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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus for instance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

so in particular

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is also an easy submultiplicativity result:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Denton, Stephen Parke, Xining Zhang, and I have just uploaded to the arXiv a completely rewritten version of our previous paper, now titled “Eigenvectors from Eigenvalues: a survey of a basic identity in linear algebra“. This paper is now a survey of the various literature surrounding the following basic identity in linear algebra, which we propose to call the eigenvector-eigenvalue identity:

Theorem 1 (Eigenvector-eigenvalue identity) Let ${A}$ be an ${n \times n}$ Hermitian matrix, with eigenvalues ${\lambda_1(A),\dots,\lambda_n(A)}$. Let ${v_i}$ be a unit eigenvector corresponding to the eigenvalue ${\lambda_i(A)}$, and let ${v_{i,j}}$ be the ${j^{th}}$ component of ${v_i}$. Then

$\displaystyle |v_{i,j}|^2 \prod_{k=1; k \neq i}^n (\lambda_i(A) - \lambda_k(A)) = \prod_{k=1}^{n-1} (\lambda_i(A) - \lambda_k(M_j))$

where ${M_j}$ is the ${n-1 \times n-1}$ Hermitian matrix formed by deleting the ${j^{th}}$ row and column from ${A}$.

When we posted the first version of this paper, we were unaware of previous appearances of this identity in the literature; a related identity had been used by Erdos-Schlein-Yau and by myself and Van Vu for applications to random matrix theory, but to our knowledge this specific identity appeared to be new. Even two months after our preprint first appeared on the arXiv in August, we had only learned of one other place in the literature where the identity showed up (by Forrester and Zhang, who also cite an earlier paper of Baryshnikov).

The situation changed rather dramatically with the publication of a popular science article in Quanta on this identity in November, which gave this result significantly more exposure. Within a few weeks we became informed (through private communication, online discussion, and exploration of the citation tree around the references we were alerted to) of over three dozen places where the identity, or some other closely related identity, had previously appeared in the literature, in such areas as numerical linear algebra, various aspects of graph theory (graph reconstruction, chemical graph theory, and walks on graphs), inverse eigenvalue problems, random matrix theory, and neutrino physics. As a consequence, we have decided to completely rewrite our article in order to collate this crowdsourced information, and survey the history of this identity, all the known proofs (we collect seven distinct ways to prove the identity (or generalisations thereof)), and all the applications of it that we are currently aware of. The citation graph of the literature that this ad hoc crowdsourcing effort produced is only very weakly connected, which we found surprising:

The earliest explicit appearance of the eigenvector-eigenvalue identity we are now aware of is in a 1966 paper of Thompson, although this paper is only cited (directly or indirectly) by a fraction of the known literature, and also there is a precursor identity of Löwner from 1934 that can be shown to imply the identity as a limiting case. At the end of the paper we speculate on some possible reasons why this identity only achieved a modest amount of recognition and dissemination prior to the November 2019 Quanta article.

Earlier this month, Hao Huang (who, incidentally, was a graduate student here at UCLA) gave a remarkably short proof of a long-standing problem in theoretical computer science known as the sensitivity conjecture. See for instance this blog post of Gil Kalai for further discussion and links to many other online discussions of this result. One formulation of the theorem proved is as follows. Define the ${n}$-dimensional hypercube graph ${Q_n}$ to be the graph with vertex set ${({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n}$, and with every vertex ${v \in ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n}$ joined to the ${n}$ vertices ${v + e_1,\dots,v+e_n}$, where ${e_1,\dots,e_n}$ is the standard basis of ${({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n}$.

Theorem 1 (Lower bound on maximum degree of induced subgraphs of hypercube) Let ${E}$ be a set of at least ${2^{n-1}+1}$ vertices in ${Q_n}$. Then there is a vertex in ${E}$ that is adjacent (in ${Q_n}$) to at least ${\sqrt{n}}$ other vertices in ${E}$.

The bound ${\sqrt{n}}$ (or more precisely, ${\lceil \sqrt{n} \rceil}$) is completely sharp, as shown by Chung, Furedi, Graham, and Seymour; we describe this example below the fold. When combined with earlier reductions of Gotsman-Linial and Nisan-Szegedy; we give these below the fold also.

Let ${A = (a_{vw})_{v,w \in ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n}}$ be the adjacency matrix of ${Q_n}$ (where we index the rows and columns directly by the vertices in ${({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n}$, rather than selecting some enumeration ${1,\dots,2^n}$), thus ${a_{vw}=1}$ when ${w = v+e_i}$ for some ${i=1,\dots,n}$, and ${a_{vw}=0}$ otherwise. The above theorem then asserts that if ${E}$ is a set of at least ${2^{n-1}+1}$ vertices, then the ${E \times E}$ minor ${(a_{vw})_{v,w \in E}}$ of ${A}$ has a row (or column) that contains at least ${\sqrt{n}}$ non-zero entries.

The key step to prove this theorem is the construction of rather curious variant ${\tilde A}$ of the adjacency matrix ${A}$:

Proposition 2 There exists a ${({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n \times ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n}$ matrix ${\tilde A = (\tilde a_{vw})_{v,w \in ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n}}$ which is entrywise dominated by ${A}$ in the sense that

$\displaystyle |\tilde a_{vw}| \leq a_{vw} \hbox{ for all } v,w \in ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n \ \ \ \ \ (1)$

and such that ${\tilde A}$ has ${\sqrt{n}}$ as an eigenvalue with multiplicity ${2^{n-1}}$.

Assuming this proposition, the proof of Theorem 1 can now be quickly concluded. If we view ${\tilde A}$ as a linear operator on the ${2^n}$-dimensional space ${\ell^2(({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n)}$ of functions of ${({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n}$, then by hypothesis this space has a ${2^{n-1}}$-dimensional subspace ${V}$ on which ${\tilde A}$ acts by multiplication by ${\sqrt{n}}$. If ${E}$ is a set of at least ${2^{n-1}+1}$ vertices in ${Q_n}$, then the space ${\ell^2(E)}$ of functions on ${E}$ has codimension at most ${2^{n-1}-1}$ in ${\ell^2(({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n)}$, and hence intersects ${V}$ non-trivially. Thus the ${E \times E}$ minor ${\tilde A_E}$ of ${\tilde A}$ also has ${\sqrt{n}}$ as an eigenvalue (this can also be derived from the Cauchy interlacing inequalities), and in particular this minor has operator norm at least ${\sqrt{n}}$. By Schur’s test, this implies that one of the rows or columns of this matrix has absolute values summing to at least ${\sqrt{n}}$, giving the claim.

Remark 3 The argument actually gives a strengthening of Theorem 1: there exists a vertex ${v_0}$ of ${E}$ with the property that for every natural number ${k}$, there are at least ${n^{k/2}}$ paths of length ${k}$ in the restriction ${Q_n|_E}$ of ${Q_n}$ to ${E}$ that start from ${v_0}$. Indeed, if we let ${(u_v)_{v \in E}}$ be an eigenfunction of ${\tilde A}$ on ${\ell^2(E)}$, and let ${v_0}$ be a vertex in ${E}$ that maximises the value of ${|u_{v_0}|}$, then for any ${k}$ we have that the ${v_0}$ component of ${\tilde A_E^k (u_v)_{v \in E}}$ is equal to ${n^{k/2} |u_{v_0}|}$; on the other hand, by the triangle inequality, this component is at most ${|u_{v_0}|}$ times the number of length ${k}$ paths in ${Q_n|_E}$ starting from ${v_0}$, giving the claim.

This argument can be viewed as an instance of a more general “interlacing method” to try to control the behaviour of a graph ${G}$ on all large subsets ${E}$ by first generating a matrix ${\tilde A}$ on ${G}$ with very good spectral properties, which are then partially inherited by the ${E \times E}$ minor of ${\tilde A}$ by interlacing inequalities. In previous literature using this method (see e.g., this survey of Haemers, or this paper of Wilson), either the original adjacency matrix ${A}$, or some non-negatively weighted version of that matrix, was used as the controlling matrix ${\tilde A}$; the novelty here is the use of signed controlling matrices. It will be interesting to see what further variants and applications of this method emerge in the near future. (Thanks to Anurag Bishoi in the comments for these references.)

The “magic” step in the above argument is constructing ${\tilde A}$. In Huang’s paper, ${\tilde A}$ is constructed recursively in the dimension ${n}$ in a rather simple but mysterious fashion. Very recently, Roman Karasev gave an interpretation of this matrix in terms of the exterior algebra on ${{\bf R}^n}$. In this post I would like to give an alternate interpretation in terms of the operation of twisted convolution, which originated in the theory of the Heisenberg group in quantum mechanics.

Firstly note that the original adjacency matrix ${A}$, when viewed as a linear operator on ${\ell^2(({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n)}$, is a convolution operator

$\displaystyle A f = f * \mu$

where

$\displaystyle \mu(x) := \sum_{i=1}^n 1_{x=e_i}$

is the counting measure on the standard basis ${e_1,\dots,e_n}$, and ${*}$ denotes the ordinary convolution operation

$\displaystyle f * g(x) := \sum_{y \in ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n} f(y) g(x-y) = \sum_{y_1+y_2 = x} f(y_1) g(y_2).$

As is well known, this operation is commutative and associative. Thus for instance the square ${A^2}$ of the adjacency operator ${A}$ is also a convolution operator

$\displaystyle A^2 f = f * (\mu * \mu)(x)$

where the convolution kernel ${\mu * \mu}$ is moderately complicated:

$\displaystyle \mu*\mu(x) = n \times 1_{x=0} + \sum_{1 \leq i < j \leq n} 2 \times 1_{x = e_i + e_j}.$

The factor ${2}$ in this expansion comes from combining the two terms ${1_{x=e_i} * 1_{x=e_j}}$ and ${1_{x=e_j} * 1_{x=e_i}}$, which both evaluate to ${1_{x=e_i+e_j}}$.

More generally, given any bilinear form ${B: ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n \times ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n \rightarrow {\bf Z}/2{\bf Z}}$, one can define the twisted convolution

$\displaystyle f *_B g(x) := \sum_{y \in ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n} (-1)^{B(y,x-y)} f(y) g(x-y)$

$\displaystyle = \sum_{y_1+y_2=x} (-1)^{B(y_1,y_2)} f(y_1) g(y_2)$

of two functions ${f,g \in \ell^2(({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n)}$. This operation is no longer commutative (unless ${B}$ is symmetric). However, it remains associative; indeed, one can easily compute that

$\displaystyle (f *_B g) *_B h(x) = f *_B (g *_B h)(x)$

$\displaystyle = \sum_{y_1+y_2+y_3=x} (-1)^{B(y_1,y_2)+B(y_1,y_3)+B(y_2,y_3)} f(y_1) g(y_2) h(y_3).$

In particular, if we define the twisted convolution operator

$\displaystyle A_B f(x) := f *_B \mu(x)$

then the square ${A_B^2}$ is also a twisted convolution operator

$\displaystyle A_B^2 f = f *_B (\mu *_B \mu)$

and the twisted convolution kernel ${\mu *_B \mu}$ can be computed as

$\displaystyle \mu *_B \mu(x) = (\sum_{i=1}^n (-1)^{B(e_i,e_i)}) 1_{x=0}$

$\displaystyle + \sum_{1 \leq i < j \leq n} ((-1)^{B(e_i,e_j)} + (-1)^{B(e_j,e_i)}) 1_{x=e_i+e_j}.$

For general bilinear forms ${B}$, this twisted convolution is just as messy as ${\mu * \mu}$ is. But if we take the specific bilinear form

$\displaystyle B(x,y) := \sum_{1 \leq i < j \leq n} x_i y_j \ \ \ \ \ (2)$

then ${B(e_i,e_i)=0}$ for ${1 \leq i \leq n}$ and ${B(e_i,e_j)=1, B(e_j,e_i)=0}$ for ${1 \leq i < j \leq n}$, and the above twisted convolution simplifies to

$\displaystyle \mu *_B \mu(x) = n 1_{x=0}$

and now ${A_B^2}$ is very simple:

$\displaystyle A_B^2 f = n f.$

Thus the only eigenvalues of ${A_B}$ are ${+\sqrt{n}}$ and ${-\sqrt{n}}$. The matrix ${A_B}$ is entrywise dominated by ${A}$ in the sense of (1), and in particular has trace zero; thus the ${+\sqrt{n}}$ and ${-\sqrt{n}}$ eigenvalues must occur with equal multiplicity, so in particular the ${+\sqrt{n}}$ eigenvalue occurs with multiplicity ${2^{n-1}}$ since the matrix has dimensions ${2^n \times 2^n}$. This establishes Proposition 2.

Remark 4 Twisted convolution ${*_B}$ is actually just a component of ordinary convolution, but not on the original group ${({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n}$; instead it relates to convolution on a Heisenberg group extension of this group. More specifically, define the Heisenberg group ${H}$ to be the set of pairs ${(x, t) \in ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n \times ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})}$ with group law

$\displaystyle (x,t) \cdot (y,s) := (x+y, t+s+B(x,y))$

and inverse operation

$\displaystyle (x,t)^{-1} = (-x, -t+B(x,x))$

(one can dispense with the negative signs here if desired, since we are in characteristic two). Convolution on ${H}$ is defined in the usual manner: one has

$\displaystyle F*G( (x,t) ) := \sum_{(y,s) \in H} F(y,s) G( (y,s)^{-1} (x,t) )$

for any ${F,G \in \ell^2(H)}$. Now if ${f \in \ell^2(({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n)}$ is a function on the original group ${({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n}$, we can define the lift ${\tilde f \in \ell^2(H)}$ by the formula

$\displaystyle \tilde f(x,t) := (-1)^t f(x)$

and then by chasing all the definitions one soon verifies that

$\displaystyle \tilde f * \tilde g = 2 \widetilde{f *_B g}$

for any ${f,g \in \ell^2(({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n)}$, thus relating twisted convolution ${*_B}$ to Heisenberg group convolution ${*}$.

Remark 5 With the twisting by the specific bilinear form ${B}$ given by (2), convolution by ${1_{x=e_i}}$ and ${1_{x=e_j}}$ now anticommute rather than commute. This makes the twisted convolution algebra ${(\ell^2(({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n), *_B)}$ isomorphic to a Clifford algebra ${Cl({\bf R}^n,I_n)}$ (the real or complex algebra generated by formal generators ${v_1,\dots,v_n}$ subject to the relations ${(v_iv_j+v_jv_i)/2 = 1_{i=j}}$ for ${i,j=1,\dots,n}$) rather than the commutative algebra more familiar to abelian Fourier analysis. This connection to Clifford algebra (also observed independently by Tom Mrowka and by Daniel Matthews) may be linked to the exterior algebra interpretation of the argument in the recent preprint of Karasev mentioned above.

Remark 6 One could replace the form (2) in this argument by any other bilinear form ${B'}$ that obeyed the relations ${B'(e_i,e_i)=0}$ and ${B'(e_i,e_j) + B'(e_j,e_i)=1}$ for ${i \neq j}$. However, this additional level of generality does not add much; any such ${B'}$ will differ from ${B}$ by an antisymmetric form ${C}$ (so that ${C(x,x) = 0}$ for all ${x}$, which in characteristic two implied that ${C(x,y) = C(y,x)}$ for all ${x,y}$), and such forms can always be decomposed as ${C(x,y) = C'(x,y) + C'(y,x)}$, where ${C'(x,y) := \sum_{i. As such, the matrices ${A_B}$ and ${A_{B'}}$ are conjugate, with the conjugation operator being the diagonal matrix with entries ${(-1)^{C'(x,x)}}$ at each vertex ${x}$.

Remark 7 (Added later) This remark combines the two previous remarks. One can view any of the matrices ${A_{B'}}$ in Remark 6 as components of a single canonical matrix ${A_{Cl}}$ that is still of dimensions ${({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n \times ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n}$, but takes values in the Clifford algebra ${Cl({\bf R}^n,I_n)}$ from Remark 5; with this “universal algebra” perspective, one no longer needs to make any arbitrary choices of form ${B}$. More precisely, let ${\ell^2( ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n \rightarrow Cl({\bf R}^n,I_n))}$ denote the vector space of functions ${f: ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n \rightarrow Cl({\bf R}^n,I_n)}$ from the hypercube to the Clifford algebra; as a real vector space, this is a ${2^{2n}}$ dimensional space, isomorphic to the direct sum of ${2^n}$ copies of ${\ell^2(({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n)}$, as the Clifford algebra is itself ${2^n}$ dimensional. One can then define a canonical Clifford adjacency operator ${A_{Cl}}$ on this space by

$\displaystyle A_{Cl} f(x) := \sum_{i=1}^n f(x+e_i) v_i$

where ${v_1,\dots,v_n}$ are the generators of ${Cl({\bf R}^n,I_n)}$. This operator can either be identified with a Clifford-valued ${2^n \times 2^n}$ matrix or as a real-valued ${2^{2n} \times 2^{2n}}$ matrix. In either case one still has the key algebraic relations ${A_{Cl}^2 = n}$ and ${\mathrm{tr} A_{Cl} = 0}$, ensuring that when viewed as a real ${2^{2n} \times 2^{2n}}$ matrix, half of the eigenvalues are equal to ${+\sqrt{n}}$ and half equal to ${-\sqrt{n}}$. One can then use this matrix in place of any of the ${A_{B'}}$ to establish Theorem 1 (noting that Schur’s test continues to work for Clifford-valued matrices because of the norm structure on ${Cl({\bf R}^n,I_n)}$).

To relate ${A_{Cl}}$ to the real ${2^n \times 2^n}$ matrices ${A_{B'}}$, first observe that each point ${x}$ in the hypercube ${({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n}$ can be associated with a one-dimensional real subspace ${\ell_x}$ (i.e., a line) in the Clifford algebra ${Cl({\bf R}^n,I_n)}$ by the formula

$\displaystyle \ell_{e_{i_1} + \dots + e_{i_k}} := \mathrm{span}_{\bf R}( v_{i_1} \dots v_{i_k} )$

for any ${i_1,\dots,i_k \in \{1,\dots,n\}}$ (note that this definition is well-defined even if the ${i_1,\dots,i_k}$ are out of order or contain repetitions). This can be viewed as a discrete line bundle over the hypercube. Since ${\ell_{x+e_i} = \ell_x e_i}$ for any ${i}$, we see that the ${2^n}$-dimensional real linear subspace ${V}$ of ${\ell^2( ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n \rightarrow Cl({\bf R}^n,I_n))}$ of sections of this bundle, that is to say the space of functions ${f: ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n \rightarrow Cl({\bf R}^n,I_n)}$ such that ${f(x) \in \ell_x}$ for all ${x \in ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n}$, is an invariant subspace of ${A_{Cl}}$. (Indeed, using the left-action of the Clifford algebra on ${\ell^2( ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n \rightarrow Cl({\bf R}^n,I_n))}$, which commutes with ${A_{Cl}}$, one can naturally identify ${\ell^2( ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n \rightarrow Cl({\bf R}^n,I_n))}$ with ${Cl({\bf R}^n,I_n) \otimes V}$, with the left action of ${Cl({\bf R}^n,I_n)}$ acting purely on the first factor and ${A_{Cl}}$ acting purely on the second factor.) Any trivialisation of this line bundle lets us interpret the restriction ${A_{Cl}|_V}$ of ${A_{Cl}}$ to ${V}$ as a real ${2^n \times 2^n}$ matrix. In particular, given one of the bilinear forms ${B'}$ from Remark 6, we can identify ${V}$ with ${\ell^2(({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n)}$ by identifying any real function ${f \in \ell^2( ({\bf Z}/2{\bf Z})^n)}$ with the lift ${\tilde f \in V}$ defined by

$\displaystyle \tilde f(e_{i_1} + \dots + e_{i_k}) := (-1)^{\sum_{1 \leq j < j' \leq k} B'(e_{i_j}, e_{i_{j'}})}$

$\displaystyle f(e_{i_1} + \dots + e_{i_k}) v_{i_1} \dots v_{i_k}$

whenever ${1 \leq i_1 < \dots < i_k \leq n}$. A somewhat tedious computation using the properties of ${B'}$ then eventually gives the intertwining identity

$\displaystyle A_{Cl} \tilde f = \widetilde{A_{B'} f}$

and so ${A_{B'}}$ is conjugate to ${A_{Cl}|_V}$.

Let ${\Omega}$ be some domain (such as the real numbers). For any natural number ${p}$, let ${L(\Omega^p)_{sym}}$ denote the space of symmetric real-valued functions ${F^{(p)}: \Omega^p \rightarrow {\bf R}}$ on ${p}$ variables ${x_1,\dots,x_p \in \Omega}$, thus

$\displaystyle F^{(p)}(x_{\sigma(1)},\dots,x_{\sigma(p)}) = F^{(p)}(x_1,\dots,x_p)$

for any permutation ${\sigma: \{1,\dots,p\} \rightarrow \{1,\dots,p\}}$. For instance, for any natural numbers ${k,p}$, the elementary symmetric polynomials

$\displaystyle e_k^{(p)}(x_1,\dots,x_p) = \sum_{1 \leq i_1 < i_2 < \dots < i_k \leq p} x_{i_1} \dots x_{i_k}$

will be an element of ${L({\bf R}^p)_{sym}}$. With the pointwise product operation, ${L(\Omega^p)_{sym}}$ becomes a commutative real algebra. We include the case ${p=0}$, in which case ${L(\Omega^0)_{sym}}$ consists solely of the real constants.

Given two natural numbers ${k,p}$, one can “lift” a symmetric function ${F^{(k)} \in L(\Omega^k)_{sym}}$ of ${k}$ variables to a symmetric function ${[F^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow p} \in L(\Omega^p)_{sym}}$ of ${p}$ variables by the formula

$\displaystyle [F^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow p}(x_1,\dots,x_p) = \sum_{1 \leq i_1 < i_2 < \dots < i_k \leq p} F^{(k)}(x_{i_1}, \dots, x_{i_k})$

$\displaystyle = \frac{1}{k!} \sum_\pi F^{(k)}( x_{\pi(1)}, \dots, x_{\pi(k)} )$

where ${\pi}$ ranges over all injections from ${\{1,\dots,k\}}$ to ${\{1,\dots,p\}}$ (the latter formula making it clearer that ${[F^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow p}}$ is symmetric). Thus for instance

$\displaystyle [F^{(1)}(x_1)]_{1 \rightarrow p} = \sum_{i=1}^p F^{(1)}(x_i)$

$\displaystyle [F^{(2)}(x_1,x_2)]_{2 \rightarrow p} = \sum_{1 \leq i < j \leq p} F^{(2)}(x_i,x_j)$

and

$\displaystyle e_k^{(p)}(x_1,\dots,x_p) = [x_1 \dots x_k]_{k \rightarrow p}.$

Also we have

$\displaystyle [1]_{k \rightarrow p} = \binom{p}{k} = \frac{p(p-1)\dots(p-k+1)}{k!}.$

With these conventions, we see that ${[F^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow p}}$ vanishes for ${p=0,\dots,k-1}$, and is equal to ${F}$ if ${k=p}$. We also have the transitivity

$\displaystyle [F^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow p} = \frac{1}{\binom{p-k}{p-l}} [[F^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow l}]_{l \rightarrow p}$

if ${k \leq l \leq p}$.

The lifting map ${[]_{k \rightarrow p}}$ is a linear map from ${L(\Omega^k)_{sym}}$ to ${L(\Omega^p)_{sym}}$, but it is not a ring homomorphism. For instance, when ${\Omega={\bf R}}$, one has

$\displaystyle [x_1]_{1 \rightarrow p} [x_1]_{1 \rightarrow p} = (\sum_{i=1}^p x_i)^2 \ \ \ \ \ (1)$

$\displaystyle = \sum_{i=1}^p x_i^2 + 2 \sum_{1 \leq i < j \leq p} x_i x_j$

$\displaystyle = [x_1^2]_{1 \rightarrow p} + 2 [x_1 x_2]_{1 \rightarrow p}$

$\displaystyle \neq [x_1^2]_{1 \rightarrow p}.$

In general, one has the identity

$\displaystyle [F^{(k)}(x_1,\dots,x_k)]_{k \rightarrow p} [G^{(l)}(x_1,\dots,x_l)]_{l \rightarrow p} = \sum_{k,l \leq m \leq k+l} \frac{1}{k! l!} \ \ \ \ \ (2)$

$\displaystyle [\sum_{\pi, \rho} F^{(k)}(x_{\pi(1)},\dots,x_{\pi(k)}) G^{(l)}(x_{\rho(1)},\dots,x_{\rho(l)})]_{m \rightarrow p}$

for all natural numbers ${k,l,p}$ and ${F^{(k)} \in L(\Omega^k)_{sym}}$, ${G^{(l)} \in L(\Omega^l)_{sym}}$, where ${\pi, \rho}$ range over all injections ${\pi: \{1,\dots,k\} \rightarrow \{1,\dots,m\}}$, ${\rho: \{1,\dots,l\} \rightarrow \{1,\dots,m\}}$ with ${\pi(\{1,\dots,k\}) \cup \rho(\{1,\dots,l\}) = \{1,\dots,m\}}$. Combinatorially, the identity (2) follows from the fact that given any injections ${\tilde \pi: \{1,\dots,k\} \rightarrow \{1,\dots,p\}}$ and ${\tilde \rho: \{1,\dots,l\} \rightarrow \{1,\dots,p\}}$ with total image ${\tilde \pi(\{1,\dots,k\}) \cup \tilde \rho(\{1,\dots,l\})}$ of cardinality ${m}$, one has ${k,l \leq m \leq k+l}$, and furthermore there exist precisely ${m!}$ triples ${(\pi, \rho, \sigma)}$ of injections ${\pi: \{1,\dots,k\} \rightarrow \{1,\dots,m\}}$, ${\rho: \{1,\dots,l\} \rightarrow \{1,\dots,m\}}$, ${\sigma: \{1,\dots,m\} \rightarrow \{1,\dots,p\}}$ such that ${\tilde \pi = \sigma \circ \pi}$ and ${\tilde \rho = \sigma \circ \rho}$.

Example 1 When ${\Omega = {\bf R}}$, one has

$\displaystyle [x_1 x_2]_{2 \rightarrow p} [x_1]_{1 \rightarrow p} = [\frac{1}{2! 1!}( 2 x_1^2 x_2 + 2 x_1 x_2^2 )]_{2 \rightarrow p} + [\frac{1}{2! 1!} 6 x_1 x_2 x_3]_{3 \rightarrow p}$

$\displaystyle = [x_1^2 x_2 + x_1 x_2^2]_{2 \rightarrow p} + [3x_1 x_2 x_3]_{3 \rightarrow p}$

which is just a restatement of the identity

$\displaystyle (\sum_{i < j} x_i x_j) (\sum_k x_k) = \sum_{i

Note that the coefficients appearing in (2) do not depend on the final number of variables ${p}$. We may therefore abstract the role of ${p}$ from the law (2) by introducing the real algebra ${L(\Omega^*)_{sym}}$ of formal sums

$\displaystyle F^{(*)} = \sum_{k=0}^\infty [F^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow *}$

where for each ${k}$, ${F^{(k)}}$ is an element of ${L(\Omega^k)_{sym}}$ (with only finitely many of the ${F^{(k)}}$ being non-zero), and with the formal symbol ${[]_{k \rightarrow *}}$ being formally linear, thus

$\displaystyle [F^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow *} + [G^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow *} := [F^{(k)} + G^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow *}$

and

$\displaystyle c [F^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow *} := [cF^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow *}$

for ${F^{(k)}, G^{(k)} \in L(\Omega^k)_{sym}}$ and scalars ${c \in {\bf R}}$, and with multiplication given by the analogue

$\displaystyle [F^{(k)}(x_1,\dots,x_k)]_{k \rightarrow *} [G^{(l)}(x_1,\dots,x_l)]_{l \rightarrow *} = \sum_{k,l \leq m \leq k+l} \frac{1}{k! l!} \ \ \ \ \ (3)$

$\displaystyle [\sum_{\pi, \rho} F^{(k)}(x_{\pi(1)},\dots,x_{\pi(k)}) G^{(l)}(x_{\rho(1)},\dots,x_{\rho(l)})]_{m \rightarrow *}$

of (2). Thus for instance, in this algebra ${L(\Omega^*)_{sym}}$ we have

$\displaystyle [x_1]_{1 \rightarrow *} [x_1]_{1 \rightarrow *} = [x_1^2]_{1 \rightarrow *} + 2 [x_1 x_2]_{2 \rightarrow *}$

and

$\displaystyle [x_1 x_2]_{2 \rightarrow *} [x_1]_{1 \rightarrow *} = [x_1^2 x_2 + x_1 x_2^2]_{2 \rightarrow *} + [3 x_1 x_2 x_3]_{3 \rightarrow *}.$

Informally, ${L(\Omega^*)_{sym}}$ 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 ${L(\Omega^*)_{sym}}$ is indeed a commutative real algebra, with a unit ${[1]_{0 \rightarrow *}}$. (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 ${p}$, there is an obvious specialisation map ${[]_{* \rightarrow p}}$ from ${L(\Omega^*)_{sym}}$ to ${L(\Omega^p)_{sym}}$, defined by the formula

$\displaystyle [\sum_{k=0}^\infty [F^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow *}]_{* \rightarrow p} := \sum_{k=0}^\infty [F^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow p}.$

Thus, for instance, ${[]_{* \rightarrow p}}$ maps ${[x_1]_{1 \rightarrow *}}$ to ${[x_1]_{1 \rightarrow p}}$ and ${[x_1 x_2]_{2 \rightarrow *}}$ to ${[x_1 x_2]_{2 \rightarrow p}}$. From (2) and (3) we see that this map ${[]_{* \rightarrow p}: L(\Omega^*)_{sym} \rightarrow L(\Omega^p)_{sym}}$ is an algebra homomorphism, even though the maps ${[]_{k \rightarrow *}: L(\Omega^k)_{sym} \rightarrow L(\Omega^*)_{sym}}$ and ${[]_{k \rightarrow p}: L(\Omega^k)_{sym} \rightarrow L(\Omega^p)_{sym}}$ are not homomorphisms. By inspecting the ${p^{th}}$ component of ${L(\Omega^*)_{sym}}$ we see that the homomorphism ${[]_{* \rightarrow p}}$ is in fact surjective.

Now suppose that we have a measure ${\mu}$ on the space ${\Omega}$, which then induces a product measure ${\mu^p}$ on every product space ${\Omega^p}$. To avoid degeneracies we will assume that the integral ${\int_\Omega \mu}$ is strictly positive. Assuming suitable measurability and integrability hypotheses, a function ${F \in L(\Omega^p)_{sym}}$ can then be integrated against this product measure to produce a number

$\displaystyle \int_{\Omega^p} F\ d\mu^p.$

In the event that ${F}$ arises as a lift ${[F^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow p}}$ of another function ${F^{(k)} \in L(\Omega^k)_{sym}}$, then from Fubini’s theorem we obtain the formula

$\displaystyle \int_{\Omega^p} F\ d\mu^p = \binom{p}{k} (\int_{\Omega^k} F^{(k)}\ d\mu^k) (\int_\Omega\ d\mu)^{p-k}.$

Thus for instance, if ${\Omega={\bf R}}$,

$\displaystyle \int_{{\bf R}^p} [x_1]_{1 \rightarrow p}\ d\mu^p = p (\int_{\bf R} x\ d\mu(x)) (\int_{\bf R} \mu)^{p-1} \ \ \ \ \ (4)$

and

$\displaystyle \int_{{\bf R}^p} [x_1 x_2]_{2 \rightarrow p}\ d\mu^p = \binom{p}{2} (\int_{{\bf R}^2} x_1 x_2\ d\mu(x_1) d\mu(x_2)) (\int_{\bf R} \mu)^{p-2}. \ \ \ \ \ (5)$

On summing, we see that if

$\displaystyle F^{(*)} = \sum_{k=0}^\infty [F^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow *}$

is an element of the formal algebra ${L(\Omega^*)_{sym}}$, then

$\displaystyle \int_{\Omega^p} [F^{(*)}]_{* \rightarrow p}\ d\mu^p = \sum_{k=0}^\infty \binom{p}{k} (\int_{\Omega^k} F^{(k)}\ d\mu^k) (\int_\Omega\ d\mu)^{p-k}. \ \ \ \ \ (6)$

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 ${p}$ is a natural number, the right-hand side is meaningful when ${p}$ takes a fractional value (or even when it takes negative or complex values!), interpreting the binomial coefficient ${\binom{p}{k}}$ as a polynomial ${\frac{p(p-1) \dots (p-k+1)}{k!}}$ in ${p}$. As such, this suggests a way to introduce a “virtual” concept of a symmetric function on a fractional power space ${\Omega^p}$ for such values of ${p}$, and even to integrate such functions against product measures ${\mu^p}$, even if the fractional power ${\Omega^p}$ does not exist in the usual set-theoretic sense (and ${\mu^p}$ similarly does not exist in the usual measure-theoretic sense). More precisely, for arbitrary real or complex ${p}$, we now define ${L(\Omega^p)_{sym}}$ to be the space of abstract objects

$\displaystyle F^{(p)} = [F^{(*)}]_{* \rightarrow p} = \sum_{k=0}^\infty [F^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow p}$

with ${F^{(*)} \in L(\Omega^*)_{sym}}$ and ${[]_{* \rightarrow p}}$ (and ${[]_{k \rightarrow p}}$ now interpreted as formal symbols, with the structure of a commutative real algebra inherited from ${L(\Omega^*)_{sym}}$, thus

$\displaystyle [F^{(*)}]_{* \rightarrow p} + [G^{(*)}]_{* \rightarrow p} := [F^{(*)} + G^{(*)}]_{* \rightarrow p}$

$\displaystyle c [F^{(*)}]_{* \rightarrow p} := [c F^{(*)}]_{* \rightarrow p}$

$\displaystyle [F^{(*)}]_{* \rightarrow p} [G^{(*)}]_{* \rightarrow p} := [F^{(*)} G^{(*)}]_{* \rightarrow p}.$

In particular, the multiplication law (2) continues to hold for such values of ${p}$, thanks to (3). Given any measure ${\mu}$ on ${\Omega}$, we formally define a measure ${\mu^p}$ on ${\Omega^p}$ with regards to which we can integrate elements ${F^{(p)}}$ of ${L(\Omega^p)_{sym}}$ 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 ${p}$, even though the formal space ${{\bf R}^p}$ no longer makes sense as a set, and the formal measure ${\mu^p}$ 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 2 Suppose ${\mu}$ is a probability measure on ${\Omega}$, and ${X: \Omega \rightarrow {\bf R}}$ is a random variable; on any power ${\Omega^k}$, we let ${X_1,\dots,X_k: \Omega^k \rightarrow {\bf R}}$ be the usual independent copies of ${X}$ on ${\Omega^k}$, thus ${X_j(\omega_1,\dots,\omega_k) := X(\omega_j)}$ for ${(\omega_1,\dots,\omega_k) \in \Omega^k}$. Then for any real or complex ${p}$, the formal integral

$\displaystyle \int_{\Omega^p} [X_1]_{1 \rightarrow p}^2\ d\mu^p$

can be evaluated by first using the identity

$\displaystyle [X_1]_{1 \rightarrow p}^2 = [X_1^2]_{1 \rightarrow p} + 2[X_1 X_2]_{2 \rightarrow p}$

(cf. (1)) and then using (6) and the probability measure hypothesis ${\int_\Omega\ d\mu = 1}$ to conclude that

$\displaystyle \int_{\Omega^p} [X_1]_{1 \rightarrow p}^2\ d\mu^p = \binom{p}{1} \int_{\Omega} X^2\ d\mu + 2 \binom{p}{2} \int_{\Omega^2} X_1 X_2\ d\mu^2$

$\displaystyle = p (\int_\Omega X^2\ d\mu - (\int_\Omega X\ d\mu)^2) + p^2 (\int_\Omega X\ d\mu)^2$

or in probabilistic notation

$\displaystyle \int_{\Omega^p} [X_1]_{1 \rightarrow p}^2\ d\mu^p = p \mathbf{Var}(X) + p^2 \mathbf{E}(X)^2. \ \ \ \ \ (7)$

For ${p}$ a natural number, this identity has the probabilistic interpretation

$\displaystyle \mathbf{E}( X_1 + \dots + X_p)^2 = p \mathbf{Var}(X) + p^2 \mathbf{E}(X)^2 \ \ \ \ \ (8)$

whenever ${X_1,\dots,X_p}$ are jointly independent copies of ${X}$, which reflects the well known fact that the sum ${X_1 + \dots + X_p}$ has expectation ${p \mathbf{E} X}$ and variance ${p \mathbf{Var}(X)}$. One can thus view (7) as an abstract generalisation of (8) to the case when ${p}$ is fractional, negative, or even complex, despite the fact that there is no sensible way in this case to talk about ${p}$ independent copies ${X_1,\dots,X_p}$ of ${X}$ in the standard framework of probability theory.

In this particular case, the quantity (7) is non-negative for every nonnegative ${p}$, which looks plausible given the form of the left-hand side. Unfortunately, this sort of non-negativity does not always hold; for instance, if ${X}$ has mean zero, one can check that

$\displaystyle \int_{\Omega^p} [X_1]_{1 \rightarrow p}^4\ d\mu^p = p \mathbf{Var}(X^2) + p(3p-2) (\mathbf{E}(X^2))^2$

and the right-hand side can become negative for ${p < 2/3}$. This is a shame, because otherwise one could hope to start endowing ${L(X^p)_{sym}}$ 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 ${p^{th}}$ power, need not be a characteristic function of any random variable once ${p}$ is no longer a natural number: “fractional convolution” does not preserve positivity!) However, one vestige of positivity remains: if ${F: \Omega \rightarrow {\bf R}}$ is non-negative, then so is

$\displaystyle \int_{\Omega^p} [F]_{1 \rightarrow p}\ d\mu^p = p (\int_\Omega F\ d\mu) (\int_\Omega\ d\mu)^{p-1}.$

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 ${p}$ and appealing to a general extrapolation theorem to then obtain various identities in the fractional ${p}$ case. The connection between these fractional dimensional integrals and more traditional integrals ultimately arises from the simple identity

$\displaystyle (\int_\Omega\ d\mu)^p = \int_{\Omega^p}\ d\mu^p$

(where the right-hand side should be viewed as the fractional dimensional integral of the unit ${[1]_{0 \rightarrow p}}$ against ${\mu^p}$). As such, one can manipulate ${p^{th}}$ 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 ${\mu = \mu(t)}$ on ${\Omega}$ depends on some parameter ${t}$ and varies by the formula

$\displaystyle \frac{d}{dt} \mu(t) = a(t) \mu(t) \ \ \ \ \ (9)$

for some function ${a(t): \Omega \rightarrow {\bf R}}$. Let ${p}$ be any real or complex number. Then, assuming sufficient smoothness and integrability of all quantities involved, we have

$\displaystyle \frac{d}{dt} \int_{\Omega^p} F^{(p)}\ d\mu(t)^p = \int_{\Omega^p} F^{(p)} [a(t)]_{1 \rightarrow p}\ d\mu(t)^p \ \ \ \ \ (10)$

for all ${F^{(p)} \in L(\Omega^p)_{sym}}$ that are independent of ${t}$. If we allow ${F^{(p)}(t)}$ to now depend on ${t}$ also, then we have the more general total derivative formula

$\displaystyle \frac{d}{dt} \int_{\Omega^p} F^{(p)}(t)\ d\mu(t)^p \ \ \ \ \ (11)$

$\displaystyle = \int_{\Omega^p} \frac{d}{dt} F^{(p)}(t) + F^{(p)}(t) [a(t)]_{1 \rightarrow p}\ d\mu(t)^p,$

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 ${F^{(p)} = [F^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow p}}$ for some symmetric function ${F^{(k)} \in L(\Omega^k)_{sym}}$ for a natural number ${k}$. By (6), the left-hand side of (10) is then

$\displaystyle \frac{d}{dt} [\binom{p}{k} (\int_{\Omega^k} F^{(k)}\ d\mu(t)^k) (\int_\Omega\ d\mu(t))^{p-k}]. \ \ \ \ \ (12)$

Differentiating under the integral sign using (9) we have

$\displaystyle \frac{d}{dt} \int_\Omega\ d\mu(t) = \int_\Omega\ a(t)\ d\mu(t)$

and similarly

$\displaystyle \frac{d}{dt} \int_{\Omega^k} F^{(k)}\ d\mu(t)^k = \int_{\Omega^k} F^{(k)}(a_1+\dots+a_k)\ d\mu(t)^k$

where ${a_1,\dots,a_k}$ are the standard ${k}$ copies of ${a = a(t)}$ on ${\Omega^k}$:

$\displaystyle a_j(\omega_1,\dots,\omega_k) := a(\omega_j).$

By the product rule, we can thus expand (12) as

$\displaystyle \binom{p}{k} (\int_{\Omega^k} F^{(k)}(a_1+\dots+a_k)\ d\mu^k ) (\int_\Omega\ d\mu)^{p-k}$

$\displaystyle + \binom{p}{k} (p-k) (\int_{\Omega^k} F^{(k)}\ d\mu^k) (\int_\Omega\ a\ d\mu) (\int_\Omega\ d\mu)^{p-k-1}$

where we have suppressed the dependence on ${t}$ for brevity. Since ${\binom{p}{k} (p-k) = \binom{p}{k+1} (k+1)}$, we can write this expression using (6) as

$\displaystyle \int_{\Omega^p} [F^{(k)} (a_1 + \dots + a_k)]_{k \rightarrow p} + [ F^{(k)} \ast a ]_{k+1 \rightarrow p}\ d\mu^p$

where ${F^{(k)} \ast a \in L(\Omega^{k+1})_{sym}}$ is the symmetric function

$\displaystyle F^{(k)} \ast a(\omega_1,\dots,\omega_{k+1}) := \sum_{j=1}^{k+1} F^{(k)}(\omega_1,\dots,\omega_{j-1},\omega_{j+1} \dots \omega_{k+1}) a(\omega_j).$

But from (2) one has

$\displaystyle [F^{(k)} (a_1 + \dots + a_k)]_{k \rightarrow p} + [ F^{(k)} \ast a ]_{k+1 \rightarrow p} = [F^{(k)}]_{k \rightarrow p} [a]_{1 \rightarrow p}$

and the claim follows. $\Box$

Remark 4 It is also instructive to prove this lemma in the special case when ${p}$ is a natural number, in which case the fractional dimensional integral ${\int_{\Omega^p} F^{(p)}\ d\mu(t)^p}$ can be interpreted as a classical integral. In this case, the identity (10) is immediate from applying the product rule to (9) to conclude that

$\displaystyle \frac{d}{dt} d\mu(t)^p = [a(t)]_{1 \rightarrow p} d\mu(t)^p.$

One could in fact derive (10) for arbitrary real or complex ${p}$ from the case when ${p}$ 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 ${u: [0,+\infty) \times {\bf R}^d \rightarrow {\bf R}}$ be a solution to the heat equation ${u_t = \Delta u}$ with initial data ${\mu_0}$ a rapidly decreasing finite non-negative Radon measure, or more explicitly

$\displaystyle u(t,x) = \frac{1}{(4\pi t)^{d/2}} \int_{{\bf R}^d} e^{-|x-y|^2/4t}\ d\mu_0(y)$

for al ${t>0}$. Then for any ${p>0}$, the quantity

$\displaystyle Q_p(t) := t^{\frac{d}{2} (p-1)} \int_{{\bf R}^d} u(t,x)^p\ dx$

is monotone non-decreasing in ${t \in (0,+\infty)}$ for ${1 < p < \infty}$, constant for ${p=1}$, and monotone non-increasing for ${0 < p < 1}$.

Proof: By a limiting argument we may assume that ${d\mu_0}$ is absolutely continuous, with Radon-Nikodym derivative a test function; this is more than enough regularity to justify the arguments below.

For any ${(t,x) \in (0,+\infty) \times {\bf R}^d}$, let ${\mu(t,x)}$ denote the Radon measure

$\displaystyle d\mu(t,x)(y) := \frac{1}{(4\pi)^{d/2}} e^{-|x-y|^2/4t}\ d\mu_0(y).$

Then the quantity ${Q_p(t)}$ can be written as a fractional dimensional integral

$\displaystyle Q_p(t) = t^{-d/2} \int_{{\bf R}^d} \int_{({\bf R}^d)^p}\ d\mu(t,x)^p\ dx.$

Observe that

$\displaystyle \frac{\partial}{\partial t} d\mu(t,x) = \frac{|x-y|^2}{4t^2} d\mu(t,x)$

and thus by Lemma 3 and the product rule

$\displaystyle \frac{d}{dt} Q_p(t) = -\frac{d}{2t} Q_p(t) + t^{-d/2} \int_{{\bf R}^d} \int_{({\bf R}^d)^p} [\frac{|x-y|^2}{4t^2}]_{1 \rightarrow p} d\mu(t,x)^p\ dx \ \ \ \ \ (13)$

where we use ${y}$ for the variable of integration in the factor space ${{\bf R}^d}$ of ${({\bf R}^d)^p}$.

To simplify this expression we will take advantage of integration by parts in the ${x}$ variable. Specifically, in any direction ${x_j}$, we have

$\displaystyle \frac{\partial}{\partial x_j} d\mu(t,x) = -\frac{x_j-y_j}{2t} d\mu(t,x)$

and hence by Lemma 3

$\displaystyle \frac{\partial}{\partial x_j} \int_{({\bf R}^d)^p}\ d\mu(t,x)^p\ dx = - \int_{({\bf R}^d)^p} [\frac{x_j-y_j}{2t}]_{1 \rightarrow p}\ d\mu(t,x)^p\ dx.$

Multiplying by ${x_j}$ and integrating by parts, we see that

$\displaystyle d Q_p(t) = \int_{{\bf R}^d} \int_{({\bf R}^d)^p} x_j [\frac{x_j-y_j}{2t}]_{1 \rightarrow p}\ d\mu(t,x)^p\ dx$

$\displaystyle = \int_{{\bf R}^d} \int_{({\bf R}^d)^p} x_j [\frac{x_j-y_j}{2t}]_{1 \rightarrow p}\ d\mu(t,x)^p\ dx$

where we use the Einstein summation convention in ${j}$. Similarly, if ${F_j(y)}$ is any reasonable function depending only on ${y}$, we have

$\displaystyle \frac{\partial}{\partial x_j} \int_{({\bf R}^d)^p}[F_j(y)]_{1 \rightarrow p}\ d\mu(t,x)^p\ dx$

$\displaystyle = - \int_{({\bf R}^d)^p} [F_j(y)]_{1 \rightarrow p} [\frac{x_j-y_j}{2t}]_{1 \rightarrow p}\ d\mu(t,x)^p\ dx$

and hence on integration by parts

$\displaystyle 0 = \int_{{\bf R}^d} \int_{({\bf R}^d)^p} [F_j(y) \frac{x_j-y_j}{2t}]_{1 \rightarrow p}\ d\mu(t,x)^p\ dx.$

We conclude that

$\displaystyle \frac{d}{2t} Q_p(t) = t^{-d/2} \int_{{\bf R}^d} \int_{({\bf R}^d)^p} (x_j - [F_j(y)]_{1 \rightarrow p}) [\frac{(x_j-y_j)}{4t}]_{1 \rightarrow p} d\mu(t,x)^p\ dx$

and thus by (13)

$\displaystyle \frac{d}{dt} Q_p(t) = \frac{1}{4t^{\frac{d}{2}+2}} \int_{{\bf R}^d} \int_{({\bf R}^d)^p}$

$\displaystyle [(x_j-y_j)(x_j-y_j)]_{1 \rightarrow p} - (x_j - [F_j(y)]_{1 \rightarrow p}) [x_j - y_j]_{1 \rightarrow p}\ d\mu(t,x)^p\ dx.$

The choice of ${F_j}$ that then achieves the most cancellation turns out to be ${F_j(y) = \frac{1}{p} y_j}$ (this cancels the terms that are linear or quadratic in the ${x_j}$), so that ${x_j - [F_j(y)]_{1 \rightarrow p} = \frac{1}{p} [x_j - y_j]_{1 \rightarrow p}}$. Repeating the calculations establishing (7), one has

$\displaystyle \int_{({\bf R}^d)^p} [(x_j-y_j)(x_j-y_j)]_{1 \rightarrow p}\ d\mu^p = p \mathop{\bf E} |x-Y|^2 (\int_{{\bf R}^d}\ d\mu)^{p}$

and

$\displaystyle \int_{({\bf R}^d)^p} [x_j-y_j]_{1 \rightarrow p} [x_j-y_j]_{1 \rightarrow p}\ d\mu^p$

$\displaystyle = (p \mathbf{Var}(x-Y) + p^2 |\mathop{\bf E} x-Y|^2) (\int_{{\bf R}^d}\ d\mu)^{p}$

where ${Y}$ is the random variable drawn from ${{\bf R}^d}$ with the normalised probability measure ${\mu / \int_{{\bf R}^d}\ d\mu}$. Since ${\mathop{\bf E} |x-Y|^2 = \mathbf{Var}(x-Y) + |\mathop{\bf E} x-Y|^2}$, one thus has

$\displaystyle \frac{d}{dt} Q_p(t) = (p-1) \frac{1}{4t^{\frac{d}{2}+2}} \int_{{\bf R}^d} \mathbf{Var}(x-Y) (\int_{{\bf R}^d}\ d\mu)^{p}\ dx. \ \ \ \ \ (14)$

This expression is clearly non-negative for ${p>1}$, equal to zero for ${p=1}$, and positive for ${0 < p < 1}$, giving the claim. (One could simplify ${\mathbf{Var}(x-Y)}$ here as ${\mathbf{Var}(Y)}$ if desired, though it is not strictly necessary to do so for the proof.) $\Box$

Remark 6 As with Remark 4, one can also establish the identity (14) first for natural numbers ${p}$ by direct computation avoiding the theory of fractional dimensional integrals, and then extrapolate to the case of more general values of ${p}$. 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 ${p}$.

A more complicated version of this argument establishes the non-endpoint multilinear Kakeya inequality (without any logarithmic loss in a scale parameter ${R}$); this was established in my previous paper with Jon Bennett and Tony Carbery, but using the “natural number ${p}$ 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.)

Joni Teräväinen and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our paper “Value patterns of multiplicative functions and related sequences“, submitted to Forum of Mathematics, Sigma. This paper explores how to use recent technology on correlations of multiplicative (or nearly multiplicative functions), such as the “entropy decrement method”, in conjunction with techniques from additive combinatorics, to establish new results on the sign patterns of functions such as the Liouville function ${\lambda}$. For instance, with regards to length 5 sign patterns

$\displaystyle (\lambda(n+1),\dots,\lambda(n+5)) \in \{-1,+1\}^5$

of the Liouville function, we can now show that at least ${24}$ of the ${32}$ possible sign patterns in ${\{-1,+1\}^5}$ occur with positive upper density. (Conjecturally, all of them do so, and this is known for all shorter sign patterns, but unfortunately ${24}$ seems to be the limitation of our methods.)

The Liouville function can be written as ${\lambda(n) = e^{2\pi i \Omega(n)/2}}$, where ${\Omega(n)}$ is the number of prime factors of ${n}$ (counting multiplicity). One can also consider the variant ${\lambda_3(n) = e^{2\pi i \Omega(n)/3}}$, which is a completely multiplicative function taking values in the cube roots of unity ${\{1, \omega, \omega^2\}}$. Here we are able to show that all ${27}$ sign patterns in ${\{1,\omega,\omega^2\}}$ occur with positive lower density as sign patterns ${(\lambda_3(n+1), \lambda_3(n+2), \lambda_3(n+3))}$ of this function. The analogous result for ${\lambda}$ was already known (see this paper of Matomäki, Radziwiłł, and myself), and in that case it is even known that all sign patterns occur with equal logarithmic density ${1/8}$ (from this paper of myself and Teräväinen), but these techniques barely fail to handle the ${\lambda_3}$ case by itself (largely because the “parity” arguments used in the case of the Liouville function no longer control three-point correlations in the ${\lambda_3}$ case) and an additional additive combinatorial tool is needed. After applying existing technology (such as entropy decrement methods), the problem roughly speaking reduces to locating patterns ${a \in A_1, a+r \in A_2, a+2r \in A_3}$ for a certain partition ${G = A_1 \cup A_2 \cup A_3}$ of a compact abelian group ${G}$ (think for instance of the unit circle ${G={\bf R}/{\bf Z}}$, although the general case is a bit more complicated, in particular if ${G}$ is disconnected then there is a certain “coprimality” constraint on ${r}$, also we can allow the ${A_1,A_2,A_3}$ to be replaced by any ${A_{c_1}, A_{c_2}, A_{c_3}}$ with ${c_1+c_2+c_3}$ divisible by ${3}$), with each of the ${A_i}$ having measure ${1/3}$. An inequality of Kneser just barely fails to guarantee the existence of such patterns, but by using an inverse theorem for Kneser’s inequality in this previous paper of mine we are able to identify precisely the obstruction for this method to work, and rule it out by an ad hoc method.

The same techniques turn out to also make progress on some conjectures of Erdös-Pomerance and Hildebrand regarding patterns of the largest prime factor ${P^+(n)}$ of a natural number ${n}$. For instance, we improve results of Erdös-Pomerance and of Balog demonstrating that the inequalities

$\displaystyle P^+(n+1) < P^+(n+2) < P^+(n+3)$

and

$\displaystyle P^+(n+1) > P^+(n+2) > P^+(n+3)$

each hold for infinitely many ${n}$, by demonstrating the stronger claims that the inequalities

$\displaystyle P^+(n+1) < P^+(n+2) < P^+(n+3) > P^+(n+4)$

and

$\displaystyle P^+(n+1) > P^+(n+2) > P^+(n+3) < P^+(n+4)$

each hold for a set of ${n}$ of positive lower density. As a variant, we also show that we can find a positive density set of ${n}$ for which

$\displaystyle P^+(n+1), P^+(n+2), P^+(n+3) > n^\gamma$

for any fixed ${\gamma < e^{-1/3} = 0.7165\dots}$ (this improves on a previous result of Hildebrand with ${e^{-1/3}}$ replaced by ${e^{-1/2} = 0.6065\dots}$. A number of other results of this type are also obtained in this paper.

In order to obtain these sorts of results, one needs to extend the entropy decrement technology from the setting of multiplicative functions to that of what we call “weakly stable sets” – sets ${A}$ which have some multiplicative structure, in the sense that (roughly speaking) there is a set ${B}$ such that for all small primes ${p}$, the statements ${n \in A}$ and ${pn \in B}$ are roughly equivalent to each other. For instance, if ${A}$ is a level set ${A = \{ n: \omega(n) = 0 \hbox{ mod } 3 \}}$, one would take ${B = \{ n: \omega(n) = 1 \hbox{ mod } 3 \}}$; if instead ${A}$ is a set of the form ${\{ n: P^+(n) \geq n^\gamma\}}$, then one can take ${B=A}$. When one has such a situation, then very roughly speaking, the entropy decrement argument then allows one to estimate a one-parameter correlation such as

$\displaystyle {\bf E}_n 1_A(n+1) 1_A(n+2) 1_A(n+3)$

with a two-parameter correlation such as

$\displaystyle {\bf E}_n {\bf E}_p 1_B(n+p) 1_B(n+2p) 1_B(n+3p)$

(where we will be deliberately vague as to how we are averaging over ${n}$ and ${p}$), and then the use of the “linear equations in primes” technology of Ben Green, Tamar Ziegler, and myself then allows one to replace this average in turn by something like

$\displaystyle {\bf E}_n {\bf E}_r 1_B(n+r) 1_B(n+2r) 1_B(n+3r)$

where ${r}$ is constrained to be not divisible by small primes but is otherwise quite arbitrary. This latter average can then be attacked by tools from additive combinatorics, such as translation to a continuous group model (using for instance the Furstenberg correspondence principle) followed by tools such as Kneser’s inequality (or inverse theorems to that inequality).

(This post is mostly intended for my own reference, as I found myself repeatedly looking up several conversions between polynomial bases on various occasions.)

Let ${\mathrm{Poly}_{\leq n}}$ denote the vector space of polynomials ${P:{\bf R} \rightarrow {\bf R}}$ of one variable ${x}$ with real coefficients of degree at most ${n}$. This is a vector space of dimension ${n+1}$, and the sequence of these spaces form a filtration:

$\displaystyle \mathrm{Poly}_{\leq 0} \subset \mathrm{Poly}_{\leq 1} \subset \mathrm{Poly}_{\leq 2} \subset \dots$

A standard basis for these vector spaces are given by the monomials ${x^0, x^1, x^2, \dots}$: every polynomial ${P(x)}$ in ${\mathrm{Poly}_{\leq n}}$ can be expressed uniquely as a linear combination of the first ${n+1}$ monomials ${x^0, x^1, \dots, x^n}$. More generally, if one has any sequence ${Q_0(x), Q_1(x), Q_2(x)}$ of polynomials, with each ${Q_n}$ of degree exactly ${n}$, then an easy induction shows that ${Q_0(x),\dots,Q_n(x)}$ forms a basis for ${\mathrm{Poly}_{\leq n}}$.

In particular, if we have two such sequences ${Q_0(x), Q_1(x), Q_2(x),\dots}$ and ${R_0(x), R_1(x), R_2(x), \dots}$ of polynomials, with each ${Q_n}$ of degree ${n}$ and each ${R_k}$ of degree ${k}$, then ${Q_n}$ must be expressible uniquely as a linear combination of the polynomials ${R_0,R_1,\dots,R_n}$, thus we have an identity of the form

$\displaystyle Q_n(x) = \sum_{k=0}^n c_{QR}(n,k) R_k(x)$

for some change of basis coefficients ${c_{QR}(n,k) \in {\bf R}}$. These coefficients describe how to convert a polynomial expressed in the ${Q_n}$ basis into a polynomial expressed in the ${R_k}$ basis.

Many standard combinatorial quantities ${c(n,k)}$ involving two natural numbers ${0 \leq k \leq n}$ can be interpreted as such change of basis coefficients. The most familiar example are the binomial coefficients ${\binom{n}{k}}$, which measures the conversion from the shifted monomial basis ${(x+1)^n}$ to the monomial basis ${x^k}$, thanks to (a special case of) the binomial formula:

$\displaystyle (x+1)^n = \sum_{k=0}^n \binom{n}{k} x^k,$

thus for instance

$\displaystyle (x+1)^3 = \binom{3}{0} x^0 + \binom{3}{1} x^1 + \binom{3}{2} x^2 + \binom{3}{3} x^3$

$\displaystyle = 1 + 3x + 3x^2 + x^3.$

More generally, for any shift ${h}$, the conversion from ${(x+h)^n}$ to ${x^k}$ is measured by the coefficients ${h^{n-k} \binom{n}{k}}$, thanks to the general case of the binomial formula.

But there are other bases of interest too. For instance if one uses the falling factorial basis

$\displaystyle (x)_n := x (x-1) \dots (x-n+1)$

then the conversion from falling factorials to monomials is given by the Stirling numbers of the first kind ${s(n,k)}$:

$\displaystyle (x)_n = \sum_{k=0}^n s(n,k) x^k,$

thus for instance

$\displaystyle (x)_3 = s(3,0) x^0 + s(3,1) x^1 + s(3,2) x^2 + s(3,3) x^3$

$\displaystyle = 0 + 2 x - 3x^2 + x^3$

and the conversion back is given by the Stirling numbers of the second kind ${S(n,k)}$:

$\displaystyle x^n = \sum_{k=0}^n S(n,k) (x)_k$

thus for instance

$\displaystyle x^3 = S(3,0) (x)_0 + S(3,1) (x)_1 + S(3,2) (x)_2 + S(3,3) (x)_3$

$\displaystyle = 0 + x + 3 x(x-1) + x(x-1)(x-2).$

If one uses the binomial functions ${\binom{x}{n} = \frac{1}{n!} (x)_n}$ as a basis instead of the falling factorials, one of course can rewrite these conversions as

$\displaystyle \binom{x}{n} = \sum_{k=0}^n \frac{1}{n!} s(n,k) x^k$

and

$\displaystyle x^n = \sum_{k=0}^n k! S(n,k) \binom{x}{k}$

thus for instance

$\displaystyle \binom{x}{3} = 0 + \frac{1}{3} x - \frac{1}{2} x^2 + \frac{1}{6} x^3$

and

$\displaystyle x^3 = 0 + \binom{x}{1} + 6 \binom{x}{2} + 6 \binom{x}{3}.$

As a slight variant, if one instead uses rising factorials

$\displaystyle (x)^n := x (x+1) \dots (x+n-1)$

then the conversion to monomials yields the unsigned Stirling numbers ${|s(n,k)|}$ of the first kind:

$\displaystyle (x)^n = \sum_{k=0}^n |s(n,k)| x^k$

thus for instance

$\displaystyle (x)^3 = 0 + 2x + 3x^2 + x^3.$

One final basis comes from the polylogarithm functions

$\displaystyle \mathrm{Li}_{-n}(x) := \sum_{j=1}^\infty j^n x^j.$

For instance one has

$\displaystyle \mathrm{Li}_1(x) = -\log(1-x)$

$\displaystyle \mathrm{Li}_0(x) = \frac{x}{1-x}$

$\displaystyle \mathrm{Li}_{-1}(x) = \frac{x}{(1-x)^2}$

$\displaystyle \mathrm{Li}_{-2}(x) = \frac{x}{(1-x)^3} (1+x)$

$\displaystyle \mathrm{Li}_{-3}(x) = \frac{x}{(1-x)^4} (1+4x+x^2)$

$\displaystyle \mathrm{Li}_{-4}(x) = \frac{x}{(1-x)^5} (1+11x+11x^2+x^3)$

and more generally one has

$\displaystyle \mathrm{Li}_{-n-1}(x) = \frac{x}{(1-x)^{n+2}} E_n(x)$

for all natural numbers ${n}$ and some polynomial ${E_n}$ of degree ${n}$ (the Eulerian polynomials), which when converted to the monomial basis yields the (shifted) Eulerian numbers

$\displaystyle E_n(x) = \sum_{k=0}^n A(n+1,k) x^k.$

For instance

$\displaystyle E_3(x) = A(4,0) x^0 + A(4,1) x^1 + A(4,2) x^2 + A(4,3) x^3$

$\displaystyle = 1 + 11x + 11x^2 + x^3.$

These particular coefficients also have useful combinatorial interpretations. For instance:

• The binomial coefficient ${\binom{n}{k}}$ is of course the number of ${k}$-element subsets of ${\{1,\dots,n\}}$.
• The unsigned Stirling numbers ${|s(n,k)|}$ of the first kind are the number of permutations of ${\{1,\dots,n\}}$ with exactly ${k}$ cycles. The signed Stirling numbers ${s(n,k)}$ are then given by the formula ${s(n,k) = (-1)^{n-k} |s(n,k)|}$.
• The Stirling numbers ${S(n,k)}$ of the second kind are the number of ways to partition ${\{1,\dots,n\}}$ into ${k}$ non-empty subsets.
• The Eulerian numbers ${A(n,k)}$ are the number of permutations of ${\{1,\dots,n\}}$ with exactly ${k}$ ascents.

These coefficients behave similarly to each other in several ways. For instance, the binomial coefficients ${\binom{n}{k}}$ obey the well known Pascal identity

$\displaystyle \binom{n+1}{k} = \binom{n}{k} + \binom{n}{k-1}$

(with the convention that ${\binom{n}{k}}$ vanishes outside of the range ${0 \leq k \leq n}$). In a similar spirit, the unsigned Stirling numbers ${|s(n,k)|}$ of the first kind obey the identity

$\displaystyle |s(n+1,k)| = n |s(n,k)| + |s(n,k-1)|$

and the signed counterparts ${s(n,k)}$ obey the identity

$\displaystyle s(n+1,k) = -n s(n,k) + s(n,k-1).$

The Stirling numbers of the second kind ${S(n,k)}$ obey the identity

$\displaystyle S(n+1,k) = k S(n,k) + S(n,k-1)$

and the Eulerian numbers ${A(n,k)}$ obey the identity

$\displaystyle A(n+1,k) = (k+1) A(n,k) + (n-k+1) A(n,k-1).$

Let ${G = (G,+)}$, ${H = (H,+)}$ be additive groups (i.e., groups with an abelian addition group law). A map ${f: G \rightarrow H}$ is a homomorphism if one has

$\displaystyle f(x+y) - f(x) - f(y) = 0$

for all ${x,y \in G}$. A map ${f: G \rightarrow H}$ is an affine homomorphism if one has

$\displaystyle f(x_1) - f(x_2) + f(x_3) - f(x_4) = 0 \ \ \ \ \ (1)$

for all additive quadruples ${(x_1,x_2,x_3,x_4)}$ in ${G}$, by which we mean that ${x_1,x_2,x_3,x_4 \in G}$ and ${x_1-x_2+x_3-x_4=0}$. The two notions are closely related; it is easy to verify that ${f}$ is an affine homomorphism if and only if ${f}$ is the sum of a homomorphism and a constant.

Now suppose that ${H}$ also has a translation-invariant metric ${d}$. A map ${f: G \rightarrow H}$ is said to be a quasimorphism if one has

$\displaystyle f(x+y) - f(x) - f(y) = O(1) \ \ \ \ \ (2)$

for all ${x,y \in G}$, where ${O(1)}$ denotes a quantity at a bounded distance from the origin. Similarly, ${f: G \rightarrow H}$ is an affine quasimorphism if

$\displaystyle f(x_1) - f(x_2) + f(x_3) - f(x_4) = O(1) \ \ \ \ \ (3)$

for all additive quadruples ${(x_1,x_2,x_3,x_4)}$ in ${G}$. Again, one can check that ${f}$ is an affine quasimorphism if and only if it is the sum of a quasimorphism and a constant (with the implied constant of the quasimorphism controlled by the implied constant of the affine quasimorphism). (Since every constant is itself a quasimorphism, it is in fact the case that affine quasimorphisms are quasimorphisms, but now the implied constant in the latter is not controlled by the implied constant of the former.)

“Trivial” examples of quasimorphisms include the sum of a homomorphism and a bounded function. Are there others? In some cases, the answer is no. For instance, suppose we have a quasimorphism ${f: {\bf Z} \rightarrow {\bf R}}$. Iterating (2), we see that ${f(kx) = kf(x) + O(k)}$ for any integer ${x}$ and natural number ${k}$, which we can rewrite as ${f(kx)/kx = f(x)/x + O(1/|x|)}$ for non-zero ${x}$. Also, ${f}$ is Lipschitz. Sending ${k \rightarrow \infty}$, we can verify that ${f(x)/x}$ is a Cauchy sequence as ${x \rightarrow \infty}$ and thus tends to some limit ${\alpha}$; we have ${\alpha = f(x)/x + O(1/x)}$ for ${x \geq 1}$, hence ${f(x) = \alpha x + O(1)}$ for positive ${x}$, and then one can use (2) one last time to obtain ${f(x) = \alpha x + O(1)}$ for all ${x}$. Thus ${f}$ is the sum of the homomorphism ${x \mapsto \alpha x}$ and a bounded sequence.

In general, one can phrase this problem in the language of group cohomology (discussed in this previous post). Call a map ${f: G \rightarrow H}$ a ${0}$-cocycle. A ${1}$-cocycle is a map ${\rho: G \times G \rightarrow H}$ obeying the identity

$\displaystyle \rho(x,y+z) + \rho(y,z) = \rho(x,y) + \rho(x+y,z)$

for all ${x,y,z \in G}$. Given a ${0}$-cocycle ${f: G \rightarrow H}$, one can form its derivative ${\partial f: G \times G \rightarrow H}$ by the formula

$\displaystyle \partial f(x,y) := f(x+y)-f(x)-f(y).$

Such functions are called ${1}$-coboundaries. It is easy to see that the abelian group of ${1}$-coboundaries is a subgroup of the abelian group of ${1}$-cocycles. The quotient of these two groups is the first group cohomology of ${G}$ with coefficients in ${H}$, and is denoted ${H^1(G; H)}$.

If a ${0}$-cocycle is bounded then its derivative is a bounded ${1}$-coboundary. The quotient of the group of bounded ${1}$-cocycles by the derivatives of bounded ${0}$-cocycles is called the bounded first group cohomology of ${G}$ with coefficients in ${H}$, and is denoted ${H^1_b(G; H)}$. There is an obvious homomorphism ${\phi}$ from ${H^1_b(G; H)}$ to ${H^1(G; H)}$, formed by taking a coset of the space of derivatives of bounded ${0}$-cocycles, and enlarging it to a coset of the space of ${1}$-coboundaries. By chasing all the definitions, we see that all quasimorphism from ${G}$ to ${H}$ are the sum of a homomorphism and a bounded function if and only if this homomorphism ${\phi}$ is injective; in fact the quotient of the space of quasimorphisms by the sum of homomorphisms and bounded functions is isomorphic to the kernel of ${\phi}$.

In additive combinatorics, one is often working with functions which only have additive structure a fraction of the time, thus for instance (1) or (3) might only hold “${1\%}$ of the time”. This makes it somewhat difficult to directly interpret the situation in terms of group cohomology. However, thanks to tools such as the Balog-Szemerédi-Gowers lemma, one can upgrade this sort of ${1\%}$-structure to ${100\%}$-structure – at the cost of restricting the domain to a smaller set. Here I record one such instance of this phenomenon, thus giving a tentative link between additive combinatorics and group cohomology. (I thank Yuval Wigderson for suggesting the problem of locating such a link.)

Theorem 1 Let ${G = (G,+)}$, ${H = (H,+)}$ be additive groups with ${|G|=N}$, let ${S}$ be a subset of ${H}$, let ${E \subset G}$, and let ${f: E \rightarrow H}$ be a function such that

$\displaystyle f(x_1) - f(x_2) + f(x_3) - f(x_4) \in S$

for ${\geq K^{-1} N^3}$ additive quadruples ${(x_1,x_2,x_3,x_4)}$ in ${E}$. Then there exists a subset ${A}$ of ${G}$ containing ${0}$ with ${|A| \gg K^{-O(1)} N}$, a subset ${X}$ of ${H}$ with ${|X| \ll K^{O(1)}}$, and a function ${g: 4A-4A \rightarrow H}$ such that

$\displaystyle g(x+y) - g(x)-g(y) \in X + 496S - 496S \ \ \ \ \ (4)$

for all ${x, y \in 2A-2A}$ (thus, the derivative ${\partial g}$ takes values in ${X + 496 S - 496 S}$ on ${2A - 2A}$), and such that for each ${h \in A}$, one has

$\displaystyle f(x+h) - f(x) - g(h) \in 8S - 8S \ \ \ \ \ (5)$

for ${\gg K^{-O(1)} N}$ values of ${x \in E}$.

Presumably the constants ${8}$ and ${496}$ can be improved further, but we have not attempted to optimise these constants. We chose ${2A-2A}$ as the domain on which one has a bounded derivative, as one can use the Bogulybov lemma (see e.g, Proposition 4.39 of my book with Van Vu) to find a large Bohr set inside ${2A-2A}$. In applications, the set ${S}$ need not have bounded size, or even bounded doubling; for instance, in the inverse ${U^4}$ theory over a small finite fields ${F}$, one would be interested in the situation where ${H}$ is the group of ${n \times n}$ matrices with coefficients in ${F}$ (for some large ${n}$, and ${S}$ being the subset consisting of those matrices of rank bounded by some bound ${C = O(1)}$.

Proof: By hypothesis, there are ${\geq K N^3}$ triples ${(h,x,y) \in G^3}$ such that ${x,x+h,y,y+h \in E}$ and

$\displaystyle f(x+h) - f(x) \in f(y+h)-f(y) + S. \ \ \ \ \ (6)$

Thus, there is a set ${B \subset G}$ with ${|B| \gg K^{-1} N}$ such that for all ${h \in B}$, one has (6) for ${\gg K^{-1} N^2}$ pairs ${(x,y) \in G^2}$ with ${x,x+h,y,y+h \in E}$; in particular, there exists ${y = y(h) \in E \cap (E-h)}$ such that (6) holds for ${\gg K^{-1} N}$ values of ${x \in E \cap (E-h)}$. Setting ${g_0(h) := f(y(h)+h) - f(y(h))}$, we conclude that for each ${h \in B}$, one has

$\displaystyle f(x+h) - f(x) \in g_0(h) + S \ \ \ \ \ (7)$

for ${\gg K^{-1} N}$ values of ${x \in E \cap (E-h)}$.

Consider the bipartite graph whose vertex sets are two copies of ${E}$, and ${x}$ and ${x+h}$ connected by a (directed) edge if ${h \in B}$ and (7) holds. Then this graph has ${\gg K^{-2} N^2}$ edges. Applying (a slight modification of) the Balog-Szemerédi-Gowers theorem (for instance by modifying the proof of Corollary 5.19 of my book with Van Vu), we can then find a subset ${C}$ of ${E}$ with ${|C| \gg K^{-O(1)} N}$ with the property that for any ${x_1,x_3 \in C}$, there exist ${\gg K^{-O(1)} N^3}$ triples ${(x_2,y_1,y_2) \in E^3}$ such that the edges ${(x_1,y_1), (x_2,y_1), (x_2,y_2), (x_3,y_2)}$ all lie in this bipartite graph. This implies that, for all ${x_1,x_3 \in C}$, there exist ${\gg K^{-O(1)} N^7}$ septuples ${(x_2,y_1,y_2,z_{11},z_{21},z_{22},z_{32}) \in G^7}$ obeying the constraints

$\displaystyle f(y_j) - f(x_i), f(y_j+z_{ij}) - f(x_i+z_{ij}) \in g_0(y_j-x_i) + S$

and ${y_j, x_i, y_j+z_{ij}, x_i+z_{ij} \in E}$ for ${ij = 11, 21, 22, 32}$. These constraints imply in particular that

$\displaystyle f(x_3) - f(x_1) \in f(x_3+z_{32}) - f(y_2+z_{32}) + f(y_2+z_{22}) - f(x_2+z_{22}) + f(x_2+z_{21}) - f(y_1+z_{21}) + f(y_1+z_{11}) - f(x_1+z_{11}) + 4S - 4S.$

Also observe that

$\displaystyle x_3 - x_1 = (x_3+z_{32}) - (y_2+z_{32}) + (y_2+z_{22}) - (x_2+z_{22}) + (x_2+z_{21}) - (y_1+z_{21}) + (y_1+z_{11}) - (x_1+z_{11}).$

Thus, if ${h \in G}$ and ${x_3,x_1 \in C}$ are such that ${x_3-x_1 = h}$, we see that

$\displaystyle f(w_1) - f(w_2) + f(w_3) - f(w_4) + f(w_5) - f(w_6) + f(w_7) - f(w_8) \in f(x_3) - f(x_1) + 4S - 4S$

for ${\gg K^{-O(1)} N^7}$ octuples ${(w_1,w_2,w_3,w_4,w_5,w_6,w_7,w_8) \in E^8}$ in the hyperplane

$\displaystyle h = w_1 - w_2 + w_3 - w_4 + w_5 - w_6 + w_7 - w_8.$

By the pigeonhole principle, this implies that for any fixed ${h \in G}$, there can be at most ${O(K^{O(1)})}$ sets of the form ${f(x_3)-f(x_1) + 3S-3S}$ with ${x_3-x_1=h}$, ${x_1,x_3 \in C}$ that are pairwise disjoint. Using a greedy algorithm, we conclude that there is a set ${W_h}$ of cardinality ${O(K^{O(1)})}$, such that each set ${f(x_3) - f(x_1) + 3S-3S}$ with ${x_3-x_1=h}$, ${x_1,x_3 \in C}$ intersects ${w+4S -4S}$ for some ${w \in W_h}$, or in other words that

$\displaystyle f(x_3) - f(x_1) \in W_{x_3-x_1} + 8S-8S \ \ \ \ \ (8)$

whenever ${x_1,x_3 \in C}$. In particular,

$\displaystyle \sum_{h \in G} \sum_{w \in W_h} | \{ (x_1,x_3) \in C^2: x_3-x_1 = h; f(x_3) - f(x_1) \in w + 8S-8S \}| \geq |C|^2 \gg K^{-O(1)} N^2.$

This implies that there exists a subset ${A}$ of ${G}$ with ${|A| \gg K^{-O(1)} N}$, and an element ${g_1(h) \in W_h}$ for each ${h \in A}$, such that

$\displaystyle | \{ (x_1,x_3) \in C^2: x_3-x_1 = h; f(x_3) - f(x_1) \in g_1(h) + 8S-8S \}| \gg K^{-O(1)} N \ \ \ \ \ (9)$

for all ${h \in A}$. Note we may assume without loss of generality that ${0 \in A}$ and ${g_1(0)=0}$.

Suppose that ${h_1,\dots,h_{16} \in A}$ are such that

$\displaystyle \sum_{i=1}^{16} (-1)^{i-1} h_i = 0. \ \ \ \ \ (10)$

By construction of ${A}$, and permuting labels, we can find ${\gg K^{-O(1)} N^{16}}$ 16-tuples ${(x_1,\dots,x_{16},y_1,\dots,y_{16}) \in C^{32}}$ such that

$\displaystyle y_i - x_i = (-1)^{i-1} h_i$

and

$\displaystyle f(y_i) - f(x_i) \in (-1)^{i-1} g_i(h) + 8S - 8S$

for ${i=1,\dots,16}$. We sum this to obtain

$\displaystyle f(y_1) + \sum_{i=1}^{15} f(y_{i+1})-f(x_i) - f(x_8) \in \sum_{i=1}^{16} (-1)^{i-1} g_1(h_i) + 128 S - 128 S$

and hence by (8)

$\displaystyle f(y_1) - f(x_{16}) + \sum_{i=1}^{15} W_{k_i} \in \sum_{i=1}^{16} (-1)^{i-1} g_1(h_i) + 248 S - 248 S$

where ${k_i := y_{i+1}-x_i}$. Since

$\displaystyle y_1 - x_{16} + \sum_{i=1}^{15} k_i = 0$

we see that there are only ${N^{16}}$ possible values of ${(y_1,x_{16},k_1,\dots,k_{15})}$. By the pigeonhole principle, we conclude that at most ${O(K^{O(1)})}$ of the sets ${\sum_{i=1}^{16} (-1)^i g_1(h_i) + 248 S - 248 S}$ can be disjoint. Arguing as before, we conclude that there exists a set ${X}$ of cardinality ${O(K^{O(1)})}$ such that

$\displaystyle \sum_{i=1}^{16} (-1)^{i-1} g_1(h_i) \in X + 496 S - 496 S \ \ \ \ \ (11)$

whenever (10) holds.

For any ${h \in 4A-4A}$, write ${h}$ arbitrarily as ${h = \sum_{i=1}^8 (-1)^{i-1} h_i}$ for some ${h_1,\dots,h_8 \in A}$ (with ${h_5=\dots=h_8=0}$ if ${h \in 2A-2A}$, and ${h_2 = \dots = h_8 = 0}$ if ${h \in A}$) and then set

$\displaystyle g(h) := \sum_{i=1}^8 (-1)^i g_1(h_i).$

Then from (11) we have (4). For ${h \in A}$ we have ${g(h) = g_1(h)}$, and (5) then follows from (9). $\Box$

I have just uploaded to the arXiv the paper “An inverse theorem for an inequality of Kneser“, submitted to a special issue of the Proceedings of the Steklov Institute of Mathematics in honour of Sergei Konyagin. It concerns an inequality of Kneser discussed previously in this blog, namely that

$\displaystyle \mu(A+B) \geq \min(\mu(A)+\mu(B), 1) \ \ \ \ \ (1)$

whenever ${A,B}$ are compact non-empty subsets of a compact connected additive group ${G}$ with probability Haar measure ${\mu}$.  (A later result of Kemperman extended this inequality to the nonabelian case.) This inequality is non-trivial in the regime

$\displaystyle \mu(A), \mu(B), 1- \mu(A)-\mu(B) > 0. \ \ \ \ \ (2)$

The connectedness of ${G}$ is essential, otherwise one could form counterexamples involving proper subgroups of ${G}$ of positive measure. In the blog post, I indicated how this inequality (together with a more “robust” strengthening of it) could be deduced from submodularity inequalities such as

$\displaystyle \mu( (A_1 \cup A_2) + B) + \mu( (A_1 \cap A_2) + B)$

$\displaystyle \leq \mu(A_1+B) + \mu(A_2+B) \ \ \ \ \ (3)$

which in turn easily follows from the identity ${(A_1 \cup A_2) + B = (A_1+B) \cup (A_2+B)}$ and the inclusion ${(A_1 \cap A_2) + B \subset (A_1 +B) \cap (A_2+B)}$, combined with the inclusion-exclusion formula.

In the non-trivial regime (2), equality can be attained in (1), for instance by taking ${G}$ to be the unit circle ${G = {\bf R}/{\bf Z}}$ and ${A,B}$ to be arcs in that circle (obeying (2)). A bit more generally, if ${G}$ is an arbitrary connected compact abelian group and ${\xi: G \rightarrow {\bf R}/{\bf Z}}$ is a non-trivial character (i.e., a continuous homomorphism), then ${\xi}$ must be surjective (as ${{\bf R}/{\bf Z}}$ has no non-trivial connected subgroups), and one can take ${A = \xi^{-1}(I)}$ and ${B = \xi^{-1}(J)}$ for some arcs ${I,J}$ in that circle (again choosing the measures of these arcs to obey (2)). The main result of this paper is an inverse theorem that asserts that this is the only way in which equality can occur in (1) (assuming (2)); furthermore, if (1) is close to being satisfied with equality and (2) holds, then ${A,B}$ must be close (in measure) to an example of the above form ${A = \xi^{-1}(I), B = \xi^{-1}(J)}$. Actually, for technical reasons (and for the applications we have in mind), it is important to establish an inverse theorem not just for (1), but for the more robust version mentioned earlier (in which the sumset ${A+B}$ is replaced by the partial sumset ${A +_\varepsilon B}$ consisting of “popular” sums).

Roughly speaking, the idea is as follows. Let us informally call ${(A,B)}$ a critical pair if (2) holds and the inequality (1) (or more precisely, a robust version of this inequality) is almost obeyed with equality. The notion of a critical pair obeys some useful closure properties. Firstly, it is symmetric in ${A,B}$, and invariant with respect to translation of either ${A}$ or ${B}$. Furthermore, from the submodularity inequality (3), one can show that if ${(A_1,B)}$ and ${(A_2,B)}$ are critical pairs (with ${\mu(A_1 \cap A_2)}$ and ${1 - \mu(A_1 \cup A_2) - \mu(B)}$ positive), then ${(A_1 \cap A_2,B)}$ and ${(A_1 \cup A_2, B)}$ are also critical pairs. (Note that this is consistent with the claim that critical pairs only occur when ${A,B}$ come from arcs of a circle.) Similarly, from associativity ${(A+B)+C = A+(B+C)}$, one can show that if ${(A,B)}$ and ${(A+B,C)}$ are critical pairs, then so are ${(B,C)}$ and ${(A,B+C)}$.

One can combine these closure properties to obtain further ones. For instance, suppose ${A,B}$ is such that ${\mu(A+B) 0}$. Then (cheating a little bit), one can show that ${(A+B,C)}$ is also a critical pair, basically because ${A+B}$ is the union of the ${A+b}$, ${b \in B}$, the ${(A+b,C)}$ are all critical pairs, and the ${A+b}$ all intersect each other. This argument doesn’t quite work as stated because one has to apply the closure property under union an uncountable number of times, but it turns out that if one works with the robust version of sumsets and uses a random sampling argument to approximate ${A+B}$ by the union of finitely many of the ${A+b}$, then the argument can be made to work.

Using all of these closure properties, it turns out that one can start with an arbitrary critical pair ${(A,B)}$ and end up with a small set ${C}$ such that ${(A,C)}$ and ${(kC,C)}$ are also critical pairs for all ${1 \leq k \leq 10^4}$ (say), where ${kC}$ is the ${k}$-fold sumset of ${C}$. (Intuitively, if ${A,B}$ are thought of as secretly coming from the pullback of arcs ${I,J}$ by some character ${\xi}$, then ${C}$ should be the pullback of a much shorter arc by the same character.) In particular, ${C}$ exhibits linear growth, in that ${\mu(kC) = k\mu(C)}$ for all ${1 \leq k \leq 10^4}$. One can now use standard technology from inverse sumset theory to show first that ${C}$ has a very large Fourier coefficient (and thus is biased with respect to some character ${\xi}$), and secondly that ${C}$ is in fact almost of the form ${C = \xi^{-1}(K)}$ for some arc ${K}$, from which it is not difficult to conclude similar statements for ${A}$ and ${B}$ and thus finish the proof of the inverse theorem.

In order to make the above argument rigorous, one has to be more precise about what the modifier “almost” means in the definition of a critical pair. I chose to do this in the language of “cheap” nonstandard analysis (aka asymptotic analysis), as discussed in this previous blog post; one could also have used the full-strength version of nonstandard analysis, but this does not seem to convey any substantial advantages. (One can also work in a more traditional “non-asymptotic” framework, but this requires one to keep much more careful account of various small error terms and leads to a messier argument.)

[Update, Nov 15: Corrected the attribution of the inequality (1) to Kneser instead of Kemperman.  Thanks to John Griesmer for pointing out the error.]

Let ${\lambda: {\bf N} \rightarrow \{-1,1\}}$ be the Liouville function, thus ${\lambda(n)}$ is defined to equal ${+1}$ when ${n}$ is the product of an even number of primes, and ${-1}$ when ${n}$ is the product of an odd number of primes. The Chowla conjecture asserts that ${\lambda}$ has the statistics of a random sign pattern, in the sense that

$\displaystyle \lim_{N \rightarrow \infty} \mathbb{E}_{n \leq N} \lambda(n+h_1) \dots \lambda(n+h_k) = 0 \ \ \ \ \ (1)$

for all ${k \geq 1}$ and all distinct natural numbers ${h_1,\dots,h_k}$, where we use the averaging notation

$\displaystyle \mathbb{E}_{n \leq N} f(n) := \frac{1}{N} \sum_{n \leq N} f(n).$

For ${k=1}$, this conjecture is equivalent to the prime number theorem (as discussed in this previous blog post), but the conjecture remains open for any ${k \geq 2}$.

In recent years, it has been realised that one can make more progress on this conjecture if one works instead with the logarithmically averaged version

$\displaystyle \lim_{N \rightarrow \infty} \mathbb{E}_{n \leq N}^{\log} \lambda(n+h_1) \dots \lambda(n+h_k) = 0 \ \ \ \ \ (2)$

of the conjecture, where we use the logarithmic averaging notation

$\displaystyle \mathbb{E}_{n \leq N}^{\log} f(n) := \frac{\sum_{n \leq N} \frac{f(n)}{n}}{\sum_{n \leq N} \frac{1}{n}}.$

Using the summation by parts (or telescoping series) identity

$\displaystyle \sum_{n \leq N} \frac{f(n)}{n} = \sum_{M < N} \frac{1}{M(M+1)} (\sum_{n \leq M} f(n)) + \frac{1}{N} \sum_{n \leq N} f(n) \ \ \ \ \ (3)$

it is not difficult to show that the Chowla conjecture (1) for a given ${k,h_1,\dots,h_k}$ implies the logarithmically averaged conjecture (2). However, the converse implication is not at all clear. For instance, for ${k=1}$, we have already mentioned that the Chowla conjecture

$\displaystyle \lim_{N \rightarrow \infty} \mathbb{E}_{n \leq N} \lambda(n) = 0$

is equivalent to the prime number theorem; but the logarithmically averaged analogue

$\displaystyle \lim_{N \rightarrow \infty} \mathbb{E}^{\log}_{n \leq N} \lambda(n) = 0$

is significantly easier to show (a proof with the Liouville function ${\lambda}$ replaced by the closely related Möbius function ${\mu}$ is given in this previous blog post). And indeed, significantly more is now known for the logarithmically averaged Chowla conjecture; in this paper of mine I had proven (2) for ${k=2}$, and in this recent paper with Joni Teravainen, we proved the conjecture for all odd ${k}$ (with a different proof also given here).

In view of this emerging consensus that the logarithmically averaged Chowla conjecture was easier than the ordinary Chowla conjecture, it was thus somewhat of a surprise for me to read a recent paper of Gomilko, Kwietniak, and Lemanczyk who (among other things) established the following statement:

Theorem 1 Assume that the logarithmically averaged Chowla conjecture (2) is true for all ${k}$. Then there exists a sequence ${N_i}$ going to infinity such that the Chowla conjecture (1) is true for all ${k}$ along that sequence, that is to say

$\displaystyle \lim_{N_i \rightarrow \infty} \mathbb{E}_{n \leq N_i} \lambda(n+h_1) \dots \lambda(n+h_k) = 0$

for all ${k}$ and all distinct ${h_1,\dots,h_k}$.

This implication does not use any special properties of the Liouville function (other than that they are bounded), and in fact proceeds by ergodic theoretic methods, focusing in particular on the ergodic decomposition of invariant measures of a shift into ergodic measures. Ergodic methods have proven remarkably fruitful in understanding these sorts of number theoretic and combinatorial problems, as could already be seen by the ergodic theoretic proof of Szemerédi’s theorem by Furstenberg, and more recently by the work of Frantzikinakis and Host on Sarnak’s conjecture. (My first paper with Teravainen also uses ergodic theory tools.) Indeed, many other results in the subject were first discovered using ergodic theory methods.

On the other hand, many results in this subject that were first proven ergodic theoretically have since been reproven by more combinatorial means; my second paper with Teravainen is an instance of this. As it turns out, one can also prove Theorem 1 by a standard combinatorial (or probabilistic) technique known as the second moment method. In fact, one can prove slightly more:

Theorem 2 Let ${k}$ be a natural number. Assume that the logarithmically averaged Chowla conjecture (2) is true for ${2k}$. Then there exists a set ${{\mathcal N}}$ of natural numbers of logarithmic density ${1}$ (that is, ${\lim_{N \rightarrow \infty} \mathbb{E}_{n \leq N}^{\log} 1_{n \in {\mathcal N}} = 1}$) such that

$\displaystyle \lim_{N \rightarrow \infty: N \in {\mathcal N}} \mathbb{E}_{n \leq N} \lambda(n+h_1) \dots \lambda(n+h_k) = 0$

for any distinct ${h_1,\dots,h_k}$.

It is not difficult to deduce Theorem 1 from Theorem 2 using a diagonalisation argument. Unfortunately, the known cases of the logarithmically averaged Chowla conjecture (${k=2}$ and odd ${k}$) are currently insufficient to use Theorem 2 for any purpose other than to reprove what is already known to be true from the prime number theorem. (Indeed, the even cases of Chowla, in either logarithmically averaged or non-logarithmically averaged forms, seem to be far more powerful than the odd cases; see Remark 1.7 of this paper of myself and Teravainen for a related observation in this direction.)

We now sketch the proof of Theorem 2. For any distinct ${h_1,\dots,h_k}$, we take a large number ${H}$ and consider the limiting the second moment

$\displaystyle \limsup_{N \rightarrow \infty} \mathop{\bf E}_{n \leq N}^{\log} |\mathop{\bf E}_{m \leq H} \lambda(n+m+h_1) \dots \lambda(n+m+h_k)|^2.$

We can expand this as

$\displaystyle \limsup_{N \rightarrow \infty} \mathop{\bf E}_{m,m' \leq H} \mathop{\bf E}_{n \leq N}^{\log} \lambda(n+m+h_1) \dots \lambda(n+m+h_k)$

$\displaystyle \lambda(n+m'+h_1) \dots \lambda(n+m'+h_k).$

If all the ${m+h_1,\dots,m+h_k,m'+h_1,\dots,m'+h_k}$ are distinct, the hypothesis (2) tells us that the inner averages goes to zero as ${N \rightarrow \infty}$. The remaining averages are ${O(1)}$, and there are ${O( k^2 )}$ of these averages. We conclude that

$\displaystyle \limsup_{N \rightarrow \infty} \mathop{\bf E}_{n \leq N}^{\log} |\mathop{\bf E}_{m \leq H} \lambda(n+m+h_1) \dots \lambda(n+m+h_k)|^2 \ll k^2 / H.$

By Markov’s inequality (and (3)), we conclude that for any fixed ${h_1,\dots,h_k, H}$, there exists a set ${{\mathcal N}_{h_1,\dots,h_k,H}}$ of upper logarithmic density at least ${1-k/H^{1/2}}$, thus

$\displaystyle \limsup_{N \rightarrow \infty} \mathbb{E}_{n \leq N}^{\log} 1_{n \in {\mathcal N}_{h_1,\dots,h_k,H}} \geq 1 - k/H^{1/2}$

such that

$\displaystyle \mathop{\bf E}_{n \leq N} |\mathop{\bf E}_{m \leq H} \lambda(n+m+h_1) \dots \lambda(n+m+h_k)|^2 \ll k / H^{1/2}.$

By deleting at most finitely many elements, we may assume that ${{\mathcal N}_{h_1,\dots,h_k,H}}$ consists only of elements of size at least ${H^2}$ (say).

For any ${H_0}$, if we let ${{\mathcal N}_{h_1,\dots,h_k, \geq H_0}}$ be the union of ${{\mathcal N}_{h_1,\dots,h_k, H}}$ for ${H \geq H_0}$, then ${{\mathcal N}_{h_1,\dots,h_k, \geq H_0}}$ has logarithmic density ${1}$. By a diagonalisation argument (using the fact that the set of tuples ${(h_1,\dots,h_k)}$ is countable), we can then find a set ${{\mathcal N}}$ of natural numbers of logarithmic density ${1}$, such that for every ${h_1,\dots,h_k,H_0}$, every sufficiently large element of ${{\mathcal N}}$ lies in ${{\mathcal N}_{h_1,\dots,h_k,\geq H_0}}$. Thus for every sufficiently large ${N}$ in ${{\mathcal N}}$, one has

$\displaystyle \mathop{\bf E}_{n \leq N} |\mathop{\bf E}_{m \leq H} \lambda(n+m+h_1) \dots \lambda(n+m+h_k)|^2 \ll k / H^{1/2}.$

for some ${H \geq H_0}$ with ${N \geq H^2}$. By Cauchy-Schwarz, this implies that

$\displaystyle \mathop{\bf E}_{n \leq N} \mathop{\bf E}_{m \leq H} \lambda(n+m+h_1) \dots \lambda(n+m+h_k) \ll k^{1/2} / H^{1/4};$

interchanging the sums and using ${N \geq H^2}$ and ${H \geq H_0}$, this implies that

$\displaystyle \mathop{\bf E}_{n \leq N} \lambda(n+h_1) \dots \lambda(n+h_k) \ll k^{1/2} / H^{1/4} \leq k^{1/2} / H_0^{1/4}.$

We conclude on taking ${H_0}$ to infinity that

$\displaystyle \lim_{N \rightarrow \infty; N \in {\mathcal N}} \mathop{\bf E}_{n \leq N} \lambda(n+h_1) \dots \lambda(n+h_k) = 0$

as required.