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About six years ago on this blog, I started thinking about trying to make a web-based game based around high-school algebra, and ended up using Scratch to write a short but playable puzzle game in which one solves linear equations for an unknown using a restricted set of moves. (At almost the same time, there were a number of more professionally made games released along similar lines, most notably Dragonbox.)

Since then, I have thought a couple times about whether there were other parts of mathematics which could be gamified in a similar fashion. Shortly after my first blog posts on this topic, I experimented with a similar gamification of Lewis Carroll’s classic list of logic puzzles, but the results were quite clunky, and I was never satisfied with the results.

Over the last few weeks I returned to this topic though, thinking in particular about how to gamify the rules of inference of propositional logic, in a manner that at least vaguely resembles how mathematicians actually go about making logical arguments (e.g., splitting into cases, arguing by contradiction, using previous result as lemmas to help with subsequent ones, and so forth). The rules of inference are a list of a dozen or so deductive rules concerning propositional sentences (things like “( AND ) OR (NOT )”, where are some formulas). A typical such rule is Modus Ponens: if the sentence is known to be true, and the implication “ IMPLIES ” is also known to be true, then one can deduce that is also true. Furthermore, in this deductive calculus it is possible to temporarily introduce some unproven statements as an assumption, only to discharge them later. In particular, we have the deduction theorem: if, after making an assumption , one is able to derive the statement , then one can conclude that the implication “ IMPLIES ” is true without any further assumption.

It took a while for me to come up with a workable game-like graphical interface for all of this, but I finally managed to set one up, now using Javascript instead of Scratch (which would be hopelessly inadequate for this task); indeed, part of the motivation of this project was to finally learn how to program in Javascript, which turned out to be not as formidable as I had feared (certainly having experience with other C-like languages like C++, Java, or lua, as well as some prior knowledge of HTML, was very helpful). The main code for this project is available here. Using this code, I have created an interactive textbook in the style of a computer game, which I have titled “QED”. This text contains thirty-odd exercises arranged in twelve sections that function as game “levels”, in which one has to use a given set of rules of inference, together with a given set of hypotheses, to reach a desired conclusion. The set of available rules increases as one advances through the text; in particular, each new section gives one or more rules, and additionally each exercise one solves automatically becomes a new deduction rule one can exploit in later levels, much as lemmas and propositions are used in actual mathematics to prove more difficult theorems. The text automatically tries to match available deduction rules to the sentences one clicks on or drags, to try to minimise the amount of manual input one needs to actually make a deduction.

Most of one’s proof activity takes place in a “root environment” of statements that are known to be true (under the given hypothesis), but for more advanced exercises one has to also work in sub-environments in which additional assumptions are made. I found the graphical metaphor of nested boxes to be useful to depict this tree of sub-environments, and it seems to combine well with the drag-and-drop interface.

The text also logs one’s moves in a more traditional proof format, which shows how the mechanics of the game correspond to a traditional mathematical argument. My hope is that this will give students a way to understand the underlying concept of forming a proof in a manner that is more difficult to achieve using traditional, non-interactive textbooks.

I have tried to organise the exercises in a game-like progression in which one first works with easy levels that train the player on a small number of moves, and then introduce more advanced moves one at a time. As such, the order in which the rules of inference are introduced is a little idiosyncratic. The most powerful rule (the law of the excluded middle, which is what separates classical logic from intuitionistic logic) is saved for the final section of the text.

Anyway, I am now satisfied enough with the state of the code and the interactive text that I am willing to make both available (and open source; I selected a CC-BY licence for both), and would be happy to receive feedback on any aspect of the either. In principle one could extend the game mechanics to other mathematical topics than the propositional calculus – the rules of inference for first-order logic being an obvious next candidate – but it seems to make sense to focus just on propositional logic for now.

I have just uploaded to the arXiv my paper “Commutators close to the identity“, submitted to the Journal of Operator Theory. This paper resulted from some progress I made on the problem discussed in this previous post. Recall in that post the following result of Popa: if are bounded operators on a Hilbert space whose commutator is close to the identity in the sense that

for some , then one has the lower bound

In the other direction, for any , there are examples of operators obeying (1) such that

In this paper we improve the upper bound to come closer to the lower bound:

Theorem 1For any , and any infinite-dimensional , there exist operators obeying (1) such that

One can probably improve the exponent somewhat by a modification of the methods, though it does not seem likely that one can lower it all the way to without a substantially new idea. Nevertheless I believe it plausible that the lower bound (2) is close to optimal.

We now sketch the methods of proof. The construction giving (3) proceeded by first identifying with the algebra of matrices that have entries in . It is then possible to find two matrices whose commutator takes the form

for some bounded operator (for instance one can take to be an isometry). If one then conjugates by the diagonal operator , one can eusure that (1) and (3) both hold.

It is natural to adapt this strategy to matrices rather than matrices, where is a parameter at one’s disposal. If one can find matrices that are almost upper triangular (in that only the entries on or above the lower diagonal are non-zero), whose commutator only differs from the identity in the top right corner, thus

for some , then by conjugating by a diagonal matrix such as for some and optimising in , one can improve the bound in (3) to ; if the bounds in the implied constant in the are polynomial in , one can then optimise in to obtain a bound of the form (4) (perhaps with the exponent replaced by a different constant).

The task is then to find almost upper triangular matrices whose commutator takes the required form. The lower diagonals of must then commute; it took me a while to realise then that one could (usually) conjugate one of the matrices, say by a suitable diagonal matrix, so that the lower diagonal consisted entirely of the identity operator, which would make the other lower diagonal consist of a single operator, say . After a lot of further lengthy experimentation, I eventually realised that one could conjugate further by unipotent upper triangular matrices so that all remaining entries other than those on the far right column vanished. Thus, without too much loss of generality, one can assume that takes the normal form

for some , solving the system of equations

It turns out to be possible to solve this system of equations by a contraction mapping argument if one takes to be a “Hilbert’s hotel” pair of isometries as in the previous post, though the contraction is very slight, leading to polynomial losses in in the implied constant.

There is a further question raised in Popa’s paper which I was unable to resolve. As a special case of one of the main theorems (Theorem 2.1) of that paper, the following result was shown: if obeys the bounds

(where denotes the space of all operators of the form with and compact), then there exist operators with such that . (In fact, Popa’s result covers a more general situation in which one is working in a properly infinite algebra with non-trivial centre.) We sketch a proof of this result as follows. Suppose that and for some . A standard greedy algorithm argument (see this paper of Brown and Pearcy) allows one to find orthonormal vectors for such that for each , one has for some comparable to , and some orthogonal to all of the . After some conjugation (and a suitable identification of with , one can thus place in a normal form

where is a isometry with infinite deficiency, and have norm . Setting , it then suffices to solve the commutator equation

with ; note the similarity with (3).

By the usual Hilbert’s hotel construction, one can complement with another isometry obeying the “Hilbert’s hotel” identity

and also , . Proceeding as in the previous post, we can try the ansatz

for some operators , leading to the system of equations

Using the first equation to solve for , the second to then solve for , and the third to then solve for , one can obtain matrices with the required properties.

Thus far, my attempts to extend this construction to larger matrices with good bounds on have been unsuccessful. A model problem would be to express

as a commutator with significantly smaller than . The construction in my paper achieves something like this, but with replaced by a more complicated operator. One would also need variants of this result in which one is allowed to perturb the above operator by an arbitrary finite rank operator of bounded operator norm.

Kevin Ford, Sergei Konyagin, James Maynard, Carl Pomerance, and I have uploaded to the arXiv our paper “Long gaps in sieved sets“, submitted to J. Europ. Math. Soc..

This paper originated from the MSRI program in analytic number theory last year, and was centred around variants of the question of finding large gaps between primes. As discussed for instance in this previous post, it is now known that within the set of primes , one can find infinitely many adjacent elements whose gap obeys a lower bound of the form

where denotes the -fold iterated logarithm. This compares with the trivial bound of that one can obtain from the prime number theorem and the pigeonhole principle. Several years ago, Pomerance posed the question of whether analogous improvements to the trivial bound can be obtained for such sets as

Here there is the obvious initial issue that this set is not even known to be infinite (this is the fourth Landau problem), but let us assume for the sake of discussion that this set is indeed infinite, so that we have an infinite number of gaps to speak of. Standard sieve theory techniques give upper bounds for the density of that is comparable (up to an absolute constant) to the prime number theorem bounds for , so again we can obtain a trivial bound of for the gaps of . In this paper we improve this to

for an absolute constant ; this is not as strong as the corresponding bound for , but still improves over the trivial bound. In fact we can handle more general “sifted sets” than just . Recall from the sieve of Eratosthenes that the elements of in, say, the interval can be obtained by removing from one residue class modulo for each prime up to , namely the class mod . In a similar vein, the elements of in can be obtained by removing for each prime up to zero, one, or two residue classes modulo , depending on whether is a quadratic residue modulo . On the average, one residue class will be removed (this is a very basic case of the Chebotarev density theorem), so this sieving system is “one-dimensional on the average”. Roughly speaking, our arguments apply to any other set of numbers arising from a sieving system that is one-dimensional on average. (One can consider other dimensions also, but unfortunately our methods seem to give results that are worse than a trivial bound when the dimension is less than or greater than one.)

The standard “Erdős-Rankin” method for constructing long gaps between primes proceeds by trying to line up some residue classes modulo small primes so that they collectively occupy a long interval. A key tool in doing so are the smooth number estimates of de Bruijn and others, which among other things assert that if one removes from an interval such as all the residue classes mod for between and for some fixed , then the set of survivors has exceptionally small density (roughly of the order of , with the precise density given by the Dickman function), in marked contrast to the situation in which one randomly removes one residue class for each such prime , in which the density is more like . One generally exploits this phenomenon to sieve out almost all the elements of a long interval using some of the primes available, and then using the remaining primes to cover up the remaining elements that have not already been sifted out. In the more recent work on this problem, advanced combinatorial tools such as hypergraph covering lemmas are used for the latter task.

In the case of , there does not appear to be any analogue of smooth numbers, in the sense that there is no obvious way to arrange the residue classes so that they have significantly fewer survivors than a random arrangement. Instead we adopt the following semi-random strategy to cover an interval by residue classes. Firstly, we randomly remove residue classes for primes up to some intermediate threshold (smaller than by a logarithmic factor), leaving behind a preliminary sifted set . Then, for each prime between and another intermediate threshold , we remove a residue class mod that maximises (or nearly maximises) its intersection with . This ends up reducing the number of survivors to be significantly below what one would achieve if one selects residue classes randomly, particularly if one also uses the hypergraph covering lemma from our previous paper. Finally, we cover each the remaining survivors by a residue class from a remaining available prime.

Brad Rodgers and I have uploaded to the arXiv our paper “The De Bruijn-Newman constant is non-negative“. This paper affirms a conjecture of Newman regarding to the extent to which the Riemann hypothesis, if true, is only “barely so”. To describe the conjecture, let us begin with the Riemann xi function

where is the Gamma function and is the Riemann zeta function. Initially, this function is only defined for , but, as was already known to Riemann, we can manipulate it into a form that extends to the entire complex plane as follows. Firstly, in view of the standard identity , we can write

and hence

By a rescaling, one may write

and similarly

and thus (after applying Fubini’s theorem)

We’ll make the change of variables to obtain

If we introduce the mild renormalisation

of , we then conclude (at least for ) that

which one can verify to be rapidly decreasing both as and as , with the decrease as faster than any exponential. In particular extends holomorphically to the upper half plane.

If we normalize the Fourier transform of a (Schwartz) function as , it is well known that the Gaussian is its own Fourier transform. The creation operator interacts with the Fourier transform by the identity

Since , this implies that the function

is its own Fourier transform. (One can view the polynomial as a renormalised version of the fourth Hermite polynomial.) Taking a suitable linear combination of this with , we conclude that

is also its own Fourier transform. Rescaling by and then multiplying by , we conclude that the Fourier transform of

is

and hence by the Poisson summation formula (using symmetry and vanishing at to unfold the summation in (2) to the integers rather than the natural numbers) we obtain the functional equation

which implies that and are even functions (in particular, now extends to an entire function). From this symmetry we can also rewrite (1) as

which now gives a convergent expression for the entire function for all complex . As is even and real-valued on , is even and also obeys the functional equation , which is equivalent to the usual functional equation for the Riemann zeta function. The Riemann hypothesis is equivalent to the claim that all the zeroes of are real.

De Bruijn introduced the family of deformations of , defined for all and by the formula

From a PDE perspective, one can view as the evolution of under the backwards heat equation . As with , the are all even entire functions that obey the functional equation , and one can ask an analogue of the Riemann hypothesis for each such , namely whether all the zeroes of are real. De Bruijn showed that these hypotheses were monotone in : if had all real zeroes for some , then would also have all zeroes real for any . Newman later sharpened this claim by showing the existence of a finite number , now known as the *de Bruijn-Newman constant*, with the property that had all zeroes real if and only if . Thus, the Riemann hypothesis is equivalent to the inequality . Newman then conjectured the complementary bound ; in his words, this conjecture asserted that if the Riemann hypothesis is true, then it is only “barely so”, in that the reality of all the zeroes is destroyed by applying heat flow for even an arbitrarily small amount of time. Over time, a significant amount of evidence was established in favour of this conjecture; most recently, in 2011, Saouter, Gourdon, and Demichel showed that .

In this paper we finish off the proof of Newman’s conjecture, that is we show that . The proof is by contradiction, assuming that (which among other things, implies the truth of the Riemann hypothesis), and using the properties of backwards heat evolution to reach a contradiction.

Very roughly, the argument proceeds as follows. As observed by Csordas, Smith, and Varga (and also discussed in this previous blog post, the backwards heat evolution of the introduces a nice ODE dynamics on the zeroes of , namely that they solve the ODE

for all (one has to interpret the sum in a principal value sense as it is not absolutely convergent, but let us ignore this technicality for the current discussion). Intuitively, this ODE is asserting that the zeroes repel each other, somewhat like positively charged particles (but note that the dynamics is first-order, as opposed to the second-order laws of Newtonian mechanics). Formally, a steady state (or equilibrium) of this dynamics is reached when the are arranged in an arithmetic progression. (Note for instance that for any positive , the functions obey the same backwards heat equation as , and their zeroes are on a fixed arithmetic progression .) The strategy is to then show that the dynamics from time to time creates a *convergence to local equilibrium*, in which the zeroes locally resemble an arithmetic progression at time . This will be in contradiction with known results on pair correlation of zeroes (or on related statistics, such as the fluctuations on gaps between zeroes), such as the results of Montgomery (actually for technical reasons it is slightly more convenient for us to use related results of Conrey, Ghosh, Goldston, Gonek, and Heath-Brown). Another way of thinking about this is that even very slight deviations from local equilibrium (such as a small number of gaps that are slightly smaller than the average spacing) will almost immediately lead to zeroes colliding with each other and leaving the real line as one evolves backwards in time (i.e., under the *forward* heat flow). This is a refinement of the strategy used in previous lower bounds on , in which “Lehmer pairs” (pairs of zeroes of the zeta function that were unusually close to each other) were used to limit the extent to which the evolution continued backwards in time while keeping all zeroes real.

How does one obtain this convergence to local equilibrium? We proceed by broad analogy with the “local relaxation flow” method of Erdos, Schlein, and Yau in random matrix theory, in which one combines some initial control on zeroes (which, in the case of the Erdos-Schlein-Yau method, is referred to with terms such as “local semicircular law”) with convexity properties of a relevant Hamiltonian that can be used to force the zeroes towards equilibrium.

We first discuss the initial control on zeroes. For , we have the classical Riemann-von Mangoldt formula, which asserts that the number of zeroes in the interval is as . (We have a factor of here instead of the more familiar due to the way is normalised.) This implies for instance that for a fixed , the number of zeroes in the interval is . Actually, because we get to assume the Riemann hypothesis, we can sharpen this to , a result of Littlewood (see this previous blog post for a proof). Ideally, we would like to obtain similar control for the other , , as well. Unfortunately we were only able to obtain the weaker claims that the number of zeroes of in is , and that the number of zeroes in is , that is to say we only get good control on the distribution of zeroes at scales rather than at scales . Ultimately this is because we were only able to get control (and in particular, lower bounds) on with high precision when (whereas has good estimates as soon as is larger than (say) ). This control is obtained by the expressing in terms of some contour integrals and using the method of steepest descent (actually it is slightly simpler to rely instead on the Stirling approximation for the Gamma function, which can be proven in turn by steepest descent methods). Fortunately, it turns out that this weaker control is still (barely) enough for the rest of our argument to go through.

Once one has the initial control on zeroes, we now need to force convergence to local equilibrium by exploiting convexity of a Hamiltonian. Here, the relevant Hamiltonian is

ignoring for now the rather important technical issue that this sum is not actually absolutely convergent. (Because of this, we will need to truncate and renormalise the Hamiltonian in a number of ways which we will not detail here.) The ODE (3) is formally the gradient flow for this Hamiltonian. Furthermore, this Hamiltonian is a convex function of the (because is a convex function on ). We therefore expect the Hamiltonian to be a decreasing function of time, and that the derivative should be an increasing function of time. As time passes, the derivative of the Hamiltonian would then be expected to converge to zero, which should imply convergence to local equilibrium.

Formally, the derivative of the above Hamiltonian is

Again, there is the important technical issue that this quantity is infinite; but it turns out that if we renormalise the Hamiltonian appropriately, then the energy will also become suitably renormalised, and in particular will vanish when the are arranged in an arithmetic progression, and be positive otherwise. One can also formally calculate the derivative of to be a somewhat complicated but manifestly non-negative quantity (a sum of squares); see this previous blog post for analogous computations in the case of heat flow on polynomials. After flowing from time to time , and using some crude initial bounds on and in this region (coming from the Riemann-von Mangoldt type formulae mentioned above and some further manipulations), we can eventually show that the (renormalisation of the) energy at time zero is small, which forces the to locally resemble an arithmetic progression, which gives the required convergence to local equilibrium.

There are a number of technicalities involved in making the above sketch of argument rigorous (for instance, justifying interchanges of derivatives and infinite sums turns out to be a little bit delicate). I will highlight here one particular technical point. One of the ways in which we make expressions such as the energy finite is to truncate the indices to an interval to create a truncated energy . In typical situations, we would then expect to be decreasing, which will greatly help in bounding (in particular it would allow one to control by time-averaged quantities such as , which can in turn be controlled using variants of (4)). However, there are boundary effects at both ends of that could in principle add a large amount of energy into , which is bad news as it could conceivably make undesirably large even if integrated energies such as remain adequately controlled. As it turns out, such boundary effects are negligible as long as there is a large gap between adjacent zeroes at boundary of – it is only narrow gaps that can rapidly transmit energy across the boundary of . Now, narrow gaps can certainly exist (indeed, the GUE hypothesis predicts these happen a positive fraction of the time); but the pigeonhole principle (together with the Riemann-von Mangoldt formula) can allow us to pick the endpoints of the interval so that no narrow gaps appear at the boundary of for any given time . However, there was a technical problem: this argument did not allow one to find a single interval that avoided gaps for *all* times simultaneously – the pigeonhole principle could produce a different interval for each time ! Since the number of times was uncountable, this was a serious issue. (In physical terms, the problem was that there might be very fast “longitudinal waves” in the dynamics that, at each time, cause some gaps between zeroes to be highly compressed, but the specific gap that was narrow changed very rapidly with time. Such waves could, in principle, import a huge amount of energy into by time .) To resolve this, we borrowed a PDE trick of Bourgain’s, in which the pigeonhole principle was coupled with local conservation laws. More specifically, we use the phenomenon that very narrow gaps take a nontrivial amount of time to expand back to a reasonable size (this can be seen by comparing the evolution of this gap with solutions of the scalar ODE , which represents the fastest at which a gap such as can expand). Thus, if a gap is reasonably large at some time , it will also stay reasonably large at slightly earlier times for some moderately small . This lets one locate an interval that has manageable boundary effects during the times in , so in particular is basically non-increasing in this time interval. Unfortunately, this interval is a little bit too short to cover all of ; however it turns out that one can iterate the above construction and find a nested sequence of intervals , with each non-increasing in a different time interval , and with all of the time intervals covering . This turns out to be enough (together with the obvious fact that is monotone in ) to still control for some reasonably sized interval , as required for the rest of the arguments.

ADDED LATER: the following analogy (involving functions with just two zeroes, rather than an infinite number of zeroes) may help clarify the relation between this result and the Riemann hypothesis (and in particular why this result does not make the Riemann hypothesis any easier to prove, in fact it confirms the delicate nature of that hypothesis). Suppose one had a quadratic polynomial of the form , where was an unknown real constant. Suppose that one was for some reason interested in the analogue of the “Riemann hypothesis” for , namely that all the zeroes of are real. A priori, there are three scenarios:

- (Riemann hypothesis false) , and has zeroes off the real axis.
- (Riemann hypothesis true, but barely so) , and both zeroes of are on the real axis; however, any slight perturbation of in the positive direction would move zeroes off the real axis.
- (Riemann hypothesis true, with room to spare) , and both zeroes of are on the real axis. Furthermore, any slight perturbation of will also have both zeroes on the real axis.

The analogue of our result in this case is that , thus ruling out the third of the three scenarios here. In this simple example in which only two zeroes are involved, one can think of the inequality as asserting that if the zeroes of are real, then they must be repeated. In our result (in which there are an infinity of zeroes, that become increasingly dense near infinity), and in view of the convergence to local equilibrium properties of (3), the analogous assertion is that if the zeroes of are real, then they do not behave locally as if they were in arithmetic progression.

Kaisa Matomaki, Maksym Radziwill, and I have uploaded to the arXiv our paper “Correlations of the von Mangoldt and higher divisor functions II. Divisor correlations in short ranges“. This is a sequel of sorts to our previous paper on divisor correlations, though the proof techniques in this paper are rather different. As with the previous paper, our interest is in correlations such as

for medium-sized and large , where are natural numbers and is the divisor function (actually our methods can also treat a generalisation in which is non-integer, but for simplicity let us stick with the integer case for this discussion). Our methods also allow for one of the divisor function factors to be replaced with a von Mangoldt function, but (in contrast to the previous paper) we cannot treat the case when both factors are von Mangoldt.

As discussed in this previous post, one heuristically expects an asymptotic of the form

for any fixed , where is a certain explicit (but rather complicated) polynomial of degree . Such asymptotics are known when , but remain open for . In the previous paper, we were able to obtain a weaker bound of the form

for of the shifts , whenever the shift range lies between and . But the methods become increasingly hard to use as gets smaller. In this paper, we use a rather different method to obtain the even weaker bound

for of the shifts , where can now be as short as . The constant can be improved, but there are serious obstacles to using our method to go below (as the exceptionally large values of then begin to dominate). This can be viewed as an analogue to our previous paper on correlations of bounded multiplicative functions on average, in which the functions are now unbounded, and indeed our proof strategy is based in large part on that paper (but with many significant new technical complications).

We now discuss some of the ingredients of the proof. Unsurprisingly, the first step is the circle method, expressing (1) in terms of exponential sums such as

Actually, it is convenient to first prune slightly by zeroing out this function on “atypical” numbers that have an unusually small or large number of factors in a certain sense, but let us ignore this technicality for this discussion. The contribution of for “major arc” can be treated by standard techniques (and is the source of the main term ; the main difficulty comes from treating the contribution of “minor arc” .

In our previous paper on bounded multiplicative functions, we used Plancherel’s theorem to estimate the global norm , and then also used the Katai-Bourgain-Sarnak-Ziegler orthogonality criterion to control local norms , where was a minor arc interval of length about , and these two estimates together were sufficient to get a good bound on correlations by an application of Hölder’s inequality. For , it is more convenient to use Dirichlet series methods (and Ramaré-type factorisations of such Dirichlet series) to control local norms on minor arcs, in the spirit of the proof of the Matomaki-Radziwill theorem; a key point is to develop “log-free” mean value theorems for Dirichlet series associated to functions such as , so as not to wipe out the (rather small) savings one will get over the trivial bound from this method. On the other hand, the global bound will definitely be unusable, because the sum has too many unwanted factors of . Fortunately, we can substitute this global bound with a “large values” bound that controls expressions such as

for a moderate number of disjoint intervals , with a bound that is slightly better (for a medium-sized power of ) than what one would have obtained by bounding each integral separately. (One needs to save more than for the argument to work; we end up saving a factor of about .) This large values estimate is probably the most novel contribution of the paper. After taking the Fourier transform, matters basically reduce to getting a good estimate for

where is the midpoint of ; thus we need some upper bound on the large local Fourier coefficients of . These coefficients are difficult to calculate directly, but, in the spirit of a paper of Ben Green and myself, we can try to replace by a more tractable and “pseudorandom” majorant for which the local Fourier coefficients are computable (on average). After a standard duality argument, one ends up having to control expressions such as

after various averaging in the parameters. These local Fourier coefficients of turn out to be small on average unless is “major arc”. One then is left with a mostly combinatorial problem of trying to bound how often this major arc scenario occurs. This is very close to a computation in the previously mentioned paper of Ben and myself; there is a technical wrinkle in that the are not as well separated as they were in my paper with Ben, but it turns out that one can modify the arguments in that paper to still obtain a satisfactory estimate in this case (after first grouping nearby frequencies together, and modifying the duality argument accordingly).

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

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

The connectedness of is essential, otherwise one could form counterexamples involving proper subgroups of 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

which in turn easily follows from the identity and the inclusion , combined with the inclusion-exclusion formula.

In the non-trivial regime (2), equality can be attained in (1), for instance by taking to be the unit circle and to be arcs in that circle (obeying (2)). A bit more generally, if is an arbitrary connected compact abelian group and is a non-trivial character (i.e., a continuous homomorphism), then must be surjective (as has no non-trivial connected subgroups), and one can take and for some arcs 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 must be close (in measure) to an example of the above form . 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 is replaced by the partial sumset consisting of “popular” sums).

Roughly speaking, the idea is as follows. Let us informally call 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 , and invariant with respect to translation of either or . Furthermore, from the submodularity inequality (3), one can show that if and are critical pairs (with and positive), then and are also critical pairs. (Note that this is consistent with the claim that critical pairs only occur when come from arcs of a circle.) Similarly, from associativity , one can show that if and are critical pairs, then so are and .

One can combine these closure properties to obtain further ones. For instance, suppose is such that . Then (cheating a little bit), one can show that is also a critical pair, basically because is the union of the , , the are all critical pairs, and the 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 by the union of finitely many of the , 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 and end up with a small set such that and are also critical pairs for all (say), where is the -fold sumset of . (Intuitively, if are thought of as secretly coming from the pullback of arcs by some character , then should be the pullback of a much shorter arc by the same character.) In particular, exhibits linear growth, in that for all . One can now use standard technology from inverse sumset theory to show first that has a very large Fourier coefficient (and thus is biased with respect to some character ), and secondly that is in fact almost of the form for some arc , from which it is not difficult to conclude similar statements for and 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.]*

Joni Teräväinen and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our paper “Odd order cases of the logarithmically averaged Chowla conjecture“, submitted to J. Numb. Thy. Bordeaux. This paper gives an alternate route to one of the main results of our previous paper, and more specifically reproves the asymptotic

for all odd and all integers (that is to say, all the odd order cases of the logarithmically averaged Chowla conjecture). Our previous argument relies heavily on some deep ergodic theory results of Bergelson-Host-Kra, Leibman, and Le (and was applicable to more general multiplicative functions than the Liouville function ); here we give a shorter proof that avoids ergodic theory (but instead requires the Gowers uniformity of the (W-tricked) von Mangoldt function, established in several papers of Ben Green, Tamar Ziegler, and myself). The proof follows the lines sketched in the previous blog post. In principle, due to the avoidance of ergodic theory, the arguments here have a greater chance to be made quantitative; however, at present the known bounds on the Gowers uniformity of the von Mangoldt function are qualitative, except at the level, which is unfortunate since the first non-trivial odd case requires quantitative control on the level. (But it may be possible to make the Gowers uniformity bounds for quantitative if one assumes GRH, although when one puts everything together, the actual decay rate obtained in (1) is likely to be poor.)

Apoorva Khare and I have updated our paper “On the sign patterns of entrywise positivity preservers in fixed dimension“, announced at this post from last month. The quantitative results are now sharpened using a new monotonicity property of ratios of Schur polynomials, namely that such ratios are monotone non-decreasing in each coordinate of if is in the positive orthant, and the partition is larger than that of . (This monotonicity was also independently observed by Rachid Ait-Haddou, using the theory of blossoms.) In the revised version of the paper we give two proofs of this monotonicity. The first relies on a deep positivity result of Lam, Postnikov, and Pylyavskyy, which uses a representation-theoretic positivity result of Haiman to show that the polynomial combination

of skew-Schur polynomials is Schur-positive for any partitions (using the convention that the skew-Schur polynomial vanishes if is not contained in , and where and denotes the pointwise min and max of and respectively). It is fairly easy to derive the monotonicity of from this, by using the expansion

of Schur polynomials into skew-Schur polynomials (as was done in this previous post).

The second proof of monotonicity avoids representation theory by a more elementary argument establishing the weaker claim that the above expression (1) is non-negative on the positive orthant. In fact we prove a more general determinantal log-supermodularity claim which may be of independent interest:

Theorem 1Let be any totally positive matrix (thus, every minor has a non-negative determinant). Then for any -tuples of increasing elements of , one haswhere denotes the minor formed from the rows in and columns in .

For instance, if is the matrix

for some real numbers , one has

(corresponding to the case , ), or

(corresponding to the case , , , , ). It turns out that this claim can be proven relatively easy by an induction argument, relying on the Dodgson and Karlin identities from this previous post; the difficulties are largely notational in nature. Combining this result with the Jacobi-Trudi identity for skew-Schur polynomials (discussed in this previous post) gives the non-negativity of (1); it can also be used to directly establish the monotonicity of ratios by applying the theorem to a generalised Vandermonde matrix.

(Log-supermodularity also arises as the natural hypothesis for the FKG inequality, though I do not know of any interesting application of the FKG inequality in this current setting.)

Apoorva Khare and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our paper “On the sign patterns of entrywise positivity preservers in fixed dimension“. This paper explores the relationship between positive definiteness of Hermitian matrices, and entrywise operations on these matrices. The starting point for this theory is the Schur product theorem, which asserts that if and are two Hermitian matrices that are positive semi-definite, then their Hadamard product

is also positive semi-definite. (One should caution that the Hadamard product is *not* the same as the usual matrix product.) To prove this theorem, first observe that the claim is easy when and are rank one positive semi-definite matrices, since in this case is also a rank one positive semi-definite matrix. The general case then follows by noting from the spectral theorem that a general positive semi-definite matrix can be expressed as a non-negative linear combination of rank one positive semi-definite matrices, and using the bilinearity of the Hadamard product and the fact that the set of positive semi-definite matrices form a convex cone. A modification of this argument also lets one replace “positive semi-definite” by “positive definite” in the statement of the Schur product theorem.

One corollary of the Schur product theorem is that any polynomial with non-negative coefficients is *entrywise positivity preserving* on the space of positive semi-definite Hermitian matrices, in the sense that for any matrix in , the entrywise application

of to is also positive semi-definite. (As before, one should caution that is *not* the application of to by the usual functional calculus.) Indeed, one can expand

where is the Hadamard product of copies of , and the claim now follows from the Schur product theorem and the fact that is a convex cone.

A slight variant of this argument, already observed by Pólya and Szegö in 1925, shows that if is any subset of and

is a power series with non-negative coefficients that is absolutely and uniformly convergent on , then will be entrywise positivity preserving on the set of positive definite matrices with entries in . (In the case that is of the form , such functions are precisely the absolutely monotonic functions on .)

In the work of Schoenberg and of Rudin, we have a converse: if is a function that is entrywise positivity preserving on for all , then it must be of the form (1) with . Variants of this result, with replaced by other domains, appear in the work of Horn, Vasudeva, and Guillot-Khare-Rajaratnam.

This gives a satisfactory classification of functions that are entrywise positivity preservers in all dimensions simultaneously. However, the question remains as to what happens if one fixes the dimension , in which case one may have a larger class of entrywise positivity preservers. For instance, in the trivial case , a function would be entrywise positivity preserving on if and only if is non-negative on . For higher , there is a necessary condition of Horn (refined slightly by Guillot-Khare-Rajaratnam) which asserts (at least in the case of smooth ) that all derivatives of at zero up to order must be non-negative in order for to be entrywise positivity preserving on for some . In particular, if is of the form (1), then must be non-negative. In fact, a stronger assertion can be made, namely that the first non-zero coefficients in (1) (if they exist) must be positive, or equivalently any negative term in (1) must be preceded (though not necessarily immediately) by at least positive terms. If is of the form (1) is entrywise positivity preserving on the larger set , one can furthermore show that any negative term in (1) must also be *followed* (though not necessarily immediately) by at least positive terms.

The main result of this paper is that these sign conditions are the *only* constraints for entrywise positivity preserving power series. More precisely:

Theorem 1For each , let be a sign.

- Suppose that any negative sign is preceded by at least positive signs (thus there exists with ). Then, for any , there exists a convergent power series (1) on , with each having the sign of , which is entrywise positivity preserving on .
- Suppose in addition that any negative sign is followed by at least positive signs (thus there exists with ). Then there exists a convergent power series (1) on , with each having the sign of , which is entrywise positivity preserving on .

One can ask the same question with or replaced by other domains such as , or the complex disk , but it turns out that there are far fewer entrywise positivity preserving functions in those cases basically because of the non-trivial zeroes of Schur polynomials in these ranges; see the paper for further discussion. We also have some quantitative bounds on how negative some of the coefficients can be compared to the positive coefficients, but they are a bit technical to state here.

The heart of the proofs of these results is an analysis of the determinants of polynomials applied entrywise to rank one matrices ; the positivity of these determinants can be used (together with a continuity argument) to establish the positive definiteness of for various ranges of and . Using the Cauchy-Binet formula, one can rewrite such determinants as linear combinations of squares of magnitudes of generalised Vandermonde determinants

where and the signs of the coefficients in the linear combination are determined by the signs of the coefficients of . The task is then to find upper and lower bounds for the magnitudes of such generalised Vandermonde determinants. These determinants oscillate in sign, which makes the problem look difficult; however, an algebraic miracle intervenes, namely the factorisation

of the generalised Vandermonde determinant into the ordinary Vandermonde determinant

and a Schur polynomial applied to , where the weight of the Schur polynomial is determined by in a simple fashion. The problem then boils down to obtaining upper and lower bounds for these Schur polynomials. Because we are restricting attention to matrices taking values in or , the entries of can be taken to be non-negative. One can then take advantage of the *total positivity* of the Schur polynomials to compare these polynomials with a monomial, at which point one can obtain good criteria for to be positive definite when is a rank one positive definite matrix .

If we allow the exponents to be real numbers rather than integers (thus replacing polynomials or power series by Pusieux series or Hahn series), then we lose the above algebraic miracle, but we can replace it with a geometric miracle, namely the *Harish-Chandra-Itzykson-Zuber identity*, which I discussed in this previous blog post. This factors the above generalised Vandermonde determinant as the product of the ordinary Vandermonde determinant and an integral of a positive quantity over the orthogonal group, which one can again compare with a monomial after some fairly elementary estimates.

It remains to understand what happens for more general positive semi-definite matrices . Here we use a trick of FitzGerald and Horn to amplify the rank one case to the general case, by expressing a general positive semi-definite matrix as a linear combination of a rank one matrix and another positive semi-definite matrix that vanishes on the last row and column (and is thus effectively a positive definite matrix). Using the fundamental theorem of calculus to continuously deform the rank one matrix to in the direction , one can then obtain positivity results for from positivity results for combined with an induction hypothesis on .

Joni Teräväinen and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our paper “The structure of logarithmically averaged correlations of multiplicative functions, with applications to the Chowla and Elliott conjectures“, submitted to Duke Mathematical Journal. This paper builds upon my previous paper in which I introduced an “entropy decrement method” to prove the two-point (logarithmically averaged) cases of the Chowla and Elliott conjectures. A bit more specifically, I showed that

whenever were sequences going to infinity, were distinct integers, and were -bounded multiplicative functions which were *non-pretentious* in the sense that

for all Dirichlet characters and for . Thus, for instance, one had the logarithmically averaged two-point Chowla conjecture

for fixed any non-zero , where was the Liouville function.

One would certainly like to extend these results to higher order correlations than the two-point correlations. This looks to be difficult (though perhaps not completely impossible if one allows for logarithmic averaging): in a previous paper I showed that achieving this in the context of the Liouville function would be equivalent to resolving the logarithmically averaged Sarnak conjecture, as well as establishing logarithmically averaged local Gowers uniformity of the Liouville function. However, in this paper we are able to avoid having to resolve these difficult conjectures to obtain partial results towards the (logarithmically averaged) Chowla and Elliott conjecture. For the Chowla conjecture, we can obtain all odd order correlations, in that

for all odd and all integers (which, in the odd order case, are no longer required to be distinct). (Superficially, this looks like we have resolved “half of the cases” of the logarithmically averaged Chowla conjecture; but it seems the odd order correlations are significantly easier than the even order ones. For instance, because of the Katai-Bourgain-Sarnak-Ziegler criterion, one can basically deduce the odd order cases of (2) from the even order cases (after allowing for some dilations in the argument ).

For the more general Elliott conjecture, we can show that

for any , any integers and any bounded multiplicative functions , unless the product *weakly pretends to be a Dirichlet character * in the sense that

This can be seen to imply (2) as a special case. Even when *does* pretend to be a Dirichlet character , we can still say something: if the limits

exist for each (which can be guaranteed if we pass to a suitable subsequence), then is the uniform limit of periodic functions , each of which is –isotypic in the sense that whenever are integers with coprime to the periods of and . This does not pin down the value of any single correlation , but does put significant constraints on how these correlations may vary with .

Among other things, this allows us to show that all possible length four sign patterns of the Liouville function occur with positive density, and all possible length four sign patterns occur with the conjectured logarithmic density. (In a previous paper with Matomaki and Radziwill, we obtained comparable results for length three patterns of Liouville and length two patterns of Möbius.)

To describe the argument, let us focus for simplicity on the case of the Liouville correlations

assuming for sake of discussion that all limits exist. (In the paper, we instead use the device of generalised limits, as discussed in this previous post.) The idea is to combine together two rather different ways to control this function . The first proceeds by the entropy decrement method mentioned earlier, which roughly speaking works as follows. Firstly, we pick a prime and observe that for any , which allows us to rewrite (3) as

Making the change of variables , we obtain

The difference between and is negligible in the limit (here is where we crucially rely on the log-averaging), hence

and thus by (3) we have

The entropy decrement argument can be used to show that the latter limit is small for most (roughly speaking, this is because the factors behave like independent random variables as varies, so that concentration of measure results such as Hoeffding’s inequality can apply, after using entropy inequalities to decouple somewhat these random variables from the factors). We thus obtain the approximate isotopy property

On the other hand, by the Furstenberg correspondence principle (as discussed in these previous posts), it is possible to express as a multiple correlation

for some probability space equipped with a measure-preserving invertible map . Using results of Bergelson-Host-Kra, Leibman, and Le, this allows us to obtain a decomposition of the form

where is a nilsequence, and goes to zero in density (even along the primes, or constant multiples of the primes). The original work of Bergelson-Host-Kra required ergodicity on , which is very definitely a hypothesis that is not available here; however, the later work of Leibman removed this hypothesis, and the work of Le refined the control on so that one still has good control when restricting to primes, or constant multiples of primes.

Ignoring the small error , we can now combine (5) to conclude that

Using the equidistribution theory of nilsequences (as developed in this previous paper of Ben Green and myself), one can break up further into a periodic piece and an “irrational” or “minor arc” piece . The contribution of the minor arc piece can be shown to mostly cancel itself out after dilating by primes and averaging, thanks to Vinogradov-type bilinear sum estimates (transferred to the primes). So we end up with

which already shows (heuristically, at least) the claim that can be approximated by periodic functions which are isotopic in the sense that

But if is odd, one can use Dirichlet’s theorem on primes in arithmetic progressions to restrict to primes that are modulo the period of , and conclude now that vanishes identically, which (heuristically, at least) gives (2).

The same sort of argument works to give the more general bounds on correlations of bounded multiplicative functions. But for the specific task of proving (2), we initially used a slightly different argument that avoids using the ergodic theory machinery of Bergelson-Host-Kra, Leibman, and Le, but replaces it instead with the Gowers uniformity norm theory used to count linear equations in primes. Basically, by averaging (4) in using the “-trick”, as well as known facts about the Gowers uniformity of the von Mangoldt function, one can obtain an approximation of the form

where ranges over a large range of integers coprime to some primorial . On the other hand, by iterating (4) we have

for most semiprimes , and by again averaging over semiprimes one can obtain an approximation of the form

For odd, one can combine the two approximations to conclude that . (This argument is not given in the current paper, but we plan to detail it in a subsequent one.)

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