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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 .

The complete homogeneous symmetric polynomial of variables and degree can be defined as

thus for instance

and

One can also define all the complete homogeneous symmetric polynomials of variables simultaneously by means of the generating function

We will think of the variables as taking values in the real numbers. When one does so, one might observe that the degree two polynomial is a positive definite quadratic form, since it has the sum of squares representation

In particular, unless . This can be compared against the superficially similar quadratic form

where are independent randomly chosen signs. The *Wigner semicircle law* says that for large , the eigenvalues of this form will be mostly distributed in the interval using the semicircle distribution, so in particular the form is quite far from being positive definite despite the presence of the first positive terms. Thus the positive definiteness is coming from the finer algebraic structure of , and not just from the magnitudes of its coefficients.

One could ask whether the same positivity holds for other degrees than two. For odd degrees, the answer is clearly no, since in that case. But one could hope for instance that

also has a sum of squares representation that demonstrates positive definiteness. This turns out to be true, but is remarkably tedious to establish directly. Nevertheless, we have a nice result of Hunter that gives positive definiteness for all even degrees . In fact, a modification of his argument gives a little bit more:

Theorem 1Let , let be even, and let be reals.

- (i) (Positive definiteness) One has , with strict inequality unless .
- (ii) (Schur convexity) One has whenever majorises , with equality if and only if is a permutation of .
- (iii) (Schur-Ostrowski criterion for Schur convexity) For any , one has , with strict inequality unless .

*Proof:* We induct on (allowing to be arbitrary). The claim is trivially true for , and easily verified for , so suppose that and the claims (i), (ii), (iii) have already been proven for (and for arbitrary ).

If we apply the differential operator to using the product rule, one obtains after a brief calculation

Using (1) and extracting the coefficient, we obtain the identity

The claim (iii) then follows from (i) and the induction hypothesis.

To obtain (ii), we use the more general statement (known as the *Schur-Ostrowski criterion*) that (ii) is implied from (iii) if we replace by an arbitrary symmetric, continuously differentiable function. To establish this criterion, we induct on (this argument can be made independently of the existing induction on ). If is majorised by , it lies in the permutahedron of . If lies on a face of this permutahedron, then after permuting both the and we may assume that is majorised by , and is majorised by for some , and the claim then follows from two applications of the induction hypothesis. If instead lies in the interior of the permutahedron, one can follow it to the boundary by using one of the vector fields , and the claim follows from the boundary case.

Finally, to obtain (i), we observe that majorises , where is the arithmetic mean of . But is clearly a positive multiple of , and the claim now follows from (ii).

If the variables are restricted to be nonnegative, the same argument gives Schur convexity for odd degrees also.

The proof in Hunter of positive definiteness is arranged a little differently than the one above, but still relies ultimately on the identity (2). I wonder if there is a genuinely different way to establish positive definiteness that does not go through this identity.

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