I have uploaded to the arXiv my paper “Exploring the toolkit of Jean Bourgain“. This is one of a collection of papers to be published in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society describing aspects of the work of Jean Bourgain; other contributors to this collection include Keith Ball, Ciprian Demeter, and Carlos Kenig. Because the other contributors will be covering specific areas of Jean’s work in some detail, I decided to take a non-overlapping tack, and focus instead on some basic tools of Jean that he frequently used across many of the fields he contributed to. Jean had a surprising number of these “basic tools” that he wielded with great dexterity, and in this paper I focus on just a few of them:

- Reducing qualitative analysis results (e.g., convergence theorems or dimension bounds) to quantitative analysis estimates (e.g., variational inequalities or maximal function estimates).
- Using dyadic pigeonholing to locate good scales to work in or to apply truncations.
- Using random translations to amplify small sets (low density) into large sets (positive density).
- Combining large deviation inequalities with metric entropy bounds to control suprema of various random processes.

Each of these techniques is individually not too difficult to explain, and were certainly employed on occasion by various mathematicians prior to Bourgain’s work; but Jean had internalized them to the point where he would instinctively use them as soon as they became relevant to a given problem at hand. I illustrate this at the end of the paper with an exposition of one particular result of Jean, on the Erdős similarity problem, in which his main result (that any sum of three infinite sets of reals has the property that there exists a positive measure set that does not contain any homothetic copy of ) is basically proven by a sequential application of these tools (except for dyadic pigeonholing, which turns out not to be needed here).

I had initially intended to also cover some other basic tools in Jean’s toolkit, such as the uncertainty principle and the use of probabilistic decoupling, but was having trouble keeping the paper coherent with such a broad focus (certainly I could not identify a single paper of Jean’s that employed all of these tools at once). I hope though that the examples given in the paper gives some reasonable impression of Jean’s research style.

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16 September, 2020 at 6:11 am

Radu ZaharopolDear Professor Tao,

I think that you did a great service to the mathematical community in “Exploring the Toolkit of Jean Bourgain.”

Sincerely yours, Radu Zaharopol

16 September, 2020 at 6:27 am

Alex JonesThank you for this amazing article! I am a bit confused about something though. Your abstract suggests that Jean only had a few tricks (“Every mathematician only has a few tricks. Jean … may … appear to be a counterexample. However,…”), but the paper and this blog post (“surprising number”) suggests that he has a lot of core, useful tricks.

16 September, 2020 at 6:29 am

Terence TaoThe number of Bourgain’s core tricks was few in number relative to his total research output, but was large in absolute terms.

16 September, 2020 at 8:57 am

AnonymousThe idea of decoupling is closely related to the general principle of reducing the complexity of a given mathematical structure by trying to identify its “building blocks” or substructures (e.g. representing a polynomial as a product of its irreducible factors) which may greatly simplify the analysis of the whole structure.

17 September, 2020 at 2:09 am

AnonymousIn the definition of property E (the arxiv paper, page 14), it seems that the word “whenever” is not needed.

[Thanks, this will be corrected in the next revision of the ms. -T]17 September, 2020 at 7:42 am

sha thank you. I was having trouble parsing that.

17 September, 2020 at 3:55 am

Jochen VossIn the arxived paper, I believe the summation in the displayed equation after (4.4) should be dropped (since the pigeonhole principle selects one j).

[Thanks, this will be corrected in the next revision of the ms. -T]17 September, 2020 at 9:57 am

ChangDear Professor

I just have founded a typo in the reference [30] (Stein, 1961) of your paper: seqences –> sequences.

Congratulations for your present contribution to the diffusion of the original works of Jean.

Sincerely yours

[Thanks, this will be corrected in the next revision of the ms. -T]17 September, 2020 at 10:13 am

ZengYet another little on the blog : Erdos similarity problem ==> Erdo”s similarity problem.

[Corrected – T.]20 September, 2020 at 3:40 am

ShawDear Professor Tao,

In Theorem 3.1, it seems that “|x-y|>=l” should be “|x-y|=l”.