserts that is of subpolynomial size for all in the optimal range .

Example 6 (Decoupling for the moment curve)now ranges over the natural numbers. Let , and subdivide into intervals of length . For any , define the extension operatorsand more generally

for . For any , let be the smallest constant for which one has the decoupling inequality

It was shown by Bourgain, Demeter, and Guth that is of subpolynomial size for all in the optimal range , which among other things implies the Vinogradov main conjecture (as discussed in this previous post).

It is convenient to use asymptotic notation to express these estimates. We write , , or to denote the inequality for some constant independent of the scale parameter , and write for . We write to denote a bound of the form where as along the given range of . We then write for , and for . Then the statement that is of polynomial size can be written as

while the statement that has a subpolynomial upper bound can be written as

and similarly the statement that is of subpolynomial size is simply

Many modern approaches to bounding quantities like in harmonic analysis rely on some sort of *induction on scales* approach in which is bounded using quantities such as for some exponents . For instance, suppose one is somehow able to establish the inequality

for all , and suppose that is also known to be of polynomial size. Then this implies that has a subpolynomial upper bound. Indeed, one can iterate this inequality to show that

for any fixed ; using the polynomial size hypothesis one thus has

for some constant independent of . As can be arbitrarily large, we conclude that for any , and hence is of subpolynomial size. (This sort of iteration is used for instance in my paper with Bennett and Carbery to derive the multilinear restriction theorem from the multilinear Kakeya theorem.)

Exercise 7If is of polynomial size, and obeys the inequalityfor any fixed , where the implied constant in the notation is independent of , show that has a subpolynomial upper bound. This type of inequality is used to equate various linear estimates in harmonic analysis with their multilinear counterparts; see for instance this paper of myself, Vargas, and Vega for an early example of this method.

In more recent years, more sophisticated induction on scales arguments have emerged in which one or more auxiliary quantities besides also come into play. Here is one example, this time being an abstraction of a short proof of the multilinear Kakeya inequality due to Guth. Let be the quantity in Example 3. We define similarly to for any , except that we now also require that the diameter of each set is at most . One can then observe the following estimates:

- (Triangle inequality) For any , we have
- (Multiplicativity) For any , one has
- (Loomis-Whitney inequality) We have

These inequalities now imply that has a subpolynomial upper bound, as we now demonstrate. Let be a large natural number (independent of ) to be chosen later. From many iterations of (6) we have

and hence by (7) (with replaced by ) and (5)

where the implied constant in the exponent does not depend on . As can be arbitrarily large, the claim follows. We remark that a nearly identical scheme lets one deduce decoupling estimates for the three-dimensional cone from that of the two-dimensional paraboloid; see the final section of this paper of Bourgain and Demeter.

Now we give a slightly more sophisticated example, abstracted from the proof of decoupling of the paraboloid by Bourgain and Demeter, as described in this study guide after specialising the dimension to and the exponent to the endpoint (the argument is also more or less summarised in this previous post). (In the cited papers, the argument was phrased only for the non-endpoint case , but it has been observed independently by many experts that the argument extends with only minor modifications to the endpoint .) Here we have a quantity that we wish to show is of subpolynomial size. For any and , one can define an auxiliary quantity . The precise definitions of and are given in the study guide (where they are called and respectively, setting and ) but will not be of importance to us for this discussion. Suffice to say that the following estimates are known:

- (Crude upper bound for ) is of polynomial size: .
- (Bilinear reduction, using parabolic rescaling) For any , one has
- (Crude upper bound for ) For any one has
- (Application of multilinear Kakeya and decoupling) If are sufficiently small (e.g. both less than ), then

In all of these bounds the implied constant exponents such as or are independent of and , although the implied constants in the notation can depend on both and . Here we gloss over an annoying technicality in that quantities such as , , or might not be an integer (and might not divide evenly into ), which is needed for the application to decoupling theorems; this can be resolved by restricting the scales involved to powers of two and restricting the values of to certain rational values, which introduces some complications to the later arguments below which we shall simply ignore as they do not significantly affect the numerology.

It turns out that these estimates imply that is of subpolynomial size. We give the argument as follows. As is known to be of polynomial size, we have some for which we have the bound

for all . We can pick to be the minimal exponent for which this bound is attained: thus

We will call this the *upper exponent* of . We need to show that . We assume for contradiction that . Let be a sufficiently small quantity depending on to be chosen later. From (10) we then have

for any sufficiently small . A routine iteration then gives

for any that is independent of , if is sufficiently small depending on . A key point here is that the implied constant in the exponent is uniform in (the constant comes from summing a convergent geometric series). We now use the crude bound (9) followed by (11) and conclude that

Applying (8) we then have

If we choose sufficiently large depending on (which was assumed to be positive), then the negative term will dominate the term. If we then pick sufficiently small depending on , then finally sufficiently small depending on all previous quantities, we will obtain for some strictly less than , contradicting the definition of . Thus cannot be positive, and hence has a subpolynomial upper bound as required.

Exercise 8Show that one still obtains a subpolynomial upper bound if the estimate (10) is replaced withfor some constant , so long as we also improve (9) to

(This variant of the argument lets one handle the non-endpoint cases of the decoupling theorem for the paraboloid.)

To establish decoupling estimates for the moment curve, restricting to the endpoint case for sake of discussion, an even more sophisticated induction on scales argument was deployed by Bourgain, Demeter, and Guth. The proof is discussed in this previous blog post, but let us just describe an abstract version of the induction on scales argument. To bound the quantity , some auxiliary quantities are introduced for various exponents and and , with the following bounds:

- (Crude upper bound for ) is of polynomial size: .
- (Multilinear reduction, using non-isotropic rescaling) For any and , one has
- (Crude upper bound for ) For any and one has
- (Hölder) For and one has
- (Rescaled decoupling hypothesis) For , one has
- (Lower dimensional decoupling) If and , then
- (Multilinear Kakeya) If and , then

It is now substantially less obvious that these estimates can be combined to demonstrate that is of subpolynomial size; nevertheless this can be done. A somewhat complicated arrangement of the argument (involving some rather unmotivated choices of expressions to induct over) appears in my previous blog post; I give an alternate proof later in this post.

These examples indicate a general strategy to establish that some quantity is of subpolynomial size, by

- (i) Introducing some family of related auxiliary quantities, often parameterised by several further parameters;
- (ii) establishing as many bounds between these quantities and the original quantity as possible; and then
- (iii) appealing to some sort of “induction on scales” to conclude.

The first two steps (i), (ii) depend very much on the harmonic analysis nature of the quantities and the related auxiliary quantities, and the estimates in (ii) will typically be proven from various harmonic analysis inputs such as Hölder’s inequality, rescaling arguments, decoupling estimates, or Kakeya type estimates. The final step (iii) requires no knowledge of where these quantities come from in harmonic analysis, but the iterations involved can become extremely complicated.

In this post I would like to observe that one can clean up and made more systematic this final step (iii) by passing to upper exponents (12) to eliminate the role of the parameter (and also “tropicalising” all the estimates), and then taking similar limit superiors to eliminate some other less important parameters, until one is left with a simple linear programming problem (which, among other things, could be amenable to computer-assisted proving techniques). This method is analogous to that of passing to a simpler asymptotic limit object in many other areas of mathematics (for instance using the Furstenberg correspondence principle to pass from a combinatorial problem to an ergodic theory problem, as discussed in this previous post). We use the limit superior exclusively in this post, but many of the arguments here would also apply with one of the other generalised limit functionals discussed in this previous post, such as ultrafilter limits.

For instance, if is the upper exponent of a quantity of polynomial size obeying (4), then a comparison of the upper exponent of both sides of (4) one arrives at the scalar inequality

from which it is immediate that , giving the required subpolynomial upper bound. Notice how the passage to upper exponents converts the estimate to a simpler inequality .

Exercise 9Repeat Exercise 7 using this method.

Similarly, given the quantities obeying the axioms (5), (6), (7), and assuming that is of polynomial size (which is easily verified for the application at hand), we see that for any real numbers , the quantity is also of polynomial size and hence has some upper exponent ; meanwhile itself has some upper exponent . By reparameterising we have the homogeneity

for any . Also, comparing the upper exponents of both sides of the axioms (5), (6), (7) we arrive at the inequalities

For any natural number , the third inequality combined with homogeneity gives , which when combined with the second inequality gives , which on combination with the first estimate gives . Sending to infinity we obtain as required.

Now suppose that , obey the axioms (8), (9), (10). For any fixed , the quantity is of polynomial size (thanks to (9) and the polynomial size of ), and hence has some upper exponent ; similarly has some upper exponent . (Actually, strictly speaking our axioms only give an upper bound on so we have to temporarily admit the possibility that , though this will soon be eliminated anyway.) Taking upper exponents of all the axioms we then conclude that

for all and .

Assume for contradiction that , then , and so the statement (20) simplifies to

At this point we can eliminate the role of and simplify the system by taking a second limit superior. If we write

then on taking limit superiors of the previous inequalities we conclude that

for all ; in particular . We take advantage of this by taking a further limit superior (or “upper derivative”) in the limit to eliminate the role of and simplify the system further. If we define

so that is the best constant for which as , then is finite, and by inserting this “Taylor expansion” into the right-hand side of (21) and conclude that

This leads to a contradiction when , and hence as desired.

Exercise 10Redo Exercise 8 using this method.

The same strategy now clarifies how to proceed with the more complicated system of quantities obeying the axioms (13)–(19) with of polynomial size. Let be the exponent of . From (14) we see that for fixed , each is also of polynomial size (at least in upper bound) and so has some exponent (which for now we can permit to be ). Taking upper exponents of all the various axioms we can now eliminate and arrive at the simpler axioms

for all , , and , with the lower dimensional decoupling inequality

for and , and the multilinear Kakeya inequality

for and .

As before, if we assume for sake of contradiction that then the first inequality simplifies to

We can then again eliminate the role of by taking a second limit superior as , introducing

and thus getting the simplified axiom system

for and , and

for and .

In view of the latter two estimates it is natural to restrict attention to the quantities for . By the axioms (22), these quantities are of the form . We can then eliminate the role of by taking another limit superior

The axioms now simplify to

It turns out that the inequality (27) is strongest when , thus

From the last two inequalities (28), (29) we see that a special role is likely to be played by the exponents

for and

for . From the convexity (25) and a brief calculation we have

for , hence from (28) we have

Similarly, from (25) and a brief calculation we have

for ; the same bound holds for if we drop the term with the factor, thanks to (24). Thus from (29) we have

for , again with the understanding that we omit the first term on the right-hand side when . Finally, (26) gives

Let us write out the system of equations we have obtained in full:

We can then eliminate the variables one by one. Inserting (33) into (32) we obtain

which simplifies to

Inserting this into (34) gives

which when combined with (35) gives

which simplifies to

Iterating this we get

for all and

for all . In particular

which on insertion into (36), (37) gives

which is absurd if . Thus and so must be of subpolynomial growth.

Remark 11(This observation is essentially due to Heath-Brown.) If we let denote the column vector with entries (arranged in whatever order one pleases), then the above system of inequalities (32)–(36) (using (37) to handle the appearance of in (36)) readsfor some explicit square matrix with non-negative coefficients, where the inequality denotes pointwise domination, and is an explicit vector with non-positive coefficients that reflects the effect of (37). It is possible to show (using (24), (26)) that all the coefficients of are negative (assuming the counterfactual situation of course). Then we can iterate this to obtain

for any natural number . This would lead to an immediate contradiction if the Perron-Frobenius eigenvalue of exceeds because would now grow exponentially; this is typically the situation for “non-endpoint” applications such as proving decoupling inequalities away from the endpoint. In the endpoint situation discussed above, the Perron-Frobenius eigenvalue is , with having a non-trivial projection to this eigenspace, so the sum now grows at least linearly, which still gives the required contradiction for any . So it is important to gather “enough” inequalities so that the relevant matrix has a Perron-Frobenius eigenvalue greater than or equal to (and in the latter case one needs non-trivial injection of an induction hypothesis into an eigenspace corresponding to an eigenvalue ). More specifically, if is the spectral radius of and is a left Perron-Frobenius eigenvector, that is to say a non-negative vector, not identically zero, such that , then by taking inner products of (38) with we obtain

If this leads to a contradiction since is negative and is non-positive. When one still gets a contradiction as long as is strictly negative.

Remark 12(This calculation is essentially due to Guo and Zorin-Kranich.) Here is a concrete application of the Perron-Frobenius strategy outlined above to the system of inequalities (32)–(37). Consider the weighted sumI had secretly calculated the weights , as coming from the left Perron-Frobenius eigenvector of the matrix described in the previous remark, but for this calculation the precise provenance of the weights is not relevant. Applying the inequalities (31), (30) we see that is bounded by

(with the convention that the term is absent); this simplifies after some calculation to the bound

and this and (37) then leads to the required contradiction.

Exercise 13

- (i) Extend the above analysis to also cover the non-endpoint case . (One will need to establish the claim for .)
- (ii) Modify the argument to deal with the remaining cases by dropping some of the steps.

[**UPDATE**, Feb 1, 2021: the strategy sketched out below has been successfully implemented to rigorously obtain the desired implication in this recent preprint of Giulio Bresciani.]

I recently came across this question on MathOverflow asking if there are any polynomials of two variables with rational coefficients, such that the map is a bijection. The answer to this question is almost surely “no”, but it is remarkable how hard this problem resists any attempt at rigorous proof. (MathOverflow users with enough privileges to see deleted answers will find that there are no less than seventeen deleted attempts at a proof in response to this question!)

On the other hand, the one surviving response to the question does point out this paper of Poonen which shows that assuming a powerful conjecture in Diophantine geometry known as the Bombieri-Lang conjecture (discussed in this previous post), it is at least possible to exhibit polynomials which are injective.

I believe that it should be possible to also rule out the existence of bijective polynomials if one assumes the Bombieri-Lang conjecture, and have sketched out a strategy to do so, but filling in the gaps requires a fair bit more algebraic geometry than I am capable of. So as a sort of experiment, I would like to see if a rigorous implication of this form (similarly to the rigorous implication of the Erdos-Ulam conjecture from the Bombieri-Lang conjecture in my previous post) can be crowdsourced, in the spirit of the polymath projects (though I feel that this particular problem should be significantly quicker to resolve than a typical such project).

Here is how I imagine a Bombieri-Lang-powered resolution of this question should proceed (modulo a large number of unjustified and somewhat vague steps that I believe to be true but have not established rigorously). Suppose for contradiction that we have a bijective polynomial . Then for any polynomial of one variable, the surface

has infinitely many rational points; indeed, every rational lifts to exactly one rational point in . I believe that for “typical” this surface should be irreducible. One can now split into two cases:

- (a) The rational points in are Zariski dense in .
- (b) The rational points in are not Zariski dense in .

Consider case (b) first. By definition, this case asserts that the rational points in are contained in a finite number of algebraic curves. By Faltings’ theorem (a special case of the Bombieri-Lang conjecture), any curve of genus two or higher only contains a finite number of rational points. So all but finitely many of the rational points in are contained in a finite union of genus zero and genus one curves. I think all genus zero curves are birational to a line, and all the genus one curves are birational to an elliptic curve (though I don’t have an immediate reference for this). These curves all can have an infinity of rational points, but very few of them should have “enough” rational points that their projection to the third coordinate is “large”. In particular, I believe

- (i) If is birational to an elliptic curve, then the number of elements of of height at most should grow at most polylogarithmically in (i.e., be of order .
- (ii) If is birational to a line but not of the form for some rational , then then the number of elements of of height at most should grow slower than (in fact I think it can only grow like ).

I do not have proofs of these results (though I think something similar to (i) can be found in Knapp’s book, and (ii) should basically follow by using a rational parameterisation of with nonlinear). Assuming these assertions, this would mean that there is a curve of the form that captures a “positive fraction” of the rational points of , as measured by restricting the height of the third coordinate to lie below a large threshold , computing density, and sending to infinity (taking a limit superior). I believe this forces an identity of the form

for all . Such identities are certainly possible for some choices of (e.g. for arbitrary polynomials of one variable) but I believe that the only way that such identities hold for a “positive fraction” of (as measured using height as before) is if there is in fact a rational identity of the form

for some rational functions with rational coefficients (in which case we would have and ). But such an identity would contradict the hypothesis that is bijective, since one can take a rational point outside of the curve , and set , in which case we have violating the injective nature of . Thus, modulo a lot of steps that have not been fully justified, we have ruled out the scenario in which case (b) holds for a “positive fraction” of .

This leaves the scenario in which case (a) holds for a “positive fraction” of . Assuming the Bombieri-Lang conjecture, this implies that for such , any resolution of singularities of fails to be of general type. I would imagine that this places some very strong constraints on , since I would expect the equation to describe a surface of general type for “generic” choices of (after resolving singularities). However, I do not have a good set of techniques for detecting whether a given surface is of general type or not. Presumably one should proceed by viewing the surface as a fibre product of the simpler surface and the curve over the line . In any event, I believe the way to handle (a) is to show that the failure of general type of implies some strong algebraic constraint between and (something in the spirit of (1), perhaps), and then use this constraint to rule out the bijectivity of by some further *ad hoc* method.

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