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Several years ago, I developed a public lecture on the cosmic distance ladder in astronomy from a historical perspective (and emphasising the role of mathematics in building the ladder). I previously blogged about the lecture here; the most recent version of the slides can be found here. Recently, I have begun working with Tanya Klowden (a long time friend with a background in popular writing on a variety of topics, including astronomy) to expand the lecture into a popular science book, with the tentative format being non-technical chapters interspersed with some more mathematical sections to give some technical details. We are still in the middle of the writing process, but we have produced a sample chapter (which deals with what we call the “fourth rung” of the distance ladder – the distances and orbits of the planets – and how the work of Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler and others led to accurate measurements of these orbits, as well as Kepler’s famous laws of planetary motion). As always, any feedback on the chapter is welcome. (Due to various pandemic-related uncertainties, we do not have a definite target deadline for when the book will be completed, but presumably this will occur sometime in the next year.)

The book is currently under contract with Yale University Press. My coauthor Tanya Klowden can be reached at tklowden@gmail.com.

Rachel Greenfeld and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our paper “The structure of translational tilings in “. This paper studies the tilings of a finite tile in a standard lattice , that is to say sets (which we call *tiling sets*) such that every element of lies in exactly one of the translates of . We also consider more general *tilings of level * for a natural number (several of our results consider an even more general setting in which is periodic but allowed to be non-constant).

In many cases the tiling set will be periodic (by which we mean translation invariant with respect to some lattice (a finite index subgroup) of ). For instance one simple example of a tiling is when is the unit square and is the lattice . However one can modify some tilings to make them less periodic. For instance, keeping one also has the tiling set

where is an arbitrary function. This tiling set is periodic in a single direction , but is not doubly periodic. For the slightly modified tile , the set for arbitrary can be verified to be a tiling set, which in general will not exhibit any periodicity whatsoever; however, it is*weakly periodic*in the sense that it is the disjoint union of finitely many sets, each of which is periodic in one direction.

The most well known conjecture in this area is the Periodic Tiling Conjecture:

Conjecture 1 (Periodic tiling conjecture)If a finite tile has at least one tiling set, then it has a tiling set which is periodic.

This conjecture was stated explicitly by Lagarias and Wang, and also appears implicitly in this text of Grunbaum and Shepard. In one dimension there is a simple pigeonhole principle argument of Newman that shows that all tiling sets are in fact periodic, which certainly implies the periodic tiling conjecture in this case. The case was settled more recently by Bhattacharya, but the higher dimensional cases remain open in general.

We are able to obtain a new proof of Bhattacharya’s result that also gives some quantitative bounds on the periodic tiling set, which are polynomial in the diameter of the set if the cardinality of the tile is bounded:

Theorem 2 (Quantitative periodic tiling in )If a finite tile has at least one tiling set, then it has a tiling set which is -periodic for some .

Among other things, this shows that the problem of deciding whether a given subset of of bounded cardinality tiles or not is in the NP complexity class with respect to the diameter . (Even the decidability of this problem was not known until the result of Bhattacharya.)

We also have a closely related structural theorem:

Theorem 3 (Quantitative weakly periodic tiling in )Every tiling set of a finite tile is weakly periodic. In fact, the tiling set is the union of at most disjoint sets, each of which is periodic in a direction of magnitude .

We also have a new bound for the periodicity of tilings in :

Theorem 4 (Universal period for tilings in )Let be finite, and normalized so that . Then every tiling set of is -periodic, where is the least common multiple of all primes up to , and is the least common multiple of the magnitudes of all .

We remark that the current best complexity bound of determining whether a subset of tiles or not is , due to Biro. It may be that the results in this paper can improve upon this bound, at least for tiles of bounded cardinality.

On the other hand, we discovered a genuine difference between level one tiling and higher level tiling, by locating a counterexample to the higher level analogue of (the qualitative version of) Theorem 3:

Theorem 5 (Counterexample)There exists an eight-element subset and a level tiling such that is not weakly periodic.

We do not know if there is a corresponding counterexample to the higher level periodic tiling conjecture (that if tiles at level , then there is a periodic tiling at the same level ). Note that it is important to keep the level fixed, since one trivially always has a periodic tiling at level from the identity .

The methods of Bhattacharya used the language of ergodic theory. Our investigations also originally used ergodic-theoretic and Fourier-analytic techniques, but we ultimately found combinatorial methods to be more effective in this problem (and in particular led to quite strong quantitative bounds). The engine powering all of our results is the following remarkable fact, valid in all dimensions:

Lemma 6 (Dilation lemma)Suppose that is a tiling of a finite tile . Then is also a tiling of the dilated tile for any coprime to , where is the least common multiple of all the primes up to .

Versions of this dilation lemma have previously appeared in work of Tijdeman and of Bhattacharya. We sketch a proof here. By the fundamental theorem of arithmetic and iteration it suffices to establish the case where is a prime . We need to show that . It suffices to show the claim , since both sides take values in . The convolution algebra (or group algebra) of finitely supported functions from to is a commutative algebra of characteristic , so we have the Frobenius identity for any . As a consequence we see that . The claim now follows by convolving the identity by further copies of .

In our paper we actually establish a more general version of the dilation lemma that can handle tilings of higher level or of a periodic set, and this stronger version is useful to get the best quantitative results, but for simplicity we focus attention just on the above simple special case of the dilation lemma.

By averaging over all in an arithmetic progression, one already gets a useful structural theorem for tilings in any dimension, which appears to be new despite being an easy consequence of Lemma 6:

Corollary 7 (Structure theorem for tilings)Suppose that is a tiling of a finite tile , where we normalize . Then we have a decomposition where each is a function that is periodic in the direction , where is the least common multiple of all the primes up to .

*Proof:* From Lemma 6 we have for any , where is the Kronecker delta at . Now average over (extracting a weak limit or generalised limit as necessary) to obtain the conclusion.

The identity (1) turns out to impose a lot of constraints on the functions , particularly in one and two dimensions. On one hand, one can work modulo to eliminate the and terms to obtain the equation

which in two dimensions in particular puts a lot of structure on each individual (roughly speaking it makes the behave in a polynomial fashion, after collecting commensurable terms). On the other hand we have the inequality which can be used to exclude “equidistributed” polynomial behavior after a certain amount of combinatorial analysis. Only a small amount of further argument is then needed to conclude Theorem 3 and Theorem 2.For level tilings the analogue of (2) becomes

which is a significantly weaker inequality and now no longer seems to prohibit “equidistributed” behavior. After some trial and error we were able to come up with a completely explicit example of a tiling that actually utilises equidistributed polynomials; indeed the tiling set we ended up with was a finite boolean combination of Bohr sets.We are currently studying what this machinery can tell us about tilings in higher dimensions, focusing initially on the three-dimensional case.

Asgar Jamneshan and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our paper “Foundational aspects of uncountable measure theory: Gelfand duality, Riesz representation, canonical models, and canonical disintegration“. This paper arose from our longer-term project to systematically develop “uncountable” ergodic theory – ergodic theory in which the groups acting are not required to be countable, the probability spaces one acts on are not required to be standard Borel, or Polish, and the compact groups that arise in the structural theory (e.g., the theory of group extensions) are not required to be separable. One of the motivations of doing this is to allow ergodic theory results to be applied to ultraproducts of finite dynamical systems, which can then hopefully be transferred to establish combinatorial results with good uniformity properties. An instance of this is the uncountable Mackey-Zimmer theorem, discussed in this companion blog post.

In the course of this project, we ran into the obstacle that many foundational results, such as the Riesz representation theorem, often require one or more of these countability hypotheses when encountered in textbooks. Other technical issues also arise in the uncountable setting, such as the need to distinguish the Borel -algebra from the (two different types of) Baire -algebra. As such we needed to spend some time reviewing and synthesizing the known literature on some foundational results of “uncountable” measure theory, which led to this paper. As such, most of the results of this paper are already in the literature, either explicitly or implicitly, in one form or another (with perhaps the exception of the canonical disintegration, which we discuss below); we view the main contribution of this paper as presenting the results in a coherent and unified fashion. In particular we found that the language of category theory was invaluable in clarifying and organizing all the different results. In subsequent work we (and some other authors) will use the results in this paper for various applications in uncountable ergodic theory.

The foundational results covered in this paper can be divided into a number of subtopics (Gelfand duality, Baire -algebras and Riesz representation, canonical models, and canonical disintegration), which we discuss further below the fold.

Asgar Jamneshan and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our paper “An uncountable Mackey-Zimmer theorem“. This paper is part of our longer term project to develop “uncountable” versions of various theorems in ergodic theory; see this previous paper of Asgar and myself for the first paper in this series (and another paper will appear shortly).

In this case the theorem in question is the Mackey-Zimmer theorem, previously discussed in this blog post. This theorem gives an important classification of group and homogeneous extensions of measure-preserving systems. Let us first work in the (classical) setting of concrete measure-preserving systems. Let be a measure-preserving system for some group , thus is a (concrete) probability space and is a group homomorphism from to the automorphism group of the probability space. (Here we are abusing notation by using to refer both to the measure-preserving system and to the underlying set. In the notation of the paper we would instead distinguish these two objects as and respectively, reflecting two of the (many) categories one might wish to view as a member of, but for sake of this informal overview we will not maintain such precise distinctions.) If is a compact group, we define a *(concrete) cocycle* to be a collection of measurable functions for that obey the *cocycle equation*

*group skew-product*of , which is another measure-preserving system where

- is the Cartesian product of and ;
- is the product measure of and Haar probability measure on ; and
- The action is given by the formula

*homogeneous skew-product*in which the group is replaced by the homogeneous space for some closed subgroup of , noting that still comes with a left-action of and a Haar measure. Group skew-products are very “explicit” ways to extend a system , as everything is described by the cocycle which is a relatively tractable object to manipulate. (This is not to say that the cohomology of measure-preserving systems is trivial, but at least there are many tools one can use to study them, such as the Moore-Schmidt theorem discussed in this previous post.)

This group skew-product comes with a factor map and a coordinate map , which by (2) are related to the action via the identities

and where in (4) we are implicitly working in the group of (concretely) measurable functions from to . Furthermore, the combined map is measure-preserving (using the product measure on ), indeed the way we have constructed things this map is just the identity map.
We can now generalize the notion of group skew-product by just working with the maps , and weakening the requirement that be measure-preserving. Namely, define a *group extension* of by to be a measure-preserving system equipped with a measure-preserving map obeying (3) and a measurable map obeying (4) for some cocycle , such that the -algebra of is generated by . There is also a more general notion of a *homogeneous extension* in which takes values in rather than . Then every group skew-product is a group extension of by , but not conversely. Here are some key counterexamples:

- (i) If is a closed subgroup of , and is a cocycle taking values in , then can be viewed as a group extension of by , taking to be the vertical coordinate (viewing now as an element of ). This will not be a skew-product by because pushes forward to the wrong measure on : it pushes forward to rather than .
- (ii) If one takes the same example as (i), but twists the vertical coordinate to another vertical coordinate for some measurable “gauge function” , then is still a group extension by , but now with the cocycle replaced by the cohomologous cocycle Again, this will not be a skew product by , because pushes forward to a twisted version of that is supported (at least in the case where is compact and the cocycle is continuous) on the -bundle .
- (iii) With the situation as in (i), take to be the union for some outside of , where we continue to use the action (2) and the standard vertical coordinate but now use the measure .

As it turns out, group extensions and homogeneous extensions arise naturally in the Furstenberg-Zimmer structural theory of measure-preserving systems; roughly speaking, every compact extension of is an inverse limit of group extensions. It is then of interest to classify such extensions.

Examples such as (iii) are annoying, but they can be excluded by imposing the additional condition that the system is ergodic – all invariant (or essentially invariant) sets are of measure zero or measure one. (An essentially invariant set is a measurable subset of such that is equal modulo null sets to for all .) For instance, the system in (iii) is non-ergodic because the set (or ) is invariant but has measure . We then have the following fundamental result of Mackey and Zimmer:

Theorem 1 (Countable Mackey Zimmer theorem)Let be a group, be a concrete measure-preserving system, and be a compact Hausdorff group. Assume that is at most countable, is a standard Borel space, and is metrizable. Then every (concrete) ergodic group extension of is abstractly isomorphic to a group skew-product (by some closed subgroup of ), and every (concrete) ergodic homogeneous extension of is similarly abstractly isomorphic to a homogeneous skew-product.

We will not define precisely what “abstractly isomorphic” means here, but it roughly speaking means “isomorphic after quotienting out the null sets”. A proof of this theorem can be found for instance in .

The main result of this paper is to remove the “countability” hypotheses from the above theorem, at the cost of working with opposite probability algebra systems rather than concrete systems. (We will discuss opposite probability algebras in a subsequent blog post relating to another paper in this series.)

Theorem 2 (Uncountable Mackey Zimmer theorem)Let be a group, be an opposite probability algebra measure-preserving system, and be a compact Hausdorff group. Then every (abstract) ergodic group extension of is abstractly isomorphic to a group skew-product (by some closed subgroup of ), and every (abstract) ergodic homogeneous extension of is similarly abstractly isomorphic to a homogeneous skew-product.

We plan to use this result in future work to obtain uncountable versions of the Furstenberg-Zimmer and Host-Kra structure theorems.

As one might expect, one locates a proof of Theorem 2 by finding a proof of Theorem 1 that does not rely too strongly on “countable” tools, such as disintegration or measurable selection, so that all of those tools can be replaced by “uncountable” counterparts. The proof we use is based on the one given in this previous post, and begins by comparing the system with the group extension . As the examples (i), (ii) show, these two systems need not be isomorphic even in the ergodic case, due to the different probability measures employed. However one can relate the two after performing an additional averaging in . More precisely, there is a canonical factor map given by the formula

This is a factor map not only of -systems, but actually of -systems, where the opposite group to acts (on the left) by right-multiplication of the second coordinate (this reversal of order is why we need to use the opposite group here). The key point is that the ergodicity properties of the system are closely tied the group that is “secretly” controlling the group extension. Indeed, in example (i), the invariant functions on take the form for some measurable , while in example (ii), the invariant functions on take the form . In either case, the invariant factor is isomorphic to , and can be viewed as a factor of the invariant factor of , which is isomorphic to . Pursuing this reasoning (using an abstract ergodic theorem of Alaoglu and Birkhoff, as discussed in the previous post) one obtains the*Mackey range*, and also obtains the quotient of to in this process. The main remaining task is to lift the quotient back up to a map that stays measurable, in order to “untwist” a system that looks like (ii) to make it into one that looks like (i). In countable settings this is where a “measurable selection theorem” would ordinarily be invoked, but in the uncountable setting such theorems are not available for concrete maps. However it turns out that they still remain available for abstract maps: any abstractly measurable map from to has an abstractly measurable lift from to . To prove this we first use a canonical model for opposite probability algebras (which we will discuss in a companion post to this one, to appear shortly) to work with continuous maps (on a Stone space) rather than abstractly measurable maps. The measurable map then induces a probability measure on , formed by pushing forward by the graphing map . This measure in turn has several lifts up to a probability measure on ; for instance, one can construct such a measure via the Riesz representation theorem by demanding for all continuous functions . This measure does not come from a graph of any single lift , but is in some sense an “average” of the entire ensemble of these lifts. But it turns out one can invoke the Krein-Milman theorem to pass to an extremal lifting measure which

*does*come from an (abstract) lift , and this can be used as a substitute for a measurable selection theorem. A variant of this Krein-Milman argument can also be used to express any homogeneous extension as a quotient of a group extension, giving the second part of the Mackey-Zimmer theorem.

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