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The Chowla conjecture asserts that all non-trivial correlations of the Liouville function are asymptotically negligible; for instance, it asserts that

as for any fixed natural number . This conjecture remains open, though there are a number of partial results (e.g. these two previous results of Matomaki, Radziwill, and myself).

A natural generalisation of Chowla’s conjecture was proposed by Elliott. For simplicity we will only consider Elliott’s conjecture for the pair correlations

For such correlations, the conjecture was that one had

as for any natural number , as long as was a completely multiplicative function with magnitude bounded by , and such that

for any Dirichlet character and any real number . In the language of “pretentious number theory”, as developed by Granville and Soundararajan, the hypothesis (2) asserts that the completely multiplicative function does not “pretend” to be like the completely multiplicative function for any character and real number . A condition of this form is necessary; for instance, if is precisely equal to and has period , then is equal to as and (1) clearly fails. The prime number theorem in arithmetic progressions implies that the Liouville function obeys (2), and so the Elliott conjecture contains the Chowla conjecture as a special case.

As it turns out, Elliott’s conjecture is false as stated, with the counterexample having the property that “pretends” *locally* to be the function for in various intervals , where and go to infinity in a certain prescribed sense. See this paper of Matomaki, Radziwill, and myself for details. However, we view this as a technicality, and continue to believe that certain “repaired” versions of Elliott’s conjecture still hold. For instance, our counterexample does not apply when is restricted to be real-valued rather than complex, and we believe that Elliott’s conjecture is valid in this setting. Returning to the complex-valued case, we still expect the asymptotic (1) provided that the condition (2) is replaced by the stronger condition

as for all fixed Dirichlet characters . In our paper we supported this claim by establishing a certain “averaged” version of this conjecture; see that paper for further details. (See also this recent paper of Frantzikinakis and Host which establishes a different averaged version of this conjecture.)

One can make a stronger “non-asymptotic” version of this corrected Elliott conjecture, in which the parameter does not go to infinity, or equivalently that the function is permitted to depend on :

Conjecture 1 (Non-asymptotic Elliott conjecture)Let , let be sufficiently large depending on , and let be sufficiently large depending on . Suppose that is a completely multiplicative function with magnitude bounded by , such thatfor all Dirichlet characters of period at most . Then one has

for all natural numbers .

The -dependent factor in the constraint is necessary, as can be seen by considering the completely multiplicative function (for instance). Again, the results in my previous paper with Matomaki and Radziwill can be viewed as establishing an averaged version of this conjecture.

Meanwhile, we have the following conjecture that is the focus of the Polymath5 project:

Conjecture 2 (Erdös discrepancy conjecture)For any function , the discrepancyis infinite.

It is instructive to compute some near-counterexamples to Conjecture 2 that illustrate the difficulty of the Erdös discrepancy problem. The first near-counterexample is that of a non-principal Dirichlet character that takes values in rather than . For this function, one has from the complete multiplicativity of that

If denotes the period of , then has mean zero on every interval of length , and thus

Thus has bounded discrepancy.

Of course, this is not a true counterexample to Conjecture 2 because can take the value . Let us now consider the following variant example, which is the simplest member of a family of examples studied by Borwein, Choi, and Coons. Let be the non-principal Dirichlet character of period (thus equals when , when , and when ), and define the completely multiplicative function by setting when and . This is about the simplest modification one can make to the previous near-counterexample to eliminate the zeroes. Now consider the sum

with for some large . Writing with coprime to and at most , we can write this sum as

Now observe that . The function has mean zero on every interval of length three, and is equal to mod , and thus

for every , and thus

Thus also has unbounded discrepancy, but only barely so (it grows logarithmically in ). These examples suggest that the main “enemy” to proving Conjecture 2 comes from completely multiplicative functions that somehow “pretend” to be like a Dirichlet character but do not vanish at the zeroes of that character. (Indeed, the special case of Conjecture 2 when is completely multiplicative is already open, appears to be an important subcase.)

All of these conjectures remain open. However, I would like to record in this blog post the following striking connection, illustrating the power of the Elliott conjecture (particularly in its nonasymptotic formulation):

Theorem 3 (Elliott conjecture implies unbounded discrepancy)Conjecture 1 implies Conjecture 2.

The argument relies heavily on two observations that were previously made in connection with the Polymath5 project. The first is a Fourier-analytic reduction that replaces the Erdos Discrepancy Problem with an averaged version for completely multiplicative functions . An application of Cauchy-Schwarz then shows that any counterexample to that version will violate the conclusion of Conjecture 1, so if one assumes that conjecture then must pretend to be like a function of the form . One then uses (a generalisation) of a second argument from Polymath5 to rule out this case, basically by reducing matters to a more complicated version of the Borwein-Choi-Coons analysis. Details are provided below the fold.

There is some hope that the Chowla and Elliott conjectures can be attacked, as the parity barrier which is so impervious to attack for the twin prime conjecture seems to be more permeable in this setting. (For instance, in my previous post I raised a possible approach, based on establishing expander properties of a certain random graph, which seems to get around the parity problem, in principle at least.)

(Update, Sep 25: fixed some treatment of error terms, following a suggestion of Andrew Granville.)

The twin prime conjecture is one of the oldest unsolved problems in analytic number theory. There are several reasons why this conjecture remains out of reach of current techniques, but the most important obstacle is the parity problem which prevents purely sieve-theoretic methods (or many other popular methods in analytic number theory, such as the circle method) from detecting pairs of prime twins in a way that can distinguish them from other twins of almost primes. The parity problem is discussed in these previous blog posts; this obstruction is ultimately powered by the *Möbius pseudorandomness principle* that asserts that the Möbius function is asymptotically orthogonal to all “structured” functions (and in particular, to the weight functions constructed from sieve theory methods).

However, there is an intriguing “alternate universe” in which the Möbius function *is* strongly correlated with some structured functions, and specifically with some Dirichlet characters, leading to the existence of the infamous “Siegel zero“. In this scenario, the parity problem obstruction disappears, and it becomes possible, *in principle*, to attack problems such as the twin prime conjecture. In particular, we have the following result of Heath-Brown:

Theorem 1At least one of the following two statements are true:

- (Twin prime conjecture) There are infinitely many primes such that is also prime.
- (No Siegel zeroes) There exists a constant such that for every real Dirichlet character of conductor , the associated Dirichlet -function has no zeroes in the interval .

Informally, this result asserts that if one had an infinite sequence of Siegel zeroes, one could use this to generate infinitely many twin primes. See this survey of Friedlander and Iwaniec for more on this “illusory” or “ghostly” parallel universe in analytic number theory that should not actually exist, but is surprisingly self-consistent and to date proven to be impossible to banish from the realm of possibility.

The strategy of Heath-Brown’s proof is fairly straightforward to describe. The usual starting point is to try to lower bound

for some large value of , where is the von Mangoldt function. Actually, in this post we will work with the slight variant

where

is the second von Mangoldt function, and denotes Dirichlet convolution, and is an (unsquared) Selberg sieve that damps out small prime factors. This sum also detects twin primes, but will lead to slightly simpler computations. For technical reasons we will also smooth out the interval and remove very small primes from , but we will skip over these steps for the purpose of this informal discussion. (In Heath-Brown’s original paper, the Selberg sieve is essentially replaced by the more combinatorial restriction for some large , where is the primorial of , but I found the computations to be slightly easier if one works with a Selberg sieve, particularly if the sieve is not squared to make it nonnegative.)

If there is a Siegel zero with close to and a Dirichlet character of conductor , then multiplicative number theory methods can be used to show that the Möbius function “pretends” to be like the character in the sense that for “most” primes near (e.g. in the range for some small and large ). Traditionally, one uses complex-analytic methods to demonstrate this, but one can also use elementary multiplicative number theory methods to establish these results (qualitatively at least), as will be shown below the fold.

The fact that pretends to be like can be used to construct a tractable approximation (after inserting the sieve weight ) in the range (where for some large ) for the second von Mangoldt function , namely the function

Roughly speaking, we think of the periodic function and the slowly varying function as being of about the same “complexity” as the constant function , so that is roughly of the same “complexity” as the divisor function

which is considerably simpler to obtain asymptotics for than the von Mangoldt function as the Möbius function is no longer present. (For instance, note from the Dirichlet hyperbola method that one can estimate to accuracy with little difficulty, whereas to obtain a comparable level of accuracy for or is essentially the Riemann hypothesis.)

One expects to be a good approximant to if is of size and has no prime factors less than for some large constant . The Selberg sieve will be mostly supported on numbers with no prime factor less than . As such, one can hope to approximate (1) by the expression

as it turns out, the error between this expression and (1) is easily controlled by sieve-theoretic techniques. Let us ignore the Selberg sieve for now and focus on the slightly simpler sum

As discussed above, this sum should be thought of as a slightly more complicated version of the sum

Accordingly, let us look (somewhat informally) at the task of estimating the model sum (3). One can think of this problem as basically that of counting solutions to the equation with in various ranges; this is clearly related to understanding the equidistribution of the hyperbola in . Taking Fourier transforms, the latter problem is closely related to estimation of the Kloosterman sums

where denotes the inverse of in . One can then use the Weil bound

where is the greatest common divisor of (with the convention that this is equal to if vanish), and the decays to zero as . The Weil bound yields good enough control on error terms to estimate (3), and as it turns out the same method also works to estimate (2) (provided that with large enough).

Actually one does not need the full strength of the Weil bound here; any power savings over the trivial bound of will do. In particular, it will suffice to use the weaker, but easier to prove, bounds of Kloosterman:

Lemma 2 (Kloosterman bound)One has

whenever and are coprime to , where the is with respect to the limit (and is uniform in ).

*Proof:* Observe from change of variables that the Kloosterman sum is unchanged if one replaces with for . For fixed , the number of such pairs is at least , thanks to the divisor bound. Thus it will suffice to establish the fourth moment bound

The left-hand side can be rearranged as

which by Fourier summation is equal to

Observe from the quadratic formula and the divisor bound that each pair has at most solutions to the system of equations . Hence the number of quadruples of the desired form is , and the claim follows.

We will also need another easy case of the Weil bound to handle some other portions of (2):

Lemma 3 (Easy Weil bound)Let be a primitive real Dirichlet character of conductor , and let . Then

*Proof:* As is the conductor of a primitive real Dirichlet character, is equal to times a squarefree odd number for some . By the Chinese remainder theorem, it thus suffices to establish the claim when is an odd prime. We may assume that is not divisible by this prime , as the claim is trivial otherwise. If vanishes then does not vanish, and the claim follows from the mean zero nature of ; similarly if vanishes. Hence we may assume that do not vanish, and then we can normalise them to equal . By completing the square it now suffices to show that

whenever . As is on the quadratic residues and on the non-residues, it now suffices to show that

But by making the change of variables , the left-hand side becomes , and the claim follows.

While the basic strategy of Heath-Brown’s argument is relatively straightforward, implementing it requires a large amount of computation to control both main terms and error terms. I experimented for a while with rearranging the argument to try to reduce the amount of computation; I did not fully succeed in arriving at a satisfactorily minimal amount of superfluous calculation, but I was able to at least reduce this amount a bit, mostly by replacing a combinatorial sieve with a Selberg-type sieve (which was not needed to be positive, so I dispensed with the squaring aspect of the Selberg sieve to simplify the calculations a little further; also for minor reasons it was convenient to retain a tiny portion of the combinatorial sieve to eliminate extremely small primes). Also some modest reductions in complexity can be obtained by using the second von Mangoldt function in place of . These exercises were primarily for my own benefit, but I am placing them here in case they are of interest to some other readers.

The Poincaré upper half-plane (with a boundary consisting of the real line together with the point at infinity ) carries an action of the projective special linear group

via fractional linear transformations:

Here and in the rest of the post we will abuse notation by identifying elements of the special linear group with their equivalence class in ; this will occasionally create or remove a factor of two in our formulae, but otherwise has very little effect, though one has to check that various definitions and expressions (such as (1)) are unaffected if one replaces a matrix by its negation . In particular, we recommend that the reader ignore the signs that appear from time to time in the discussion below.

As the action of on is transitive, and any given point in (e.g. ) has a stabiliser isomorphic to the projective rotation group , we can view the Poincaré upper half-plane as a homogeneous space for , and more specifically the quotient space of of a maximal compact subgroup . In fact, we can make the half-plane a symmetric space for , by endowing with the Riemannian metric

(using Cartesian coordinates ), which is invariant with respect to the action. Like any other Riemannian metric, the metric on generates a number of other important geometric objects on , such as the distance function which can be computed to be given by the formula

the volume measure , which can be computed to be

and the Laplace-Beltrami operator, which can be computed to be (here we use the negative definite sign convention for ). As the metric was -invariant, all of these quantities arising from the metric are similarly -invariant in the appropriate sense.

The Gauss curvature of the Poincaré half-plane can be computed to be the constant , thus is a model for two-dimensional hyperbolic geometry, in much the same way that the unit sphere in is a model for two-dimensional spherical geometry (or is a model for two-dimensional Euclidean geometry). (Indeed, is isomorphic (via projection to a null hyperplane) to the upper unit hyperboloid in the Minkowski spacetime , which is the direct analogue of the unit sphere in Euclidean spacetime or the plane in Galilean spacetime .)

One can inject arithmetic into this geometric structure by passing from the Lie group to the full modular group

or congruence subgroups such as

for natural number , or to the discrete stabiliser of the point at infinity:

These are discrete subgroups of , nested by the subgroup inclusions

There are many further discrete subgroups of (known collectively as Fuchsian groups) that one could consider, but we will focus attention on these three groups in this post.

Any discrete subgroup of generates a quotient space , which in general will be a non-compact two-dimensional orbifold. One can understand such a quotient space by working with a fundamental domain – a set consisting of a single representative of each of the orbits of in . This fundamental domain is by no means uniquely defined, but if the fundamental domain is chosen with some reasonable amount of regularity, one can view as the fundamental domain with the boundaries glued together in an appropriate sense. Among other things, fundamental domains can be used to induce a volume measure on from the volume measure on (restricted to a fundamental domain). By abuse of notation we will refer to both measures simply as when there is no chance of confusion.

For instance, a fundamental domain for is given (up to null sets) by the strip , with identifiable with the cylinder formed by gluing together the two sides of the strip. A fundamental domain for is famously given (again up to null sets) by an upper portion , with the left and right sides again glued to each other, and the left and right halves of the circular boundary glued to itself. A fundamental domain for can be formed by gluing together

copies of a fundamental domain for in a rather complicated but interesting fashion.

While fundamental domains can be a convenient choice of coordinates to work with for some computations (as well as for drawing appropriate pictures), it is geometrically more natural to avoid working explicitly on such domains, and instead work directly on the quotient spaces . In order to analyse functions on such orbifolds, it is convenient to lift such functions back up to and identify them with functions which are *-automorphic* in the sense that for all and . Such functions will be referred to as -automorphic forms, or *automorphic forms* for short (we always implicitly assume all such functions to be measurable). (Strictly speaking, these are the automorphic forms with trivial factor of automorphy; one can certainly consider other factors of automorphy, particularly when working with holomorphic modular forms, which corresponds to sections of a more non-trivial line bundle over than the trivial bundle that is implicitly present when analysing scalar functions . However, we will not discuss this (important) more general situation here.)

An important way to create a -automorphic form is to start with a non-automorphic function obeying suitable decay conditions (e.g. bounded with compact support will suffice) and form the Poincaré series defined by

which is clearly -automorphic. (One could equivalently write in place of here; there are good argument for both conventions, but I have ultimately decided to use the convention, which makes explicit computations a little neater at the cost of making the group actions work in the opposite order.) Thus we naturally see sums over associated with -automorphic forms. A little more generally, given a subgroup of and a -automorphic function of suitable decay, we can form a relative Poincaré series by

where is any fundamental domain for , that is to say a subset of consisting of exactly one representative for each right coset of . As is -automorphic, we see (if has suitable decay) that does not depend on the precise choice of fundamental domain, and is -automorphic. These operations are all compatible with each other, for instance . A key example of Poincaré series are the Eisenstein series, although there are of course many other Poincaré series one can consider by varying the test function .

For future reference we record the basic but fundamental *unfolding identities*

for any function with sufficient decay, and any -automorphic function of reasonable growth (e.g. bounded and compact support, and bounded, will suffice). Note that is viewed as a function on on the left-hand side, and as a -automorphic function on on the right-hand side. More generally, one has

whenever are discrete subgroups of , is a -automorphic function with sufficient decay on , and is a -automorphic (and thus also -automorphic) function of reasonable growth. These identities will allow us to move fairly freely between the three domains , , and in our analysis.

When computing various statistics of a Poincaré series , such as its values at special points , or the quantity , expressions of interest to analytic number theory naturally emerge. We list three basic examples of this below, discussed somewhat informally in order to highlight the main ideas rather than the technical details.

The first example we will give concerns the problem of estimating the sum

where is the divisor function. This can be rewritten (by factoring and ) as

which is basically a sum over the full modular group . At this point we will “cheat” a little by moving to the related, but different, sum

This sum is not exactly the same as (8), but will be a little easier to handle, and it is plausible that the methods used to handle this sum can be modified to handle (8). Observe from (2) and some calculation that the distance between and is given by the formula

and so one can express the above sum as

(the factor of coming from the quotient by in the projective special linear group); one can express this as , where and is the indicator function of the ball . Thus we see that expressions such as (7) are related to evaluations of Poincaré series. (In practice, it is much better to use smoothed out versions of indicator functions in order to obtain good control on sums such as (7) or (9), but we gloss over this technical detail here.)

The second example concerns the relative

of the sum (7). Note from multiplicativity that (7) can be written as , which is superficially very similar to (10), but with the key difference that the polynomial is irreducible over the integers.

As with (7), we may expand (10) as

At first glance this does not look like a sum over a modular group, but one can manipulate this expression into such a form in one of two (closely related) ways. First, observe that any factorisation of into Gaussian integers gives rise (upon taking norms) to an identity of the form , where and . Conversely, by using the unique factorisation of the Gaussian integers, every identity of the form gives rise to a factorisation of the form , essentially uniquely up to units. Now note that is of the form if and only if , in which case . Thus we can essentially write the above sum as something like

and one the modular group is now manifest. An equivalent way to see these manipulations is as follows. A triple of natural numbers with gives rise to a positive quadratic form of normalised discriminant equal to with integer coefficients (it is natural here to allow to take integer values rather than just natural number values by essentially doubling the sum). The group acts on the space of such quadratic forms in a natural fashion (by composing the quadratic form with the inverse of an element of ). Because the discriminant has class number one (this fact is equivalent to the unique factorisation of the gaussian integers, as discussed in this previous post), every form in this space is equivalent (under the action of some element of ) with the standard quadratic form . In other words, one has

which (up to a harmless sign) is exactly the representation , , introduced earlier, and leads to the same reformulation of the sum (10) in terms of expressions like (11). Similar considerations also apply if the quadratic polynomial is replaced by another quadratic, although one has to account for the fact that the class number may now exceed one (so that unique factorisation in the associated quadratic ring of integers breaks down), and in the positive discriminant case the fact that the group of units might be infinite presents another significant technical problem.

Note that has real part and imaginary part . Thus (11) is (up to a factor of two) the Poincaré series as in the preceding example, except that is now the indicator of the sector .

Sums involving subgroups of the full modular group, such as , often arise when imposing congruence conditions on sums such as (10), for instance when trying to estimate the expression when and are large. As before, one then soon arrives at the problem of evaluating a Poincaré series at one or more special points, where the series is now over rather than .

The third and final example concerns averages of Kloosterman sums

where and is the inverse of in the multiplicative group . It turns out that the norms of Poincaré series or are closely tied to such averages. Consider for instance the quantity

where is a natural number and is a -automorphic form that is of the form

for some integer and some test function , which for sake of discussion we will take to be smooth and compactly supported. Using the unfolding formula (6), we may rewrite (13) as

To compute this, we use the double coset decomposition

where for each , are arbitrarily chosen integers such that . To see this decomposition, observe that every element in outside of can be assumed to have by applying a sign , and then using the row and column operations coming from left and right multiplication by (that is, shifting the top row by an integer multiple of the bottom row, and shifting the right column by an integer multiple of the left column) one can place in the interval and to be any specified integer pair with . From this we see that

and so from further use of the unfolding formula (5) we may expand (13) as

The first integral is just . The second expression is more interesting. We have

so we can write

as

which on shifting by simplifies a little to

and then on scaling by simplifies a little further to

Note that as , we have modulo . Comparing the above calculations with (12), we can thus write (13) as

is a certain integral involving and a parameter , but which does not depend explicitly on parameters such as . Thus we have indeed expressed the expression (13) in terms of Kloosterman sums. It is possible to invert this analysis and express varius weighted sums of Kloosterman sums in terms of expressions (possibly involving inner products instead of norms) of Poincaré series, but we will not do so here; see Chapter 16 of Iwaniec and Kowalski for further details.

Traditionally, automorphic forms have been analysed using the spectral theory of the Laplace-Beltrami operator on spaces such as or , so that a Poincaré series such as might be expanded out using inner products of (or, by the unfolding identities, ) with various generalised eigenfunctions of (such as cuspidal eigenforms, or Eisenstein series). With this approach, special functions, and specifically the modified Bessel functions of the second kind, play a prominent role, basically because the -automorphic functions

for and non-zero are generalised eigenfunctions of (with eigenvalue ), and are almost square-integrable on (the norm diverges only logarithmically at one end of the cylinder , while decaying exponentially fast at the other end ).

However, as discussed in this previous post, the spectral theory of an essentially self-adjoint operator such as is basically equivalent to the theory of various solution operators associated to partial differential equations involving that operator, such as the Helmholtz equation , the heat equation , the Schrödinger equation , or the wave equation . Thus, one can hope to rephrase many arguments that involve spectral data of into arguments that instead involve resolvents , heat kernels , Schrödinger propagators , or wave propagators , or involve the PDE more directly (e.g. applying integration by parts and energy methods to solutions of such PDE). This is certainly done to some extent in the existing literature; resolvents and heat kernels, for instance, are often utilised. In this post, I would like to explore the possibility of reformulating spectral arguments instead using the inhomogeneous wave equation

Actually it will be a bit more convenient to normalise the Laplacian by , and look instead at the *automorphic wave equation*

This equation somewhat resembles a “Klein-Gordon” type equation, except that the mass is imaginary! This would lead to pathological behaviour were it not for the negative curvature, which in principle creates a spectral gap of that cancels out this factor.

The point is that the wave equation approach gives access to some nice PDE techniques, such as energy methods, Sobolev inequalities and finite speed of propagation, which are somewhat submerged in the spectral framework. The wave equation also interacts well with Poincaré series; if for instance and are -automorphic solutions to (15) obeying suitable decay conditions, then their Poincaré series and will be -automorphic solutions to the same equation (15), basically because the Laplace-Beltrami operator commutes with translations. Because of these facts, it is possible to replicate several standard spectral theory arguments in the wave equation framework, without having to deal directly with things like the asymptotics of modified Bessel functions. The wave equation approach to automorphic theory was introduced by Faddeev and Pavlov (using the Lax-Phillips scattering theory), and developed further by by Lax and Phillips, to recover many spectral facts about the Laplacian on modular curves, such as the Weyl law and the Selberg trace formula. Here, I will illustrate this by deriving three basic applications of automorphic methods in a wave equation framework, namely

- Using the Weil bound on Kloosterman sums to derive Selberg’s 3/16 theorem on the least non-trivial eigenvalue for on (discussed previously here);
- Conversely, showing that Selberg’s eigenvalue conjecture (improving Selberg’s bound to the optimal ) implies an optimal bound on (smoothed) sums of Kloosterman sums; and
- Using the same bound to obtain pointwise bounds on Poincaré series similar to the ones discussed above. (Actually, the argument here does not use the wave equation, instead it just uses the Sobolev inequality.)

This post originated from an attempt to finally learn this part of analytic number theory properly, and to see if I could use a PDE-based perspective to understand it better. Ultimately, this is not that dramatic a depature from the standard approach to this subject, but I found it useful to think of things in this fashion, probably due to my existing background in PDE.

I thank Bill Duke and Ben Green for helpful discussions. My primary reference for this theory was Chapters 15, 16, and 21 of Iwaniec and Kowalski.

The equidistribution theorem asserts that if is an irrational phase, then the sequence is equidistributed on the unit circle, or equivalently that

for any continuous (or equivalently, for any smooth) function . By approximating uniformly by a Fourier series, this claim is equivalent to that of showing that

for any non-zero integer (where ), which is easily verified from the irrationality of and the geometric series formula. Conversely, if is rational, then clearly fails to go to zero when is a multiple of the denominator of .

One can then ask for more quantitative information about the decay of exponential sums of , or more generally on exponential sums of the form for an arithmetic progression (in this post all progressions are understood to be finite) and a polynomial . It will be convenient to phrase such information in the form of an *inverse theorem*, describing those phases for which the exponential sum is large. Indeed, we have

Lemma 1 (Geometric series formula, inverse form)Let be an arithmetic progression of length at most for some , and let be a linear polynomial for some . Iffor some , then there exists a subprogression of of size such that varies by at most on (that is to say, lies in a subinterval of of length at most ).

*Proof:* By a linear change of variable we may assume that is of the form for some . We may of course assume that is non-zero in , so that ( denotes the distance from to the nearest integer). From the geometric series formula we see that

and so . Setting for some sufficiently small absolute constant , we obtain the claim.

Thus, in order for a linear phase to fail to be equidistributed on some long progression , must in fact be almost constant on large piece of .

As is well known, this phenomenon generalises to higher order polynomials. To achieve this, we need two elementary additional lemmas. The first relates the exponential sums of to the exponential sums of its “first derivatives” .

Lemma 2 (Van der Corput lemma, inverse form)Let be an arithmetic progression of length at most , and let be an arbitrary function such that

for some . Then, for integers , there exists a subprogression of , of the same spacing as , such that

*Proof:* Squaring (1), we see that

We write and conclude that

where is a subprogression of of the same spacing. Since , we conclude that

for values of (this can be seen, much like the pigeonhole principle, by arguing via contradiction for a suitable choice of implied constants). The claim follows.

The second lemma (which we recycle from this previous blog post) is a variant of the equidistribution theorem.

Lemma 3 (Vinogradov lemma)Let be an interval for some , and let be such that for at least values of , for some . Then eitheror

or else there is a natural number such that

*Proof:* We may assume that and , since we are done otherwise. Then there are at least two with , and by the pigeonhole principle we can find in with and . By the triangle inequality, we conclude that there exists at least one natural number for which

We take to be minimal amongst all such natural numbers, then we see that there exists coprime to and such that

If then we are done, so suppose that . Suppose that are elements of such that and . Writing for some , we have

By hypothesis, ; note that as and we also have . This implies that and thus . We then have

We conclude that for fixed with , there are at most elements of such that . Iterating this with a greedy algorithm, we see that the number of with is at most ; since , this implies that

and the claim follows.

Now we can quickly obtain a higher degree version of Lemma 1:

Proposition 4 (Weyl exponential sum estimate, inverse form)Let be an arithmetic progression of length at most for some , and let be a polynomial of some degree at most . Iffor some , then there exists a subprogression of with such that varies by at most on .

*Proof:* We induct on . The cases are immediate from Lemma 1. Now suppose that , and that the claim had already been proven for . To simplify the notation we allow implied constants to depend on . Let the hypotheses be as in the proposition. Clearly cannot exceed . By shrinking as necessary we may assume that for some sufficiently small constant depending on .

By rescaling we may assume . By Lemma 3, we see that for choices of such that

for some interval . We write , then is a polynomial of degree at most with leading coefficient . We conclude from induction hypothesis that for each such , there exists a natural number such that , by double-counting, this implies that there are integers in the interval such that . Applying Lemma 3, we conclude that either , or that

In the former case the claim is trivial (just take to be a point), so we may assume that we are in the latter case.

We partition into arithmetic progressions of spacing and length comparable to for some large depending on to be chosen later. By hypothesis, we have

so by the pigeonhole principle, we have

for at least one such progression . On this progression, we may use the binomial theorem and (4) to write as a polynomial in of degree at most , plus an error of size . We thus can write for for some polynomial of degree at most . By the triangle inequality, we thus have (for large enough) that

and hence by induction hypothesis we may find a subprogression of of size such that varies by most on , and thus (for large enough again) that varies by at most on , and the claim follows.

This gives the following corollary (also given as Exercise 16 in this previous blog post):

Corollary 5 (Weyl exponential sum estimate, inverse form II)Let be a discrete interval for some , and let polynomial of some degree at most for some . Iffor some , then there is a natural number such that for all .

One can obtain much better exponents here using Vinogradov’s mean value theorem; see Theorem 1.6 this paper of Wooley. (Thanks to Mariusz Mirek for this reference.) However, this weaker result already suffices for many applications, and does not need any result as deep as the mean value theorem.

*Proof:* To simplify notation we allow implied constants to depend on . As before, we may assume that for some small constant depending only on . We may also assume that for some large , as the claim is trivial otherwise (set ).

Applying Proposition 4, we can find a natural number and an arithmetic subprogression of such that and such that varies by at most on . Writing for some interval of length and some , we conclude that the polynomial varies by at most on . Taking order differences, we conclude that the coefficient of this polynomial is ; by the binomial theorem, this implies that differs by at most on from a polynomial of degree at most . Iterating this, we conclude that the coefficient of is for , and the claim then follows by inverting the change of variables (and replacing with a larger quantity such as as necessary).

For future reference we also record a higher degree version of the Vinogradov lemma.

Lemma 6 (Polynomial Vinogradov lemma)Let be a discrete interval for some , and let be a polynomial of degree at most for some such that for at least values of , for some . Then either

or else there is a natural number such that

for all .

*Proof:* We induct on . For this follows from Lemma 3 (noting that if then ), so suppose that and that the claim is already proven for . We now allow all implied constants to depend on .

For each , let denote the number of such that . By hypothesis, , and clearly , so we must have for choices of . For each such , we then have for choices of , so by induction hypothesis, either (5) or (6) holds, or else for choices of , there is a natural number such that

for , where are the coefficients of the degree polynomial . We may of course assume it is the latter which holds. By the pigeonhole principle we may take to be independent of .

Since , we have

for choices of , so by Lemma 3, either (5) or (6) holds, or else (after increasing as necessary) we have

We can again assume it is the latter that holds. This implies that modulo , so that

for choices of . Arguing as before and iterating, we obtain the claim.

The above results also extend to higher dimensions. Here is the higher dimensional version of Proposition 4:

Proposition 7 (Multidimensional Weyl exponential sum estimate, inverse form)Let and , and let be arithmetic progressions of length at most for each . Let be a polynomial of degrees at most in each of the variables separately. Iffor some , then there exists a subprogression of with for each such that varies by at most on .

A much more general statement, in which the polynomial phase is replaced by a nilsequence, and in which one does not necessarily assume the exponential sum is small, is given in Theorem 8.6 of this paper of Ben Green and myself, but it involves far more notation to even state properly.

*Proof:* We induct on . The case was established in Proposition 5, so we assume that and that the claim has already been proven for . To simplify notation we allow all implied constants to depend on . We may assume that for some small depending only on .

By a linear change of variables, we may assume that for all .

We write . First suppose that . Then by the pigeonhole principle we can find such that

and the claim then follows from the induction hypothesis. Thus we may assume that for some large depending only on . Similarly we may assume that for all .

By the triangle inequality, we have

The inner sum is , and the outer sum has terms. Thus, for choices of , one has

for some polynomials of degrees at most in the variables . For each obeying (7), we apply Corollary 5 to conclude that there exists a natural number such that

for (the claim also holds for but we discard it as being trivial). By the pigeonhole principle, there thus exists a natural number such that

for all and for choices of . If we write

where is a polynomial of degrees at most , then for choices of we then have

Applying Lemma 6 in the and the largeness hypotheses on the (and also the assumption that ) we conclude (after enlarging as necessary, and pigeonholing to keep independent of ) that

for all (note that we now include that case, which is no longer trivial) and for choices of . Iterating this, we eventually conclude (after enlarging as necessary) that

whenever for , with nonzero. Permuting the indices, and observing that the claim is trivial for , we in fact obtain (8) for all , at which point the claim easily follows by taking for each .

An inspection of the proof of the above result (or alternatively, by combining the above result again with many applications of Lemma 6) reveals the following general form of Proposition 4, which was posed as Exercise 17 in this previous blog post, but had a slight misprint in it (it did not properly treat the possibility that some of the could be small) and was a bit trickier to prove than anticipated (in fact, the reason for this post was that I was asked to supply a more detailed solution for this exercise):

Proposition 8 (Multidimensional Weyl exponential sum estimate, inverse form, II)Let be an natural number, and for each , let be a discrete interval for some . Letbe a polynomial in variables of multidegrees for some . If

for some , or else there is a natural number such that

Again, the factor of is natural in this bound. In the case, the option (10) may be deleted since (11) trivially holds in this case, but this simplification is no longer available for since one needs (10) to hold for *all* (not just one ) to make (11) completely trivial. Indeed, the above proposition fails for if one removes (10) completely, as can be seen for instance by inspecting the exponential sum , which has size comparable to regardless of how irrational is.

This week I have been at a Banff workshop “Combinatorics meets Ergodic theory“, focused on the combinatorics surrounding Szemerédi’s theorem and the Gowers uniformity norms on one hand, and the ergodic theory surrounding Furstenberg’s multiple recurrence theorem and the Host-Kra structure theory on the other. This was quite a fruitful workshop, and directly inspired the various posts this week on this blog. Incidentally, BIRS being as efficient as it is, videos for this week’s talks are already online.

As mentioned in the previous two posts, Ben Green, Tamar Ziegler, and myself proved the following inverse theorem for the Gowers norms:

Theorem 1 (Inverse theorem for Gowers norms)Let and be integers, and let . Suppose that is a function supported on such thatThen there exists a filtered nilmanifold of degree and complexity , a polynomial sequence , and a Lipschitz function of Lipschitz constant such that

There is a higher dimensional generalisation, which first appeared explicitly (in a more general form) in this preprint of Szegedy (which used a slightly different argument than the one of Ben, Tammy, and myself; see also this previous preprint of Szegedy with related results):

Theorem 2 (Inverse theorem for multidimensional Gowers norms)Let and be integers, and let . Suppose that is a function supported on such thatThen there exists a filtered nilmanifold of degree and complexity , a polynomial sequence , and a Lipschitz function of Lipschitz constant such that

The case of this theorem was recently used by Wenbo Sun. One can replace the polynomial sequence with a linear sequence if desired by using a lifting trick (essentially due to Furstenberg, but which appears explicitly in Appendix C of my paper with Ben and Tammy).

In this post I would like to record a very neat and simple observation of Ben Green and Nikos Frantzikinakis, that uses the tool of Freiman isomorphisms to derive Theorem 2 as a corollary of the one-dimensional theorem. Namely, consider the linear map defined by

that is to say is the digit string base that has digits . This map is a linear map from to a subset of of density . Furthermore it has the following “Freiman isomorphism” property: if lie in with in the image set of for all , then there exist (unique) lifts such that

and

for all . Indeed, the injectivity of on uniquely determines the sum for each , and one can use base arithmetic to verify that the alternating sum of these sums on any -facet of the cube vanishes, which gives the claim. (In the language of additive combinatorics, the point is that is a Freiman isomorphism of order (say) on .)

Now let be the function defined by setting whenever , with vanishing outside of . If obeys (1), then from the above Freiman isomorphism property we have

Applying the one-dimensional inverse theorem (Theorem 1), with reduced by a factor of and replaced by , this implies the existence of a filtered nilmanifold of degree and complexity , a polynomial sequence , and a Lipschitz function of Lipschitz constant such that

which by the Freiman isomorphism property again implies that

But the map is clearly a polynomial map from to (the composition of two polynomial maps is polynomial, see e.g. Appendix B of my paper with Ben and Tammy), and the claim follows.

Remark 3This trick appears to be largely restricted to the case of boundedly generated groups such as ; I do not see any easy way to deduce an inverse theorem for, say, from the -inverse theorem by this method.

Remark 4By combining this argument with the one in the previous post, one can obtain a weak ergodic inverse theorem for -actions. Interestingly, the Freiman isomorphism argument appears to be difficult to implement directly in the ergodic category; in particular, there does not appear to be an obvious direct way to derive the Host-Kra inverse theorem for actions (a result first obtained in the PhD thesis of Griesmer) from the counterpart for actions.

Note: this post is of a particularly technical nature, in particular presuming familiarity with nilsequences, nilsystems, characteristic factors, etc., and is primarily intended for experts.

As mentioned in the previous post, Ben Green, Tamar Ziegler, and myself proved the following inverse theorem for the Gowers norms:

Theorem 1 (Inverse theorem for Gowers norms)Let and be integers, and let . Suppose that is a function supported on such thatThen there exists a filtered nilmanifold of degree and complexity , a polynomial sequence , and a Lipschitz function of Lipschitz constant such that

This result was conjectured earlier by Ben Green and myself; this conjecture was strongly motivated by an analogous inverse theorem in ergodic theory by Host and Kra, which we formulate here in a form designed to resemble Theorem 1 as closely as possible:

Theorem 2 (Inverse theorem for Gowers-Host-Kra seminorms)Let be an integer, and let be an ergodic, countably generated measure-preserving system. Suppose that one hasfor all non-zero (all spaces are real-valued in this post). Then is an inverse limit (in the category of measure-preserving systems, up to almost everywhere equivalence) of ergodic degree nilsystems, that is to say systems of the form for some degree filtered nilmanifold and a group element that acts ergodically on .

It is a natural question to ask if there is any logical relationship between the two theorems. In the finite field category, one can deduce the combinatorial inverse theorem from the ergodic inverse theorem by a variant of the Furstenberg correspondence principle, as worked out by Tamar Ziegler and myself, however in the current context of -actions, the connection is less clear.

One can split Theorem 2 into two components:

Theorem 3 (Weak inverse theorem for Gowers-Host-Kra seminorms)Let be an integer, and let be an ergodic, countably generated measure-preserving system. Suppose that one hasfor all non-zero , where . Then is a

factorof an inverse limit of ergodic degree nilsystems.

Theorem 4 (Pro-nilsystems closed under factors)Let be an integer. Then any factor of an inverse limit of ergodic degree nilsystems, is again an inverse limit of ergodic degree nilsystems.

Indeed, it is clear that Theorem 2 implies both Theorem 3 and Theorem 4, and conversely that the two latter theorems jointly imply the former. Theorem 4 is, in principle, purely a fact about nilsystems, and should have an independent proof, but this is not known; the only known proofs go through the full machinery needed to prove Theorem 2 (or the closely related theorem of Ziegler). (However, the fact that a factor of a nilsystem is again a nilsystem was established previously by Parry.)

The purpose of this post is to record a partial implication in reverse direction to the correspondence principle:

As mentioned at the start of the post, a fair amount of familiarity with the area is presumed here, and some routine steps will be presented with only a fairly brief explanation.

A few years ago, Ben Green, Tamar Ziegler, and myself proved the following (rather technical-looking) inverse theorem for the Gowers norms:

Theorem 1 (Discrete inverse theorem for Gowers norms)Let and be integers, and let . Suppose that is a function supported on such that

For the definitions of “filtered nilmanifold”, “degree”, “complexity”, and “polynomial sequence”, see the paper of Ben, Tammy, and myself. (I should caution the reader that this blog post will presume a fair amount of familiarity with this subfield of additive combinatorics.) This result has a number of applications, for instance to establishing asymptotics for linear equations in the primes, but this will not be the focus of discussion here.

The purpose of this post is to record the observation that this “discrete” inverse theorem, together with an equidistribution theorem for nilsequences that Ben and I worked out in a separate paper, implies a continuous version:

Theorem 2 (Continuous inverse theorem for Gowers norms)Let be an integer, and let . Suppose that is a measurable function supported on such thatThen there exists a filtered nilmanifold of degree and complexity , a (smooth) polynomial sequence , and a Lipschitz function of Lipschitz constant such that

The interval can be easily replaced with any other fixed interval by a change of variables. A key point here is that the bounds are completely uniform in the choice of . Note though that the coefficients of can be arbitrarily large (and this is necessary, as can be seen just by considering functions of the form for some arbitrarily large frequency ).

It is likely that one could prove Theorem 2 by carefully going through the proof of Theorem 1 and replacing all instances of with (and making appropriate modifications to the argument to accommodate this). However, the proof of Theorem 1 is quite lengthy. Here, we shall proceed by the usual limiting process of viewing the continuous interval as a limit of the discrete interval as . However there will be some problems taking the limit due to a failure of compactness, and specifically with regards to the coefficients of the polynomial sequence produced by Theorem 1, after normalising these coefficients by . Fortunately, a factorisation theorem from a paper of Ben Green and myself resolves this problem by splitting into a “smooth” part which does enjoy good compactness properties, as well as “totally equidistributed” and “periodic” parts which can be eliminated using the measurability (and thus, approximate smoothness), of .

Szemerédi’s theorem asserts that any subset of the integers of positive upper density contains arbitrarily large arithmetic progressions. Here is an equivalent quantitative form of this theorem:

Theorem 1 (Szemerédi’s theorem)Let be a positive integer, and let be a function with for some , where we use the averaging notation , , etc.. Then for we havefor some depending only on .

The equivalence is basically thanks to an averaging argument of Varnavides; see for instance Chapter 11 of my book with Van Vu or this previous blog post for a discussion. We have removed the cases as they are trivial and somewhat degenerate.

There are now many proofs of this theorem. Some time ago, I took an ergodic-theoretic proof of Furstenberg and converted it to a purely finitary proof of the theorem. The argument used some simplifying innovations that had been developed since the original work of Furstenberg (in particular, deployment of the Gowers uniformity norms, as well as a “dual” norm that I called the uniformly almost periodic norm, and an emphasis on van der Waerden’s theorem for handling the “compact extension” component of the argument). But the proof was still quite messy. However, as discussed in this previous blog post, messy finitary proofs can often be cleaned up using nonstandard analysis. Thus, there should be a nonstandard version of the Furstenberg ergodic theory argument that is relatively clean. I decided (after some encouragement from Ben Green and Isaac Goldbring) to write down most of the details of this argument in this blog post, though for sake of brevity I will skim rather quickly over arguments that were already discussed at length in other blog posts. In particular, I will presume familiarity with nonstandard analysis (in particular, the notion of a standard part of a bounded real number, and the Loeb measure construction), see for instance this previous blog post for a discussion.

In analytic number theory, there is a well known analogy between the prime factorisation of a large integer, and the cycle decomposition of a large permutation; this analogy is central to the topic of “anatomy of the integers”, as discussed for instance in this survey article of Granville. Consider for instance the following two parallel lists of facts (stated somewhat informally). Firstly, some facts about the prime factorisation of large integers:

- Every positive integer has a prime factorisation
into (not necessarily distinct) primes , which is unique up to rearrangement. Taking logarithms, we obtain a partition

of .

- (Prime number theorem) A randomly selected integer of size will be prime with probability when is large.
- If is a randomly selected large integer of size , and is a randomly selected prime factor of (with each index being chosen with probability ), then is approximately uniformly distributed between and . (See Proposition 9 of this previous blog post.)
- The set of real numbers arising from the prime factorisation of a large random number converges (away from the origin, and in a suitable weak sense) to the Poisson-Dirichlet process in the limit . (See the previously mentioned blog post for a definition of the Poisson-Dirichlet process, and a proof of this claim.)

Now for the facts about the cycle decomposition of large permutations:

- Every permutation has a cycle decomposition
into disjoint cycles , which is unique up to rearrangement, and where we count each fixed point of as a cycle of length . If is the length of the cycle , we obtain a partition

of .

- (Prime number theorem for permutations) A randomly selected permutation of will be an -cycle with probability exactly . (This was noted in this previous blog post.)
- If is a random permutation in , and is a randomly selected cycle of (with each being selected with probability ), then is exactly uniformly distributed on . (See Proposition 8 of this blog post.)
- The set of real numbers arising from the cycle decomposition of a random permutation converges (in a suitable sense) to the Poisson-Dirichlet process in the limit . (Again, see this previous blog post for details.)

See this previous blog post (or the aforementioned article of Granville, or the Notices article of Arratia, Barbour, and Tavaré) for further exploration of the analogy between prime factorisation of integers and cycle decomposition of permutations.

There is however something unsatisfying about the analogy, in that it is not clear *why* there should be such a kinship between integer prime factorisation and permutation cycle decomposition. It turns out that the situation is clarified if one uses another fundamental analogy in number theory, namely the analogy between integers and polynomials over a finite field , discussed for instance in this previous post; this is the simplest case of the more general function field analogy between number fields and function fields. Just as we restrict attention to positive integers when talking about prime factorisation, it will be reasonable to restrict attention to monic polynomials . We then have another analogous list of facts, proven very similarly to the corresponding list of facts for the integers:

- Every monic polynomial has a factorisation
into irreducible monic polynomials , which is unique up to rearrangement. Taking degrees, we obtain a partition

of .

- (Prime number theorem for polynomials) A randomly selected monic polynomial of degree will be irreducible with probability when is fixed and is large.
- If is a random monic polynomial of degree , and is a random irreducible factor of (with each selected with probability ), then is approximately uniformly distributed in when is fixed and is large.
- The set of real numbers arising from the factorisation of a randomly selected polynomial of degree converges (in a suitable sense) to the Poisson-Dirichlet process when is fixed and is large.

The above list of facts addressed the *large limit* of the polynomial ring , where the order of the field is held fixed, but the degrees of the polynomials go to infinity. This is the limit that is most closely analogous to the integers . However, there is another interesting asymptotic limit of polynomial rings to consider, namely the *large limit* where it is now the *degree* that is held fixed, but the order of the field goes to infinity. Actually to simplify the exposition we will use the slightly more restrictive limit where the *characteristic* of the field goes to infinity (again keeping the degree fixed), although all of the results proven below for the large limit turn out to be true as well in the large limit.

The large (or large ) limit is technically a different limit than the large limit, but in practice the asymptotic statistics of the two limits often agree quite closely. For instance, here is the prime number theorem in the large limit:

Theorem 1 (Prime number theorem)The probability that a random monic polynomial of degree is irreducible is in the limit where is fixed and the characteristic goes to infinity.

*Proof:* There are monic polynomials of degree . If is irreducible, then the zeroes of are distinct and lie in the finite field , but do not lie in any proper subfield of that field. Conversely, every element of that does not lie in a proper subfield is the root of a unique monic polynomial in of degree (the minimal polynomial of ). Since the union of all the proper subfields of has size , the total number of irreducible polynomials of degree is thus , and the claim follows.

Remark 2The above argument and inclusion-exclusion in fact gives the well known exact formula for the number of irreducible monic polynomials of degree .

Now we can give a precise connection between the cycle distribution of a random permutation, and (the large limit of) the irreducible factorisation of a polynomial, giving a (somewhat indirect, but still connected) link between permutation cycle decomposition and integer factorisation:

Theorem 3The partition of a random monic polynomial of degree converges in distribution to the partition of a random permutation of length , in the limit where is fixed and the characteristic goes to infinity.

We can quickly prove this theorem as follows. We first need a basic fact:

Lemma 4 (Most polynomials square-free in large limit)A random monic polynomial of degree will be square-free with probability when is fixed and (or ) goes to infinity. In a similar spirit, two randomly selected monic polynomials of degree will be coprime with probability if are fixed and or goes to infinity.

*Proof:* For any polynomial of degree , the probability that is divisible by is at most . Summing over all polynomials of degree , and using the union bound, we see that the probability that is *not* squarefree is at most , giving the first claim. For the second, observe from the first claim (and the fact that has only a bounded number of factors) that is squarefree with probability , giving the claim.

Now we can prove the theorem. Elementary combinatorics tells us that the probability of a random permutation consisting of cycles of length for , where are nonnegative integers with , is precisely

since there are ways to write a given tuple of cycles in cycle notation in nondecreasing order of length, and ways to select the labels for the cycle notation. On the other hand, by Theorem 1 (and using Lemma 4 to isolate the small number of cases involving repeated factors) the number of monic polynomials of degree that are the product of irreducible polynomials of degree is

which simplifies to

and the claim follows.

This was a fairly short calculation, but it still doesn’t quite explain *why* there is such a link between the cycle decomposition of permutations and the factorisation of a polynomial. One immediate thought might be to try to link the multiplication structure of permutations in with the multiplication structure of polynomials; however, these structures are too dissimilar to set up a convincing analogy. For instance, the multiplication law on polynomials is abelian and non-invertible, whilst the multiplication law on is (extremely) non-abelian but invertible. Also, the multiplication of a degree and a degree polynomial is a degree polynomial, whereas the group multiplication law on permutations does not take a permutation in and a permutation in and return a permutation in .

I recently found (after some discussions with Ben Green) what I feel to be a satisfying conceptual (as opposed to computational) explanation of this link, which I will place below the fold.

Suppose that are two subgroups of some ambient group , with the index of in being finite. Then is the union of left cosets of , thus for some set of cardinality . The elements of are not entirely arbitrary with regards to . For instance, if is a *normal* subgroup of , then for each , the conjugation map preserves . In particular, if we write for the conjugate of by , then

Even if is not normal in , it turns out that the conjugation map *approximately* preserves , if is bounded. To quantify this, let us call two subgroups *-commensurate* for some if one has

Proposition 1Let be groups, with finite index . Then for every , the groups and are -commensurate, in fact

*Proof:* One can partition into left translates of , as well as left translates of . Combining the partitions, we see that can be partitioned into at most non-empty sets of the form . Each of these sets is easily seen to be a left translate of the subgroup , thus . Since

and , we obtain the claim.

One can replace the inclusion by commensurability, at the cost of some worsening of the constants:

Corollary 2Let be -commensurate subgroups of . Then for every , the groups and are -commensurate.

*Proof:* Applying the previous proposition with replaced by , we see that for every , and are -commensurate. Since and have index at most in and respectively, the claim follows.

It turns out that a similar phenomenon holds for the more general concept of an *approximate group*, and gives a “classification” of all the approximate groups containing a given approximate group as a “bounded index approximate subgroup”. Recall that a -approximate group in a group for some is a symmetric subset of containing the identity, such that the product set can be covered by at most left translates of (and thus also right translates, by the symmetry of ). For simplicity we will restrict attention to finite approximate groups so that we can use their cardinality as a measure of size. We call finite two approximate groups *-commensurate* if one has

note that this is consistent with the previous notion of commensurability for genuine groups.

Theorem 3Let be a group, and let be real numbers. Let be a finite -approximate group, and let be a symmetric subset of that contains .

- (i) If is a -approximate group with , then one has for some set of cardinality at most . Furthermore, for each , the approximate groups and are -commensurate.
- (ii) Conversely, if for some set of cardinality at most , and and are -commensurate for all , then , and is a -approximate group.

Informally, the assertion that is an approximate group containing as a “bounded index approximate subgroup” is equivalent to being covered by a bounded number of shifts of , where approximately normalises in the sense that and have large intersection. Thus, to classify all such , the problem essentially reduces to that of classifying those that approximately normalise .

To prove the theorem, we recall some standard lemmas from arithmetic combinatorics, which are the foundation stones of the “Ruzsa calculus” that we will use to establish our results:

Lemma 4 (Ruzsa covering lemma)If and are finite non-empty subsets of , then one has for some set with cardinality .

*Proof:* We take to be a subset of with the property that the translates are disjoint in , and such that is maximal with respect to set inclusion. The required properties of are then easily verified.

Lemma 5 (Ruzsa triangle inequality)If are finite non-empty subsets of , then

*Proof:* If is an element of with and , then from the identity we see that can be written as the product of an element of and an element of in at least distinct ways. The claim follows.

Now we can prove (i). By the Ruzsa covering lemma, can be covered by at most

left-translates of , and hence by at most left-translates of , thus for some . Since only intersects if , we may assume that

and hence for any

By the Ruzsa covering lemma again, this implies that can be covered by at most left-translates of , and hence by at most left-translates of . By the pigeonhole principle, there thus exists a group element with

Since

and

the claim follows.

Now we prove (ii). Clearly

Now we control the size of . We have

From the Ruzsa triangle inequality and symmetry we have

and thus

By the Ruzsa covering lemma, this implies that is covered by at most left-translates of , hence by at most left-translates of . Since , the claim follows.

We now establish some auxiliary propositions about commensurability of approximate groups. The first claim is that commensurability is approximately transitive:

Proposition 6Let be a -approximate group, be a -approximate group, and be a -approximate group. If and are -commensurate, and and are -commensurate, then and are -commensurate.

*Proof:* From two applications of the Ruzsa triangle inequality we have

By the Ruzsa covering lemma, we may thus cover by at most left-translates of , and hence by left-translates of . By the pigeonhole principle, there thus exists a group element such that

and so by arguing as in the proof of part (i) of the theorem we have

and similarly

and the claim follows.

The next proposition asserts that the union and (modified) intersection of two commensurate approximate groups is again an approximate group:

Proposition 7Let be a -approximate group, be a -approximate group, and suppose that and are -commensurate. Then is a -approximate subgroup, and is a -approximate subgroup.

Using this proposition, one may obtain a variant of the previous theorem where the containment is replaced by commensurability; we leave the details to the interested reader.

*Proof:* We begin with . Clearly is symmetric and contains the identity. We have . The set is already covered by left translates of , and hence of ; similarly is covered by left translates of . As for , we observe from the Ruzsa triangle inequality that

and hence by the Ruzsa covering lemma, is covered by at most left translates of , and hence by left translates of , and hence of . Similarly is covered by at most left translates of . The claim follows.

Now we consider . Again, this is clearly symmetric and contains the identity. Repeating the previous arguments, we see that is covered by at most left-translates of , and hence there exists a group element with

Now observe that

and so by the Ruzsa covering lemma, can be covered by at most left-translates of . But this latter set is (as observed previously) contained in , and the claim follows.

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