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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 -dimensional hypercube graph to be the graph with vertex set , and with every vertex joined to the vertices , where is the standard basis of .

Theorem 1 (Lower bound on maximum degree of induced subgraphs of hypercube)Let be a set of at least vertices in . Then there is a vertex in that is adjacent (in ) to at least other vertices in .

The bound (or more precisely, ) 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 be the adjacency matrix of (where we index the rows and columns directly by the vertices in , rather than selecting some enumeration ), thus when for some , and otherwise. The above theorem then asserts that if is a set of at least vertices, then the minor of has a row (or column) that contains at least non-zero entries.

The key step to prove this theorem is the construction of rather curious variant of the adjacency matrix :

Proposition 2There exists a matrix which is entrywise dominated by in the sense that

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

Remark 3The argument actually gives a strengthening of Theorem 1: there exists a vertex of with the property that for every natural number , there are at least paths of length in the restriction of to that start from . Indeed, if we let be an eigenfunction of on , and let be a vertex in that maximises the value of , then for any we have that the component of is equal to ; on the other hand, by the triangle inequality, this component is at most times the number of length paths in starting from , 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 on all large subsets by first generating a matrix on with very good spectral properties, which are then partially inherited by the minor of 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 , or some non-negatively weighted version of that matrix, was used as the controlling matrix ; 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 . In Huang’s paper, is constructed recursively in the dimension in a rather simple but mysterious fashion. Very recently, Roman Karasev gave an interpretation of this matrix in terms of the exterior algebra on . 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 , when viewed as a linear operator on , is a convolution operator

where

is the counting measure on the standard basis , and denotes the ordinary convolution operation

As is well known, this operation is commutative and associative. Thus for instance the square of the adjacency operator is also a convolution operator

where the convolution kernel is moderately complicated:

The factor in this expansion comes from combining the two terms and , which both evaluate to .

More generally, given any bilinear form , one can define the *twisted convolution*

of two functions . This operation is no longer commutative (unless is symmetric). However, it remains associative; indeed, one can easily compute that

In particular, if we define the twisted convolution operator

then the square is also a twisted convolution operator

and the twisted convolution kernel can be computed as

For general bilinear forms , this twisted convolution is just as messy as is. But if we take the specific bilinear form

then for and for , and the above twisted convolution simplifies to

and now is very simple:

Thus the only eigenvalues of are and . The matrix is entrywise dominated by in the sense of (1), and in particular has trace zero; thus the and eigenvalues must occur with equal multiplicity, so in particular the eigenvalue occurs with multiplicity since the matrix has dimensions . This establishes Proposition 2.

Remark 4Twisted convolution is actually just a component of ordinary convolution, but not on the original group ; instead it relates to convolution on a Heisenberg group extension of this group. More specifically, define the Heisenberg group to be the set of pairs with group lawand inverse operation

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

for any . Now if is a function on the original group , we can define the lift by the formula

and then by chasing all the definitions one soon verifies that

for any , thus relating twisted convolution to Heisenberg group convolution .

Remark 5With the twisting by the specific bilinear form given by (2), convolution by and now anticommute rather than commute. This makes the twisted convolution algebra isomorphic to a Clifford algebra (the real or complex algebra generated by formal generators subject to the relations for ) 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 6One could replace the form (2) in this argument by any other bilinear form that obeyed the relations and for . However, this additional level of generality does not add much; any such will differ from by an antisymmetric form (so that for all , which in characteristic two implied that for all ), and such forms can always be decomposed as , where . As such, the matrices and are conjugate, with the conjugation operator being the diagonal matrix with entries at each vertex .

Remark 7(Added later) This remark combines the two previous remarks. One can view any of the matrices in Remark 6 as components of a single canonical matrix that is still of dimensions , but takes values in the Clifford algebra from Remark 5; with this “universal algebra” perspective, one no longer needs to make any arbitrary choices of form . More precisely, let denote the vector space of functions from the hypercube to the Clifford algebra; as a real vector space, this is a dimensional space, isomorphic to the direct sum of copies of , as the Clifford algebra is itself dimensional. One can then define a canonical Clifford adjacency operator on this space bywhere are the generators of . This operator can either be identified with a Clifford-valued matrix or as a real-valued matrix. In either case one still has the key algebraic relations and , ensuring that when viewed as a real matrix, half of the eigenvalues are equal to and half equal to . One can then use this matrix in place of any of the to establish Theorem 1 (noting that Schur’s test continues to work for Clifford-valued matrices because of the norm structure on ).

To relate to the real matrices , first observe that each point in the hypercube can be associated with a one-dimensional real subspace (i.e., a line) in the Clifford algebra by the formula

for any (note that this definition is well-defined even if the are out of order or contain repetitions). This can be viewed as a discrete line bundle over the hypercube. Since for any , we see that the -dimensional real linear subspace of of sections of this bundle, that is to say the space of functions such that for all , is an invariant subspace of . (Indeed, using the left-action of the Clifford algebra on , which commutes with , one can naturally identify with , with the left action of acting purely on the first factor and acting purely on the second factor.) Any trivialisation of this line bundle lets us interpret the restriction of to as a real matrix. In particular, given one of the bilinear forms from Remark 6, we can identify with by identifying any real function with the lift defined by

whenever . A somewhat tedious computation using the properties of then eventually gives the intertwining identity

and so is conjugate to .

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