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Define the Collatz map ${\mathrm{Col}: {\bf N}+1 \rightarrow {\bf N}+1}$ on the natural numbers ${{\bf N}+1 = \{1,2,\dots\}}$ by setting ${\mathrm{Col}(N)}$ to equal ${3N+1}$ when ${N}$ is odd and ${N/2}$ when ${N}$ is even, and let ${\mathrm{Col}^{\bf N}(N) := \{ N, \mathrm{Col}(N), \mathrm{Col}^2(N), \dots \}}$ denote the forward Collatz orbit of ${N}$. The notorious Collatz conjecture asserts that ${1 \in \mathrm{Col}^{\bf N}(n)}$ for all ${N \in {\bf N}+1}$. Equivalently, if we define the backwards Collatz orbit ${(\mathrm{Col}^{\bf N})^*(N) := \{ M \in {\bf N}+1: N \in \mathrm{Col}^{\bf N}(M) \}}$ to be all the natural numbers ${M}$ that encounter ${N}$ in their forward Collatz orbit, then the Collatz conjecture asserts that ${(\mathrm{Col}^{\bf N})^*(1) = {\bf N}+1}$. As a partial result towards this latter statement, Krasikov and Lagarias in 2003 established the bound

$\displaystyle \# \{ N \leq x: N \in (\mathrm{Col}^{\bf N})^*(1) \} \gg x^\gamma \ \ \ \ \ (1)$

for all ${x \geq 1}$ and ${\gamma = 0.84}$. (This improved upon previous values of ${\gamma = 0.81}$ obtained by Applegate and Lagarias in 1995, ${\gamma = 0.65}$ by Applegate and Lagarias in 1995 by a different method, ${\gamma=0.48}$ by Wirsching in 1993, ${\gamma=0.43}$ by Krasikov in 1989, and some ${\gamma>0}$ by Crandall in 1978.) This is still the largest value of ${\gamma}$ for which (1) has been established. Of course, the Collatz conjecture would imply that we can take ${\gamma}$ equal to ${1}$, which is the assertion that a positive density set of natural numbers obeys the Collatz conjecture. This is not yet established, although the results in my previous paper do at least imply that a positive density set of natural numbers iterates to an (explicitly computable) bounded set, so in principle the ${\gamma=1}$ case of (1) could now be verified by an (enormous) finite computation in which one verifies that every number in this explicit bounded set iterates to ${1}$. In this post I would like to record a possible alternate route to this problem that depends on the distribution of a certain family of random variables that appeared in my previous paper, that I called Syracuse random variables.

Definition 1 (Syracuse random variables) For any natural number ${n}$, a Syracuse random variable ${\mathbf{Syrac}({\bf Z}/3^n{\bf Z})}$ on the cyclic group ${{\bf Z}/3^n{\bf Z}}$ is defined as a random variable of the form

$\displaystyle \mathbf{Syrac}({\bf Z}/3^n{\bf Z}) = \sum_{m=1}^n 3^{n-m} 2^{-{\mathbf a}_m-\dots-{\mathbf a}_n} \ \ \ \ \ (2)$

where ${\mathbf{a}_1,\dots,\mathbf{a_n}}$ are independent copies of a geometric random variable ${\mathbf{Geom}(2)}$ on the natural numbers with mean ${2}$, thus

$\displaystyle \mathop{\bf P}( \mathbf{a}_1=a_1,\dots,\mathbf{a}_n=a_n) = 2^{-a_1-\dots-a_n}$

} for ${a_1,\dots,a_n \in {\bf N}+1}$. In (2) the arithmetic is performed in the ring ${{\bf Z}/3^n{\bf Z}}$.

Thus for instance

$\displaystyle \mathrm{Syrac}({\bf Z}/3{\bf Z}) = 2^{-\mathbf{a}_1} \hbox{ mod } 3$

$\displaystyle \mathrm{Syrac}({\bf Z}/3^2{\bf Z}) = 2^{-\mathbf{a}_1-\mathbf{a}_2} + 3 \times 2^{-\mathbf{a}_2} \hbox{ mod } 3^2$

$\displaystyle \mathrm{Syrac}({\bf Z}/3^3{\bf Z}) = 2^{-\mathbf{a}_1-\mathbf{a}_2-\mathbf{a}_3} + 3 \times 2^{-\mathbf{a}_2-\mathbf{a}_3} + 3^2 \times 2^{-\mathbf{a}_3} \hbox{ mod } 3^3$

and so forth. One could also view ${\mathrm{Syrac}({\bf Z}/3^n{\bf Z})}$ as the mod ${3^n}$ reduction of a ${3}$-adic random variable

$\displaystyle \mathbf{Syrac}({\bf Z}_3) = \sum_{m=1}^\infty 3^{m-1} 2^{-{\mathbf a}_1-\dots-{\mathbf a}_m}.$

The probability density function ${x \mapsto \mathbf{P}( \mathbf{Syrac}({\bf Z}/3^n{\bf Z}) = x )}$ of the Syracuse random variable can be explicitly computed by a recursive formula (see Lemma 1.12 of my previous paper). For instance, when ${n=1}$, ${\mathbf{P}( \mathbf{Syrac}({\bf Z}/3{\bf Z}) = x )}$ is equal to ${0,1/3,2/3}$ for ${x=0,1,2 \hbox{ mod } 3}$ respectively, while when ${n=2}$, ${\mathbf{P}( \mathbf{Syrac}({\bf Z}/3^2{\bf Z}) = x )}$ is equal to

$\displaystyle 0, \frac{8}{63}, \frac{16}{63}, 0, \frac{11}{63}, \frac{4}{63}, 0, \frac{2}{63}, \frac{22}{63}$

when ${x=0,\dots,8 \hbox{ mod } 9}$ respectively.

The relationship of these random variables to the Collatz problem can be explained as follows. Let ${2{\bf N}+1 = \{1,3,5,\dots\}}$ denote the odd natural numbers, and define the Syracuse map ${\mathrm{Syr}: 2{\bf N}+1 \rightarrow 2{\bf N}+1}$ by

$\displaystyle \mathrm{Syr}(N) := \frac{3n+1}{2^{\nu_2(3N+1)}}$

where the ${2}$valuation ${\nu_2(3n+1) \in {\bf N}}$ is the number of times ${2}$ divides ${3N+1}$. We can define the forward orbit ${\mathrm{Syr}^{\bf N}(n)}$ and backward orbit ${(\mathrm{Syr}^{\bf N})^*(N)}$ of the Syracuse map as before. It is not difficult to then see that the Collatz conjecture is equivalent to the assertion ${(\mathrm{Syr}^{\bf N})^*(1) = 2{\bf N}+1}$, and that the assertion (1) for a given ${\gamma}$ is equivalent to the assertion

$\displaystyle \# \{ N \leq x: N \in (\mathrm{Syr}^{\bf N})^*(1) \} \gg x^\gamma \ \ \ \ \ (3)$

for all ${x \geq 1}$, where ${N}$ is now understood to range over odd natural numbers. A brief calculation then shows that for any odd natural number ${N}$ and natural number ${n}$, one has

$\displaystyle \mathrm{Syr}^n(N) = 3^n 2^{-a_1-\dots-a_n} N + \sum_{m=1}^n 3^{n-m} 2^{-a_m-\dots-a_n}$

where the natural numbers ${a_1,\dots,a_n}$ are defined by the formula

$\displaystyle a_i := \nu_2( 3 \mathrm{Syr}^{i-1}(N) + 1 ),$

so in particular

$\displaystyle \mathrm{Syr}^n(N) = \sum_{m=1}^n 3^{n-m} 2^{-a_m-\dots-a_n} \hbox{ mod } 3^n.$

Heuristically, one expects the ${2}$-valuation ${a = \nu_2(N)}$ of a typical odd number ${N}$ to be approximately distributed according to the geometric distribution ${\mathbf{Geom}(2)}$, so one therefore expects the residue class ${\mathrm{Syr}^n(N) \hbox{ mod } 3^n}$ to be distributed approximately according to the random variable ${\mathbf{Syrac}({\bf Z}/3^n{\bf Z})}$.

The Syracuse random variables ${\mathbf{Syrac}({\bf Z}/3^n{\bf Z})}$ will always avoid multiples of three (this reflects the fact that ${\mathrm{Syr}(N)}$ is never a multiple of three), but attains any non-multiple of three in ${{\bf Z}/3^n{\bf Z}}$ with positive probability. For any natural number ${n}$, set

$\displaystyle c_n := \inf_{b \in {\bf Z}/3^n{\bf Z}: 3 \not | b} \mathbf{P}( \mathbf{Syrac}({\bf Z}/3^2{\bf Z}) = b ).$

Equivalently, ${c_n}$ is the greatest quantity for which we have the inequality

$\displaystyle \sum_{(a_1,\dots,a_n) \in S_{n,N}} 2^{-a_1-\dots-a_m} \geq c_n \ \ \ \ \ (4)$

for all integers ${N}$ not divisible by three, where ${S_{n,N} \subset ({\bf N}+1)^n}$ is the set of all tuples ${(a_1,\dots,a_n)}$ for which

$\displaystyle N = \sum_{m=1}^n 3^{m-1} 2^{-a_1-\dots-a_m} \hbox{ mod } 3^n.$

Thus for instance ${c_0=1}$, ${c_1 = 1/3}$, and ${c_2 = 2/63}$. On the other hand, since all the probabilities ${\mathbf{P}( \mathbf{Syrac}({\bf Z}/3^n{\bf Z}) = b)}$ sum to ${1}$ as ${b \in {\bf Z}/3^n{\bf Z}}$ ranges over the non-multiples of ${3}$, we have the trivial upper bound

$\displaystyle c_n \leq \frac{3}{2} 3^{-n}.$

There is also an easy submultiplicativity result:

Lemma 2 For any natural numbers ${n_1,n_2}$, we have

$\displaystyle c_{n_1+n_2-1} \geq c_{n_1} c_{n_2}.$

Proof: Let ${N}$ be an integer not divisible by ${3}$, then by (4) we have

$\displaystyle \sum_{(a_1,\dots,a_{n_1}) \in S_{n_1,N}} 2^{-a_1-\dots-a_{n_1}} \geq c_{n_1}.$

If we let ${S'_{n_1,N}}$ denote the set of tuples ${(a_1,\dots,a_{n_1-1})}$ that can be formed from the tuples in ${S_{n_1,N}}$ by deleting the final component ${a_{n_1}}$ from each tuple, then we have

$\displaystyle \sum_{(a_1,\dots,a_{n_1-1}) \in S'_{n_1,N}} 2^{-a_1-\dots-a_{n_1-1}} \geq c_{n_1}. \ \ \ \ \ (5)$

Next, observe that if ${(a_1,\dots,a_{n_1-1}) \in S'_{n_1,N}}$, then

$\displaystyle N = \sum_{m=1}^{n_1-1} 3^{m-1} 2^{-a_1-\dots-a_m} + 3^{n_1-1} 2^{-a_1-\dots-a_{n_1-1}} M$

with ${M = M_{N,n_1,a_1,\dots,a_{n_1-1}}}$ an integer not divisible by three. By definition of ${S_{n_2,M}}$ and a relabeling, we then have

$\displaystyle M = \sum_{m=1}^{n_2} 3^{m-1} 2^{-a_{n_1}-\dots-a_{m+n_1-1}} \hbox{ mod } 3^{n_2}$

for all ${(a_{n_1},\dots,a_{n_1+n_2-1}) \in S_{n_2,M}}$. For such tuples we then have

$\displaystyle N = \sum_{m=1}^{n_1+n_2-1} 3^{m-1} 2^{-a_1-\dots-a_{n_1+n_2-1}} \hbox{ mod } 3^{n_1+n_2-1}$

so that ${(a_1,\dots,a_{n_1+n_2-1}) \in S_{n_1+n_2-1,N}}$. Since

$\displaystyle \sum_{(a_{n_1},\dots,a_{n_1+n_2-1}) \in S_{n_2,M}} 2^{-a_{n_1}-\dots-a_{n_1+n_2-1}} \geq c_{n_2}$

for each ${M}$, the claim follows. $\Box$

From this lemma we see that ${c_n = 3^{-\beta n + o(n)}}$ for some absolute constant ${\beta \geq 1}$. Heuristically, we expect the Syracuse random variables to be somewhat approximately equidistributed amongst the multiples of ${{\bf Z}/3^n{\bf Z}}$ (in Proposition 1.4 of my previous paper I prove a fine scale mixing result that supports this heuristic). As a consequence it is natural to conjecture that ${\beta=1}$. I cannot prove this, but I can show that this conjecture would imply that we can take the exponent ${\gamma}$ in (1), (3) arbitrarily close to one:

Proposition 3 Suppose that ${\beta=1}$ (that is to say, ${c_n = 3^{-n+o(n)}}$ as ${n \rightarrow \infty}$). Then

$\displaystyle \# \{ N \leq x: N \in (\mathrm{Syr}^{\bf N})^*(1) \} \gg x^{1-o(1)}$

as ${x \rightarrow \infty}$, or equivalently

$\displaystyle \# \{ N \leq x: N \in (\mathrm{Col}^{\bf N})^*(1) \} \gg x^{1-o(1)}$

as ${x \rightarrow \infty}$. In other words, (1), (3) hold for all ${\gamma < 1}$.

I prove this proposition below the fold. A variant of the argument shows that for any value of ${\beta}$, (1), (3) holds whenever ${\gamma < f(\beta)}$, where ${f: [0,1] \rightarrow [0,1]}$ is an explicitly computable function with ${f(\beta) \rightarrow 1}$ as ${\beta \rightarrow 1}$. In principle, one could then improve the Krasikov-Lagarias result ${\gamma = 0.84}$ by getting a sufficiently good upper bound on ${\beta}$, which is in principle achievable numerically (note for instance that Lemma 2 implies the bound ${c_n \leq 3^{-\beta(n-1)}}$ for any ${n}$, since ${c_{kn-k+1} \geq c_n^k}$ for any ${k}$).

Just a brief post to record some notable papers in my fields of interest that appeared on the arXiv recently.

• A sharp square function estimate for the cone in ${\bf R}^3$“, by Larry Guth, Hong Wang, and Ruixiang Zhang.  This paper establishes an optimal (up to epsilon losses) square function estimate for the three-dimensional light cone that was essentially conjectured by Mockenhaupt, Seeger, and Sogge, which has a number of other consequences including Sogge’s local smoothing conjecture for the wave equation in two spatial dimensions, which in turn implies the (already known) Bochner-Riesz, restriction, and Kakeya conjectures in two dimensions.   Interestingly, modern techniques such as polynomial partitioning and decoupling estimates are not used in this argument; instead, the authors mostly rely on an induction on scales argument and Kakeya type estimates.  Many previous authors (including myself) were able to get weaker estimates of this type by an induction on scales method, but there were always significant inefficiencies in doing so; in particular knowing the sharp square function estimate at smaller scales did not imply the sharp square function estimate at the given larger scale.  The authors here get around this issue by finding an even stronger estimate that implies the square function estimate, but behaves significantly better with respect to induction on scales.
• On the Chowla and twin primes conjectures over ${\mathbb F}_q[T]$“, by Will Sawin and Mark Shusterman.  This paper resolves a number of well known open conjectures in analytic number theory, such as the Chowla conjecture and the twin prime conjecture (in the strong form conjectured by Hardy and Littlewood), in the case of function fields where the field is a prime power $q=p^j$ which is fixed (in contrast to a number of existing results in the “large $q$” limit) but has a large exponent $j$.  The techniques here are orthogonal to those used in recent progress towards the Chowla conjecture over the integers (e.g., in this previous paper of mine); the starting point is an algebraic observation that in certain function fields, the Mobius function behaves like a quadratic Dirichlet character along certain arithmetic progressions.  In principle, this reduces problems such as Chowla’s conjecture to problems about estimating sums of Dirichlet characters, for which more is known; but the task is still far from trivial.
• Bounds for sets with no polynomial progressions“, by Sarah Peluse.  This paper can be viewed as part of a larger project to obtain quantitative density Ramsey theorems of Szemeredi type.  For instance, Gowers famously established a relatively good quantitative bound for Szemeredi’s theorem that all dense subsets of integers contain arbitrarily long arithmetic progressions $a, a+r, \dots, a+(k-1)r$.  The corresponding question for polynomial progressions $a+P_1(r), \dots, a+P_k(r)$ is considered more difficult for a number of reasons.  One of them is that dilation invariance is lost; a dilation of an arithmetic progression is again an arithmetic progression, but a dilation of a polynomial progression will in general not be a polynomial progression with the same polynomials $P_1,\dots,P_k$.  Another issue is that the ranges of the two parameters $a,r$ are now at different scales.  Peluse gets around these difficulties in the case when all the polynomials $P_1,\dots,P_k$ have distinct degrees, which is in some sense the opposite case to that considered by Gowers (in particular, she avoids the need to obtain quantitative inverse theorems for high order Gowers norms; which was recently obtained in this integer setting by Manners but with bounds that are probably not strong enough to for the bounds in Peluse’s results, due to a degree lowering argument that is available in this case).  To resolve the first difficulty one has to make all the estimates rather uniform in the coefficients of the polynomials $P_j$, so that one can still run a density increment argument efficiently.  To resolve the second difficulty one needs to find a quantitative concatenation theorem for Gowers uniformity norms.  Many of these ideas were developed in previous papers of Peluse and Peluse-Prendiville in simpler settings.
• On blow up for the energy super critical defocusing non linear Schrödinger equations“, by Frank Merle, Pierre Raphael, Igor Rodnianski, and Jeremie Szeftel.  This paper (when combined with two companion papers) resolves a long-standing problem as to whether finite time blowup occurs for the defocusing supercritical nonlinear Schrödinger equation (at least in certain dimensions and nonlinearities).  I had a previous paper establishing a result like this if one “cheated” by replacing the nonlinear Schrodinger equation by a system of such equations, but remarkably they are able to tackle the original equation itself without any such cheating.  Given the very analogous situation with Navier-Stokes, where again one can create finite time blowup by “cheating” and modifying the equation, it does raise hope that finite time blowup for the incompressible Navier-Stokes and Euler equations can be established…  In fact the connection may not just be at the level of analogy; a surprising key ingredient in the proofs here is the observation that a certain blowup ansatz for the nonlinear Schrodinger equation is governed by solutions to the (compressible) Euler equation, and finite time blowup examples for the latter can be used to construct finite time blowup examples for the former.