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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 formulafor 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.

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 fewer 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.

I was recently asked to contribute a short comment to Nature Reviews Physics, as part of a series of articles on fluid dynamics on the occasion of the 200th anniversary (this August) of the birthday of George Stokes. My contribution is now online as “Searching for singularities in the Navier–Stokes equations“, where I discuss the global regularity problem for Navier-Stokes and my thoughts on how one could try to construct a solution that blows up in finite time via an approximately discretely self-similar “fluid computer”. (The rest of the series does not currently seem to be available online, but I expect they will become so shortly.)

Given three points in the plane, the distances between them have to be non-negative and obey the triangle inequalities

but are otherwise unconstrained. But if one has *four* points in the plane, then there is an additional constraint connecting the six distances between them, coming from the Cayley-Menger determinant:

Proposition 1 (Cayley-Menger determinant)If are four points in the plane, then the Cayley-Menger determinant

*Proof:* If we view as vectors in , then we have the usual cosine rule , and similarly for all the other distances. The matrix appearing in (1) can then be written as , where is the matrix

and is the (augmented) Gram matrix

The matrix is a rank one matrix, and so is also. The Gram matrix factorises as , where is the matrix with rows , and thus has rank at most . Therefore the matrix in (1) has rank at most , and hence has determinant zero as claimed.

For instance, if we know that and , then in order for to be coplanar, the remaining distance has to obey the equation

After some calculation the left-hand side simplifies to , so the non-negative quantity is constrained to equal either or . The former happens when form a unit right-angled triangle with right angle at and ; the latter happens when form the vertices of a unit square traversed in that order. Any other value for is not compatible with the hypothesis for lying on a plane; hence the Cayley-Menger determinant can be used as a test for planarity.

Now suppose that we have four points on a sphere of radius , with six distances now measured as lengths of arcs on the sphere. There is a spherical analogue of the Cayley-Menger determinant:

Proposition 2 (Spherical Cayley-Menger determinant)If are four points on a sphere of radius in , then the spherical Cayley-Menger determinant

*Proof:* We can assume that the sphere is centred at the origin of , and view as vectors in of magnitude . The angle subtended by from the origin is , so by the cosine rule we have

Similarly for all the other inner products. Thus the matrix in (2) can be written as , where is the Gram matrix

We can factor where is the matrix with rows . Thus has rank at most and thus the determinant vanishes as required.

Just as the Cayley-Menger determinant can be used to test for coplanarity, the spherical Cayley-Menger determinant can be used to test for lying on a sphere of radius . For instance, if we know that lie on and are all equal to , then the above proposition gives

The left-hand side evaluates to ; as lies between and , the only choices for this distance are then and . The former happens for instance when lies on the north pole , are points on the equator with longitudes differing by 90 degrees, and is also equal to the north pole; the latter occurs when is instead placed on the south pole.

The Cayley-Menger and spherical Cayley-Menger determinants look slightly different from each other, but one can transform the latter into something resembling the former by row and column operations. Indeed, the determinant (2) can be rewritten as

and by further row and column operations, this determinant vanishes if and only if the determinant

vanishes, where . In the limit (so that the curvature of the sphere tends to zero), tends to , and by Taylor expansion tends to ; similarly for the other distances. Now we see that the planar Cayley-Menger determinant emerges as the limit of (3) as , as would be expected from the intuition that a plane is essentially a sphere of infinite radius.

In principle, one can now estimate the radius of the Earth (assuming that it is either a sphere or a flat plane ) if one is given the six distances between four points on the Earth. Of course, if one wishes to do so, one should have rather far apart from each other, since otherwise it would be difficult to for instance distinguish the round Earth from a flat one. As an experiment, and just for fun, I wanted to see how accurate this would be with some real world data. I decided to take , , , be the cities of London, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Dubai respectively. As an initial test, I used distances from this online flight calculator, measured in kilometers:

Given that the true radius of the earth was about kilometers, I chose the change of variables (so that corresponds to the round Earth model with the commonly accepted value for the Earth’s radius, and corresponds to the flat Earth), and obtained the following plot for (3):

In particular, the determinant does indeed come very close to vanishing when , which is unsurprising since, as explained on the web site, the online flight calculator uses a model in which the Earth is an ellipsoid of radii close to km. There is another radius that would also be compatible with this data at (corresponding to an Earth of radius about km), but presumably one could rule out this as a spurious coincidence by experimenting with other quadruples of cities than the ones I selected. On the other hand, these distances are highly incompatible with the flat Earth model ; one could also see this with a piece of paper and a ruler by trying to lay down four points on the paper with (an appropriately rescaled) version of the above distances (e.g., with , , etc.).

If instead one goes to the flight time calculator and uses flight travel times instead of distances, one now gets the following data (measured in hours):

Assuming that planes travel at about kilometers per hour, the true radius of the Earth should be about of flight time. If one then uses the normalisation , one obtains the following plot:

Not too surprisingly, this is basically a rescaled version of the previous plot, with vanishing near and at . (The website for the flight calculator does say it calculates short and long haul flight times slightly differently, which may be the cause of the slight discrepancies between this figure and the previous one.)

Of course, these two data sets are “cheating” since they come from a model which already presupposes what the radius of the Earth is. But one can input real world flight times between these four cities instead of the above idealised data. Here one runs into the issue that the flight time from to is not necessarily the same as that from to due to such factors as windspeed. For instance, I looked up the online flight time from Tokyo to Dubai to be 11 hours and 10 minutes, whereas the online flight time from Dubai to Tokyo was 9 hours and 50 minutes. The simplest thing to do here is take an arithmetic mean of the two times as a preliminary estimate for the flight time without windspeed factors, thus for instance the Tokyo-Dubai flight time would now be 10 hours and 30 minutes, and more generally

This data is not too far off from the online calculator data, but it does distort the graph slightly (taking as before):

Now one gets estimates for the radius of the Earth that are off by about a factor of from the truth, although the round Earth model still is twice as accurate as the flat Earth model .

Given that windspeed should additively affect flight velocity rather than flight time, and the two are inversely proportional to each other, it is more natural to take a harmonic mean rather than an arithmetic mean. This gives the slightly different values

but one still gets essentially the same plot:

So the inaccuracies are presumably coming from some other source. (Note for instance that the true flight time from Tokyo to Dubai is about greater than the calculator predicts, while the flight time from LA to Dubai is about less; these sorts of errors seem to pile up in this calculation.) Nevertheless, it does seem that flight time data is (barely) enough to establish the roundness of the Earth and obtain a somewhat ballpark estimate for its radius. (I assume that the fit would be better if one could include some Southern Hemisphere cities such as Sydney or Santiago, but I was not able to find a good quadruple of widely spaced cities on both hemispheres for which there were direct flights between all six pairs.)

This is another sequel to a recent post in which I showed the Riemann zeta function can be locally approximated by a polynomial, in the sense that for randomly chosen one has an approximation

where grows slowly with , and is a polynomial of degree . It turns out that in the function field setting there is an exact version of this approximation which captures many of the known features of the Riemann zeta function, namely Dirichlet -functions for a random character of given modulus over a function field. This model was (essentially) studied in a fairly recent paper by Andrade, Miller, Pratt, and Trinh; I am not sure if there is any further literature on this model beyond this paper (though the number field analogue of low-lying zeroes of Dirichlet -functions is certainly well studied). In this model it is possible to set fixed and let go to infinity, thus providing a simple finite-dimensional model problem for problems involving the statistics of zeroes of the zeta function.

In this post I would like to record this analogue precisely. We will need a finite field of some order and a natural number , and set

We will primarily think of as being large and as being either fixed or growing very slowly with , though it is possible to also consider other asymptotic regimes (such as holding fixed and letting go to infinity). Let be the ring of polynomials of one variable with coefficients in , and let be the multiplicative semigroup of monic polynomials in ; one should view and as the function field analogue of the integers and natural numbers respectively. We use the valuation for polynomials (with ); this is the analogue of the usual absolute value on the integers. We select an irreducible polynomial of size (i.e., has degree ). The multiplicative group can be shown to be cyclic of order . A Dirichlet character of modulus is a completely multiplicative function of modulus , that is periodic of period and vanishes on those not coprime to . From Fourier analysis we see that there are exactly Dirichlet characters of modulus . A Dirichlet character is said to be *odd* if it is not identically one on the group of non-zero constants; there are only non-odd characters (including the principal character), so in the limit most Dirichlet characters are odd. We will work primarily with odd characters in order to be able to ignore the effect of the place at infinity.

Let be an odd Dirichlet character of modulus . The Dirichlet -function is then defined (for of sufficiently large real part, at least) as

Note that for , the set is invariant under shifts whenever ; since this covers a full set of residue classes of , and the odd character has mean zero on this set of residue classes, we conclude that the sum vanishes for . In particular, the -function is entire, and for any real number and complex number , we can write the -function as a polynomial

where and the coefficients are given by the formula

Note that can easily be normalised to zero by the relation

In particular, the dependence on is periodic with period (so by abuse of notation one could also take to be an element of ).

Fourier inversion yields a functional equation for the polynomial :

Proposition 1 (Functional equation)Let be an odd Dirichlet character of modulus , and . There exists a phase (depending on ) such thatfor all , or equivalently that

where .

*Proof:* We can normalise . Let be the finite field . We can write

where denotes the subgroup of consisting of (residue classes of) polynomials of degree less than . Let be a non-trivial character of whose kernel lies in the space (this is easily achieved by pulling back a non-trivial character from the quotient ). We can use the Fourier inversion formula to write

where

From change of variables we see that is a scalar multiple of ; from Plancherel we conclude that

for some phase . We conclude that

The inner sum equals if , and vanishes otherwise, thus

For in , and the contribution of the sum vanishes as is odd. Thus we may restrict to , so that

By the multiplicativity of , this factorises as

From the one-dimensional version of (3) (and the fact that is odd) we have

for some phase . The claim follows.

As one corollary of the functional equation, is a phase rotation of and thus is non-zero, so has degree exactly . The functional equation is then equivalent to the zeroes of being symmetric across the unit circle. In fact we have the stronger

Theorem 2 (Riemann hypothesis for Dirichlet -functions over function fields)Let be an odd Dirichlet character of modulus , and . Then all the zeroes of lie on the unit circle.

We derive this result from the Riemann hypothesis for curves over function fields below the fold.

In view of this theorem (and the fact that ), we may write

for some unitary matrix . It is possible to interpret as the action of the geometric Frobenius map on a certain cohomology group, but we will not do so here. The situation here is simpler than in the number field case because the factor arising from very small primes is now absent (in the function field setting there are no primes of size between and ).

We now let vary uniformly at random over all odd characters of modulus , and uniformly over , independently of ; we also make the distribution of the random variable conjugation invariant in . We use to denote the expectation with respect to this randomness. One can then ask what the limiting distribution of is in various regimes; we will focus in this post on the regime where is fixed and is being sent to infinity. In the spirit of the Sato-Tate conjecture, one should expect to converge in distribution to the circular unitary ensemble (CUE), that is to say Haar probability measure on . This may well be provable from Deligne’s “Weil II” machinery (in the spirit of this monograph of Katz and Sarnak), though I do not know how feasible this is or whether it has already been done in the literature; here we shall avoid using this machinery and study what partial results towards this CUE hypothesis one can make without it.

If one lets be the eigenvalues of (ordered arbitrarily), then we now have

and hence the are essentially elementary symmetric polynomials of the eigenvalues:

One can take log derivatives to conclude

On the other hand, as in the number field case one has the Dirichlet series expansion

where has sufficiently large real part, , and the von Mangoldt function is defined as when is the power of an irreducible and otherwise. We conclude the “explicit formula”

Similarly on inverting we have

Since we also have

for sufficiently large real part, where the Möbius function is equal to when is the product of distinct irreducibles, and otherwise, we conclude that the Möbius coefficients

are just the complete homogeneous symmetric polynomials of the eigenvalues:

One can then derive various algebraic relationships between the coefficients from various identities involving symmetric polynomials, but we will not do so here.

What do we know about the distribution of ? By construction, it is conjugation-invariant; from (2) it is also invariant with respect to the rotations for any phase . We also have the function field analogue of the Rudnick-Sarnak asymptotics:

Proposition 3 (Rudnick-Sarnak asymptotics)Let be nonnegative integers. Ifis equal to in the limit (holding fixed) unless for all , in which case it is equal to

Comparing this with Proposition 1 from this previous post, we thus see that all the low moments of are consistent with the CUE hypothesis (and also with the ACUE hypothesis, again by the previous post). The case of this proposition was essentially established by Andrade, Miller, Pratt, and Trinh.

*Proof:* We may assume the homogeneity relationship

since otherwise the claim follows from the invariance under phase rotation . By (6), the expression (9) is equal to

where

and consists of copies of for each , and similarly consists of copies of for each .

The polynomials and are monic of degree , which by hypothesis is less than the degree of , and thus they can only be scalar multiples of each other in if they are identical (in ). As such, we see that the average

vanishes unless , in which case this average is equal to . Thus the expression (9) simplifies to

There are at most choices for the product , and each one contributes to the above sum. All but of these choices are square-free, so by accepting an error of , we may restrict attention to square-free . This forces to all be irreducible (as opposed to powers of irreducibles); as is a unique factorisation domain, this forces and to be a permutation of . By the size restrictions, this then forces for all (if the above expression is to be anything other than ), and each is associated to possible choices of . Writing and then reinstating the non-squarefree possibilities for , we can thus write the above expression as

Using the prime number theorem , we obtain the claim.

Comparing this with Proposition 1 from this previous post, we thus see that all the low moments of are consistent with the CUE and ACUE hypotheses:

Corollary 4 (CUE statistics at low frequencies)Let be the eigenvalues of , permuted uniformly at random. Let be a linear combination of monomials where are integers with either or . Then

The analogue of the GUE hypothesis in this setting would be the CUE hypothesis, which asserts that the threshold here can be replaced by an arbitrarily large quantity. As far as I know this is not known even for (though, as mentioned previously, in principle one may be able to resolve such cases using Deligne’s proof of the Riemann hypothesis for function fields). Among other things, this would allow one to distinguish CUE from ACUE, since as discussed in the previous post, these two distributions agree when tested against monomials up to threshold , though not to .

*Proof:* By permutation symmetry we can take to be symmetric, and by linearity we may then take to be the symmetrisation of a single monomial . If then both expectations vanish due to the phase rotation symmetry, so we may assume that and . We can write this symmetric polynomial as a constant multiple of plus other monomials with a smaller value of . Since , the claim now follows by induction from Proposition 3 and Proposition 1 from the previous post.

Thus, for instance, for , the moment

is equal to

because all the monomials in are of the required form when . The latter expectation can be computed exactly (for any natural number ) using a formula

of Baker-Forrester and Keating-Snaith, thus for instance

and more generally

when , where are the integers

and more generally

(OEIS A039622). Thus we have

for if and is sufficiently slowly growing depending on . The CUE hypothesis would imply that that this formula also holds for higher . (The situation here is cleaner than in the number field case, in which the GUE hypothesis only suggests the correct lower bound for the moments rather than an asymptotic, due to the absence of the wildly fluctuating additional factor that is present in the Riemann zeta function model.)

Now we can recover the analogue of Montgomery’s work on the pair correlation conjecture. Consider the statistic

where

is some finite linear combination of monomials independent of . We can expand the above sum as

Assuming the CUE hypothesis, then by Example 3 of the previous post, we would conclude that

This is the analogue of Montgomery’s pair correlation conjecture. Proposition 3 implies that this claim is true whenever is supported on . If instead we assume the ACUE hypothesis (or the weaker Alternative Hypothesis that the phase gaps are non-zero multiples of ), one should instead have

for arbitrary ; this is the function field analogue of a recent result of Baluyot. In any event, since is non-negative, we unconditionally have the lower bound

By applying (12) for various choices of test functions we can obtain various bounds on the behaviour of eigenvalues. For instance suppose we take the Fejér kernel

Then (12) applies unconditionally and we conclude that

The right-hand side evaluates to . On the other hand, is non-negative, and equal to when . Thus

The sum is at least , and is at least if is not a simple eigenvalue. Thus

and thus the expected number of simple eigenvalues is at least ; in particular, at least two thirds of the eigenvalues are simple asymptotically on average. If we had (12) without any restriction on the support of , the same arguments allow one to show that the expected proportion of simple eigenvalues is .

Suppose that the phase gaps in are all greater than almost surely. Let is non-negative and non-positive for outside of the arc . Then from (13) one has

so by taking contrapositives one can force the existence of a gap less than asymptotically if one can find with non-negative, non-positive for outside of the arc , and for which one has the inequality

By a suitable choice of (based on a minorant of Selberg) one can ensure this for for large; see Section 5 of these notes of Goldston. This is not the smallest value of currently obtainable in the literature for the number field case (which is currently , due to Goldston and Turnage-Butterbaugh, by a somewhat different method), but is still significantly less than the trivial value of . On the other hand, due to the compatibility of the ACUE distribution with Proposition 3, it is not possible to lower below purely through the use of Proposition 3.

In some cases it is possible to go beyond Proposition 3. Consider the mollified moment

where

for some coefficients . We can compute this moment in the CUE case:

Proposition 5We have

*Proof:* From (5) one has

hence

where we suppress the dependence on the eigenvalues . Now observe the Pieri formula

where are the hook Schur polynomials

and we adopt the convention that vanishes for , or when and . Then also vanishes for . We conclude that

As the Schur polynomials are orthonormal on the unitary group, the claim follows.

The CUE hypothesis would then imply the corresponding mollified moment conjecture

(See this paper of Conrey, and this paper of Radziwill, for some discussion of the analogous conjecture for the zeta function, which is essentially due to Farmer.)

From Proposition 3 one sees that this conjecture holds in the range . It is likely that the function field analogue of the calculations of Conrey (based ultimately on deep exponential sum estimates of Deshouillers and Iwaniec) can extend this range to for any , if is sufficiently large depending on ; these bounds thus go beyond what is available from Proposition 3. On the other hand, as discussed in Remark 7 of the previous post, ACUE would also predict (14) for as large as , so the available mollified moment estimates are not strong enough to rule out ACUE. It would be interesting to see if there is some other estimate in the function field setting that can be used to exclude the ACUE hypothesis (possibly one that exploits the fact that GRH is available in the function field case?).

In a recent post I discussed how the Riemann zeta function can be locally approximated by a polynomial, in the sense that for randomly chosen one has an approximation

where grows slowly with , and is a polynomial of degree . Assuming the Riemann hypothesis (as we will throughout this post), the zeroes of should all lie on the unit circle, and one should then be able to write as a scalar multiple of the characteristic polynomial of (the inverse of) a unitary matrix , which we normalise as

Here is some quantity depending on . We view as a random element of ; in the limit , the GUE hypothesis is equivalent to becoming equidistributed with respect to Haar measure on (also known as the Circular Unitary Ensemble, CUE; it is to the unit circle what the Gaussian Unitary Ensemble (GUE) is on the real line). One can also view as analogous to the “geometric Frobenius” operator in the function field setting, though unfortunately it is difficult at present to make this analogy any more precise (due, among other things, to the lack of a sufficiently satisfactory theory of the “field of one element“).

Taking logarithmic derivatives of (2), we have

and hence on taking logarithmic derivatives of (1) in the variable we (heuristically) have

Morally speaking, we have

so on comparing coefficients we expect to interpret the moments of as a finite Dirichlet series:

To understand the distribution of in the unitary group , it suffices to understand the distribution of the moments

where denotes averaging over , and . The GUE hypothesis asserts that in the limit , these moments converge to their CUE counterparts

where is now drawn uniformly in with respect to the CUE ensemble, and denotes expectation with respect to that measure.

The moment (6) vanishes unless one has the homogeneity condition

This follows from the fact that for any phase , has the same distribution as , where we use the number theory notation .

In the case when the degree is low, we can use representation theory to establish the following simple formula for the moment (6), as evaluated by Diaconis and Shahshahani:

Proposition 1 (Low moments in CUE model)Ifthen the moment (6) vanishes unless for all , in which case it is equal to

Another way of viewing this proposition is that for distributed according to CUE, the random variables are distributed like independent complex random variables of mean zero and variance , as long as one only considers moments obeying (8). This identity definitely breaks down for larger values of , so one only obtains central limit theorems in certain limiting regimes, notably when one only considers a fixed number of ‘s and lets go to infinity. (The paper of Diaconis and Shahshahani writes in place of , but I believe this to be a typo.)

*Proof:* Let be the left-hand side of (8). We may assume that (7) holds since we are done otherwise, hence

Our starting point is Schur-Weyl duality. Namely, we consider the -dimensional complex vector space

This space has an action of the product group : the symmetric group acts by permutation on the tensor factors, while the general linear group acts diagonally on the factors, and the two actions commute with each other. Schur-Weyl duality gives a decomposition

where ranges over Young tableaux of size with at most rows, is the -irreducible unitary representation corresponding to (which can be constructed for instance using Specht modules), and is the -irreducible polynomial representation corresponding with highest weight .

Let be a permutation consisting of cycles of length (this is uniquely determined up to conjugation), and let . The pair then acts on , with the action on basis elements given by

The trace of this action can then be computed as

where is the matrix coefficient of . Breaking up into cycles and summing, this is just

But we can also compute this trace using the Schur-Weyl decomposition (10), yielding the identity

where is the character on associated to , and is the character on associated to . As is well known, is just the Schur polynomial of weight applied to the (algebraic, generalised) eigenvalues of . We can specialise to unitary matrices to conclude that

and similarly

where consists of cycles of length for each . On the other hand, the characters are an orthonormal system on with the CUE measure. Thus we can write the expectation (6) as

Now recall that ranges over all the Young tableaux of size with at most rows. But by (8) we have , and so the condition of having rows is redundant. Hence now ranges over *all* Young tableaux of size , which as is well known enumerates all the irreducible representations of . One can then use the standard orthogonality properties of characters to show that the sum (12) vanishes if , are not conjugate, and is equal to divided by the size of the conjugacy class of (or equivalently, by the size of the centraliser of ) otherwise. But the latter expression is easily computed to be , giving the claim.

Example 2We illustrate the identity (11) when , . The Schur polynomials are given aswhere are the (generalised) eigenvalues of , and the formula (11) in this case becomes

The functions are orthonormal on , so the three functions are also, and their norms are , , and respectively, reflecting the size in of the centralisers of the permutations , , and respectively. If is instead set to say , then the terms now disappear (the Young tableau here has too many rows), and the three quantities here now have some non-trivial covariance.

Example 3Consider the moment . For , the above proposition shows us that this moment is equal to . What happens for ? The formula (12) computes this moment aswhere is a cycle of length in , and ranges over all Young tableaux with size and at most rows. The Murnaghan-Nakayama rule tells us that vanishes unless is a hook (all but one of the non-zero rows consisting of just a single box; this also can be interpreted as an exterior power representation on the space of vectors in whose coordinates sum to zero), in which case it is equal to (depending on the parity of the number of non-zero rows). As such we see that this moment is equal to . Thus in general we have

Now we discuss what is known for the analogous moments (5). Here we shall be rather non-rigorous, in particular ignoring an annoying “Archimedean” issue that the product of the ranges and is not quite the range but instead leaks into the adjacent range . This issue can be addressed by working in a “weak" sense in which parameters such as are averaged over fairly long scales, or by passing to a function field analogue of these questions, but we shall simply ignore the issue completely and work at a heuristic level only. For similar reasons we will ignore some technical issues arising from the sharp cutoff of to the range (it would be slightly better technically to use a smooth cutoff).

One can morally expand out (5) using (4) as

where , , and the integers are in the ranges

for and , and

for and . Morally, the expectation here is negligible unless

in which case the expecation is oscillates with magnitude one. In particular, if (7) fails (with some room to spare) then the moment (5) should be negligible, which is consistent with the analogous behaviour for the moments (6). Now suppose that (8) holds (with some room to spare). Then is significantly less than , so the multiplicative error in (15) becomes an additive error of . On the other hand, because of the fundamental *integrality gap* – that the integers are always separated from each other by a distance of at least – this forces the integers , to in fact be equal:

The von Mangoldt factors effectively restrict to be prime (the effect of prime powers is negligible). By the fundamental theorem of arithmetic, the constraint (16) then forces , and to be a permutation of , which then forces for all ._ For a given , the number of possible is then , and the expectation in (14) is equal to . Thus this expectation is morally

and using Mertens’ theorem this soon simplifies asymptotically to the same quantity in Proposition 1. Thus we see that (morally at least) the moments (5) associated to the zeta function asymptotically match the moments (6) coming from the CUE model in the low degree case (8), thus lending support to the GUE hypothesis. (These observations are basically due to Rudnick and Sarnak, with the degree case of pair correlations due to Montgomery, and the degree case due to Hejhal.)

With some rare exceptions (such as those estimates coming from “Kloostermania”), the moment estimates of Rudnick and Sarnak basically represent the state of the art for what is known for the moments (5). For instance, Montgomery’s pair correlation conjecture, in our language, is basically the analogue of (13) for , thus

for all . Montgomery showed this for (essentially) the range (as remarked above, this is a special case of the Rudnick-Sarnak result), but no further cases of this conjecture are known.

These estimates can be used to give some non-trivial information on the largest and smallest spacings between zeroes of the zeta function, which in our notation corresponds to spacing between eigenvalues of . One such method used today for this is due to Montgomery and Odlyzko and was greatly simplified by Conrey, Ghosh, and Gonek. The basic idea, translated to our random matrix notation, is as follows. Suppose is some random polynomial depending on of degree at most . Let denote the eigenvalues of , and let be a parameter. Observe from the pigeonhole principle that if the quantity

then the arcs cannot all be disjoint, and hence there exists a pair of eigenvalues making an angle of less than ( times the mean angle separation). Similarly, if the quantity (18) falls below that of (19), then these arcs cannot cover the unit circle, and hence there exists a pair of eigenvalues making an angle of greater than times the mean angle separation. By judiciously choosing the coefficients of as functions of the moments , one can ensure that both quantities (18), (19) can be computed by the Rudnick-Sarnak estimates (or estimates of equivalent strength); indeed, from the residue theorem one can write (18) as

for sufficiently small , and this can be computed (in principle, at least) using (3) if the coefficients of are in an appropriate form. Using this sort of technology (translated back to the Riemann zeta function setting), one can show that gaps between consecutive zeroes of zeta are less than times the mean spacing and greater than times the mean spacing infinitely often for certain ; the current records are (due to Goldston and Turnage-Butterbaugh) and (due to Bui and Milinovich, who input some additional estimates beyond the Rudnick-Sarnak set, namely the twisted fourth moment estimates of Bettin, Bui, Li, and Radziwill, and using a technique based on Hall’s method rather than the Montgomery-Odlyzko method).

It would be of great interest if one could push the upper bound for the smallest gap below . The reason for this is that this would then exclude the Alternative Hypothesis that the spacing between zeroes are asymptotically always (or almost always) a non-zero half-integer multiple of the mean spacing, or in our language that the gaps between the phases of the eigenvalues of are nasymptotically always non-zero integer multiples of . The significance of this hypothesis is that it is implied by the existence of a Siegel zero (of conductor a small power of ); see this paper of Conrey and Iwaniec. (In our language, what is going on is that if there is a Siegel zero in which is very close to zero, then behaves like the Kronecker delta, and hence (by the Riemann-Siegel formula) the combined -function will have a polynomial approximation which in our language looks like a scalar multiple of , where and is a phase. The zeroes of this approximation lie on a coset of the roots of unity; the polynomial is a factor of this approximation and hence will also lie in this coset, implying in particular that all eigenvalue spacings are multiples of . Taking then gives the claim.)

Unfortunately, the known methods do not seem to break this barrier without some significant new input; already the original paper of Montgomery and Odlyzko observed this limitation for their particular technique (and in fact fall very slightly short, as observed in unpublished work of Goldston and of Milinovich). In this post I would like to record another way to see this, by providing an “alternative” probability distribution to the CUE distribution (which one might dub the *Alternative Circular Unitary Ensemble* (ACUE) which is indistinguishable in low moments in the sense that the expectation for this model also obeys Proposition 1, but for which the phase spacings are always a multiple of . This shows that if one is to rule out the Alternative Hypothesis (and thus in particular rule out Siegel zeroes), one needs to input some additional moment information beyond Proposition 1. It would be interesting to see if any of the other known moment estimates that go beyond this proposition are consistent with this alternative distribution. (UPDATE: it looks like they are, see Remark 7 below.)

To describe this alternative distribution, let us first recall the Weyl description of the CUE measure on the unitary group in terms of the distribution of the phases of the eigenvalues, randomly permuted in any order. This distribution is given by the probability measure

is the Vandermonde determinant; see for instance this previous blog post for the derivation of a very similar formula for the GUE distribution, which can be adapted to CUE without much difficulty. To see that this is a probability measure, first observe the Vandermonde determinant identity

where , denotes the dot product, and is the “long word”, which implies that (20) is a trigonometric series with constant term ; it is also clearly non-negative, so it is a probability measure. One can thus generate a random CUE matrix by first drawing using the probability measure (20), and then generating to be a random unitary matrix with eigenvalues .

For the alternative distribution, we first draw on the discrete torus (thus each is a root of unity) with probability density function

shift by a phase drawn uniformly at random, and then select to be a random unitary matrix with eigenvalues . Let us first verify that (21) is a probability density function. Clearly it is non-negative. It is the linear combination of exponentials of the form for . The diagonal contribution gives the constant function , which has total mass one. All of the other exponentials have a frequency that is not a multiple of , and hence will have mean zero on . The claim follows.

From construction it is clear that the matrix drawn from this alternative distribution will have all eigenvalue phase spacings be a non-zero multiple of . Now we verify that the alternative distribution also obeys Proposition 1. The alternative distribution remains invariant under rotation by phases, so the claim is again clear when (8) fails. Inspecting the proof of that proposition, we see that it suffices to show that the Schur polynomials with of size at most and of equal size remain orthonormal with respect to the alternative measure. That is to say,

when have size equal to each other and at most . In this case the phase in the definition of is irrelevant. In terms of eigenvalue measures, we are then reduced to showing that

By Fourier decomposition, it then suffices to show that the trigonometric polynomial does not contain any components of the form for some non-zero lattice vector . But we have already observed that is a linear combination of plane waves of the form for . Also, as is well known, is a linear combination of plane waves where is majorised by , and similarly is a linear combination of plane waves where is majorised by . So the product is a linear combination of plane waves of the form . But every coefficient of the vector lies between and , and so cannot be of the form for any non-zero lattice vector , giving the claim.

Example 4If , then the distribution (21) assigns a probability of to any pair that is a permuted rotation of , and a probability of to any pair that is a permuted rotation of . Thus, a matrix drawn from the alternative distribution will be conjugate to a phase rotation of with probability , and to with probability .A similar computation when gives conjugate to a phase rotation of with probability , to a phase rotation of or its adjoint with probability of each, and a phase rotation of with probability .

Remark 5For large it does not seem that this specific alternative distribution is the only distribution consistent with Proposition 1 and which has all phase spacings a non-zero multiple of ; in particular, it may not be the only distribution consistent with a Siegel zero. Still, it is a very explicit distribution that might serve as a test case for the limitations of various arguments for controlling quantities such as the largest or smallest spacing between zeroes of zeta. The ACUE is in some sense the distribution that maximally resembles CUE (in the sense that it has the greatest number of Fourier coefficients agreeing) while still also being consistent with the Alternative Hypothesis, and so should be the most difficult enemy to eliminate if one wishes to disprove that hypothesis.

In some cases, even just a tiny improvement in known results would be able to exclude the alternative hypothesis. For instance, if the alternative hypothesis held, then is periodic in with period , so from Proposition 1 for the alternative distribution one has

which differs from (13) for any . (This fact was implicitly observed recently by Baluyot, in the original context of the zeta function.) Thus a verification of the pair correlation conjecture (17) for even a single with would rule out the alternative hypothesis. Unfortunately, such a verification appears to be on comparable difficulty with (an averaged version of) the Hardy-Littlewood conjecture, with power saving error term. (This is consistent with the fact that Siegel zeroes can cause distortions in the Hardy-Littlewood conjecture, as (implicitly) discussed in this previous blog post.)

Remark 6One can view the CUE as normalised Lebesgue measure on (viewed as a smooth submanifold of ). One can similarly view ACUE as normalised Lebesgue measure on the (disconnected) smooth submanifold of consisting of those unitary matrices whose phase spacings are non-zero integer multiples of ; informally, ACUE is CUE restricted to this lower dimensional submanifold. As is well known, the phases of CUE eigenvalues form a determinantal point process with kernel (or one can equivalently take ; in a similar spirit, the phases of ACUE eigenvalues, once they are rotated to be roots of unity, become a discrete determinantal point process on those roots of unity with exactly the same kernel (except for a normalising factor of ). In particular, the -point correlation functions of ACUE (after this rotation) are precisely the restriction of the -point correlation functions of CUE after normalisation, that is to say they are proportional to .

Remark 7One family of estimates that go beyond the Rudnick-Sarnak family of estimates are twisted moment estimates for the zeta function, such as ones that give asymptotics forfor some small even exponent (almost always or ) and some short Dirichlet polynomial ; see for instance this paper of Bettin, Bui, Li, and Radziwill for some examples of such estimates. The analogous unitary matrix average would be something like

where is now some random medium degree polynomial that depends on the unitary matrix associated to (and in applications will typically also contain some negative power of to cancel the corresponding powers of in ). Unfortunately such averages generally are unable to distinguish the CUE from the ACUE. For instance, if all the coefficients of involve products of traces of total order less than , then in terms of the eigenvalue phases , is a linear combination of plane waves where the frequencies have coefficients of magnitude less than . On the other hand, as each coefficient of is an elementary symmetric function of the eigenvalues, is a linear combination of plane waves where the frequencies have coefficients of magnitude at most . Thus is a linear combination of plane waves where the frequencies have coefficients of magnitude less than , and thus is orthogonal to the difference between the CUE and ACUE measures on the phase torus by the previous arguments. In other words, has the same expectation with respect to ACUE as it does with respect to CUE. Thus one can only start distinguishing CUE from ACUE if the mollifier has degree close to or exceeding , which corresponds to Dirichlet polynomials of length close to or exceeding , which is far beyond current technology for such moment estimates.

Remark 8The GUE hypothesis for the zeta function asserts that the averagefor any and any test function , where is the Dyson sine kernel and are the ordinates of zeroes of the zeta function. This corresponds to the CUE distribution for . The ACUE distribution then corresponds to an “alternative gaussian unitary ensemble (AGUE)” hypothesis, in which the average (22) is instead predicted to equal a Riemann sum version of the integral (23):

This is a stronger version of the alternative hypothesis that the spacing between adjacent zeroes is almost always approximately a half-integer multiple of the mean spacing. I do not know of any known moment estimates for Dirichlet series that is able to eliminate this AGUE hypothesis (even assuming GRH). (UPDATE: These facts have also been independently observed in forthcoming work of Lagarias and Rodgers.)

Just a short note to point out that submissions to the 2019 Breakthrough Junior Challenge are now open until June 15. Students ages 13 to 18 from countries across the globe are invited to create and submit original videos (3:00 minutes in length maximum) that bring to life a concept or theory in the life sciences, physics or mathematics. The submissions are judged on the student’s ability to communicate complex scientific ideas in engaging, illuminating, and imaginative ways. The Challenge is organized by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, in partnership with Khan Academy, National Geographic, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The winner of the challenge recieves a $250K college scholarship, with an addition $50K prize to the winner’s maths or science teacher, and a $100K lab for the student’s school. (This year I will be on the selection committee for this challenge.)

A useful rule of thumb in complex analysis is that holomorphic functions behave like large degree polynomials . This can be evidenced for instance at a “local” level by the Taylor series expansion for a complex analytic function in the disk, or at a “global” level by factorisation theorems such as the Weierstrass factorisation theorem (or the closely related Hadamard factorisation theorem). One can truncate these theorems in a variety of ways (e.g., Taylor’s theorem with remainder) to be able to approximate a holomorphic function by a polynomial on various domains.

In some cases it can be convenient instead to work with polynomials of another variable such as (or more generally for a scaling parameter ). In the case of the Riemann zeta function, defined by meromorphic continuation of the formula

one ends up having the following heuristic approximation in the neighbourhood of a point on the critical line:

Heuristic 1 (Polynomial approximation)Let be a height, let be a “typical” element of , and let be an integer. Let be the linear change of variables

The requirement is necessary since the right-hand side is periodic with period in the variable (or period in the variable), whereas the zeta function is not expected to have any such periodicity, even approximately.

Let us give two non-rigorous justifications of this heuristic. Firstly, it is standard that inside the critical strip (with ) we have an approximate form

of (11). If we group the integers from to into bins depending on what powers of they lie between, we thus have

For with and we heuristically have

and so

where are the partial Dirichlet series

This gives the desired polynomial approximation.

A second non-rigorous justification is as follows. From factorisation theorems such as the Hadamard factorisation theorem we expect to have

where runs over the non-trivial zeroes of , and there are some additional factors arising from the trivial zeroes and poles of which we will ignore here; we will also completely ignore the issue of how to renormalise the product to make it converge properly. In the region , the dominant contribution to this product (besides multiplicative constants) should arise from zeroes that are also in this region. The Riemann-von Mangoldt formula suggests that for “typical” one should have about such zeroes. If one lets be any enumeration of zeroes closest to , and then repeats this set of zeroes periodically by period , one then expects to have an approximation of the form

again ignoring all issues of convergence. If one writes and , then Euler’s famous product formula for sine basically gives

(here we are glossing over some technical issues regarding renormalisation of the infinite products, which can be dealt with by studying the asymptotics as ) and hence we expect

This again gives the desired polynomial approximation.

Below the fold we give a rigorous version of the second argument suitable for “microscale” analysis. More precisely, we will show

Theorem 2Let be an integer going sufficiently slowly to infinity. Let go to zero sufficiently slowly depending on . Let be drawn uniformly at random from . Then with probability (in the limit ), and possibly after adjusting by , there exists a polynomial of degree and obeying the functional equation (9) below, such that

It should be possible to refine the arguments to extend this theorem to the mesoscale setting by letting be anything growing like , and anything growing like ; also we should be able to delete the need to adjust by . We have not attempted these optimisations here.

Many conjectures and arguments involving the Riemann zeta function can be heuristically translated into arguments involving the polynomials , which one can view as random degree polynomials if is interpreted as a random variable drawn uniformly at random from . These can be viewed as providing a “toy model” for the theory of the Riemann zeta function, in which the complex analysis is simplified to the study of the zeroes and coefficients of this random polynomial (for instance, the role of the gamma function is now played by a monomial in ). This model also makes the zeta function theory more closely resemble the function field analogues of this theory (in which the analogue of the zeta function is also a polynomial (or a rational function) in some variable , as per the Weil conjectures). The parameter is at our disposal to choose, and reflects the scale at which one wishes to study the zeta function. For “macroscopic” questions, at which one wishes to understand the zeta function at unit scales, it is natural to take (or very slightly larger), while for “microscopic” questions one would take close to and only growing very slowly with . For the intermediate “mesoscopic” scales one would take somewhere between and . Unfortunately, the statistical properties of are only understood well at a conjectural level at present; even if one assumes the Riemann hypothesis, our understanding of is largely restricted to the computation of low moments (e.g., the second or fourth moments) of various linear statistics of and related functions (e.g., , , or ).

Let’s now heuristically explore the polynomial analogues of this theory in a bit more detail. The Riemann hypothesis basically corresponds to the assertion that all the zeroes of the polynomial lie on the unit circle (which, after the change of variables , corresponds to being real); in a similar vein, the GUE hypothesis corresponds to having the asymptotic law of a random scalar times the characteristic polynomial of a random unitary matrix. Next, we consider what happens to the functional equation

A routine calculation involving Stirling’s formula reveals that

with ; one also has the closely related approximation

when . Since , applying (5) with and using the approximation (2) suggests a functional equation for :

where is the polynomial with all the coefficients replaced by their complex conjugate. Thus if we write

then the functional equation can be written as

We remark that if we use the heuristic (3) (interpreting the cutoffs in the summation in a suitably vague fashion) then this equation can be viewed as an instance of the Poisson summation formula.

Another consequence of the functional equation is that the zeroes of are symmetric with respect to inversion across the unit circle. This is of course consistent with the Riemann hypothesis, but does not obviously imply it. The phase is of little consequence in this functional equation; one could easily conceal it by working with the phase rotation of instead.

One consequence of the functional equation is that is real for any ; the same is then true for the derivative . Among other things, this implies that cannot vanish unless does also; thus the zeroes of will not lie on the unit circle except where has repeated zeroes. The analogous statement is true for ; the zeroes of will not lie on the critical line except where has repeated zeroes.

Relating to this fact, it is a classical result of Speiser that the Riemann hypothesis is true if and only if all the zeroes of the derivative of the zeta function in the critical strip lie on or to the *right* of the critical line. The analogous result for polynomials is

Proposition 3We have(where all zeroes are counted with multiplicity.) In particular, the zeroes of all lie on the unit circle if and only if the zeroes of lie in the closed unit disk.

*Proof:* From the functional equation we have

Thus it will suffice to show that and have the same number of zeroes outside the closed unit disk.

Set , then is a rational function that does not have a zero or pole at infinity. For not a zero of , we have already seen that and are real, so on dividing we see that is always real, that is to say

(This can also be seen by writing , where runs over the zeroes of , and using the fact that these zeroes are symmetric with respect to reflection across the unit circle.) When is a zero of , has a simple pole at with residue a positive multiple of , and so stays on the right half-plane if one traverses a semicircular arc around outside the unit disk. From this and continuity we see that stays on the right-half plane in a circle slightly larger than the unit circle, and hence by the argument principle it has the same number of zeroes and poles outside of this circle, giving the claim.

From the functional equation and the chain rule, is a zero of if and only if is a zero of . We can thus write the above proposition in the equivalent form

One can use this identity to get a lower bound on the number of zeroes of by the method of mollifiers. Namely, for any other polynomial , we clearly have

By Jensen’s formula, we have for any that

We therefore have

As the logarithm function is concave, we can apply Jensen’s inequality to conclude

where the expectation is over the parameter. It turns out that by choosing the mollifier carefully in order to make behave like the function (while keeping the degree small enough that one can compute the second moment here), and then optimising in , one can use this inequality to get a positive fraction of zeroes of on the unit circle on average. This is the polynomial analogue of a classical argument of Levinson, who used this to show that at least one third of the zeroes of the Riemann zeta function are on the critical line; all later improvements on this fraction have been based on some version of Levinson’s method, mainly focusing on more advanced choices for the mollifier and of the differential operator that implicitly appears in the above approach. (The most recent lower bound I know of is , due to Pratt and Robles. In principle (as observed by Farmer) this bound can get arbitrarily close to if one is allowed to use arbitrarily long mollifiers, but establishing this seems of comparable difficulty to unsolved problems such as the pair correlation conjecture; see this paper of Radziwill for more discussion.) A variant of these techniques can also establish “zero density estimates” of the following form: for any , the number of zeroes of that lie further than from the unit circle is of order on average for some absolute constant . Thus, roughly speaking, most zeroes of lie within of the unit circle. (Analogues of these results for the Riemann zeta function were worked out by Selberg, by Jutila, and by Conrey, with increasingly strong values of .)

The zeroes of tend to live somewhat closer to the origin than the zeroes of . Suppose for instance that we write

where are the zeroes of , then by evaluating at zero we see that

and the right-hand side is of unit magnitude by the functional equation. However, if we differentiate

where are the zeroes of , then by evaluating at zero we now see that

The right-hand side would now be typically expected to be of size , and so on average we expect the to have magnitude like , that is to say pushed inwards from the unit circle by a distance roughly . The analogous result for the Riemann zeta function is that the zeroes of at height lie at a distance roughly to the right of the critical line on the average; see this paper of Levinson and Montgomery for a precise statement.

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