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Let be some domain (such as the real numbers). For any natural number , let denote the space of symmetric real-valued functions on variables , thus

for any permutation . For instance, for any natural numbers , the elementary symmetric polynomials

will be an element of . With the pointwise product operation, becomes a commutative real algebra. We include the case , in which case consists solely of the real constants.

Given two natural numbers , one can “lift” a symmetric function of variables to a symmetric function of variables by the formula

where ranges over all injections from to (the latter formula making it clearer that is symmetric). Thus for instance

and

Also we have

With these conventions, we see that vanishes for , and is equal to if . We also have the transitivity

if .

The lifting map is a linear map from to , but it is not a ring homomorphism. For instance, when , one has

In general, one has the identity

for all natural numbers and , , where range over all injections , with . Combinatorially, the identity (2) follows from the fact that given any injections and with total image of cardinality , one has , and furthermore there exist precisely triples of injections , , such that and .

Example 1When , one haswhich is just a restatement of the identity

Note that the coefficients appearing in (2) do not depend on the final number of variables . We may therefore abstract the role of from the law (2) by introducing the real algebra of formal sums

where for each , is an element of (with only finitely many of the being non-zero), and with the formal symbol being formally linear, thus

and

for and scalars , and with multiplication given by the analogue

of (2). Thus for instance, in this algebra we have

and

Informally, 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 is indeed a commutative real algebra, with a unit . (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 , there is an obvious specialisation map from to , defined by the formula

Thus, for instance, maps to and to . From (2) and (3) we see that this map is an algebra homomorphism, even though the maps and are not homomorphisms. By inspecting the component of we see that the homomorphism is in fact surjective.

Now suppose that we have a measure on the space , which then induces a product measure on every product space . To avoid degeneracies we will assume that the integral is strictly positive. Assuming suitable measurability and integrability hypotheses, a function can then be integrated against this product measure to produce a number

In the event that arises as a lift of another function , then from Fubini’s theorem we obtain the formula

is an element of the formal algebra , then

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

with and (and now interpreted as formal symbols, with the structure of a commutative real algebra inherited from , thus

In particular, the multiplication law (2) continues to hold for such values of , thanks to (3). Given any measure on , we formally define a measure on with regards to which we can integrate elements of 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 , even though the formal space no longer makes sense as a set, and the formal measure 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 2Suppose is a probability measure on , and is a random variable; on any power , we let be the usual independent copies of on , thus for . Then for any real or complex , the formal integralcan be evaluated by first using the identity

(cf. (1)) and then using (6) and the probability measure hypothesis to conclude that

For a natural number, this identity has the probabilistic interpretation

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

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

and the right-hand side can become negative for . This is a shame, because otherwise one could hope to start endowing 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 power, need not be a characteristic function of any random variable once is no longer a natural number: “fractional convolution” does not preserve positivity!) However, one vestige of positivity remains: if is non-negative, then so is

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

(where the right-hand side should be viewed as the fractional dimensional integral of the unit against ). As such, one can manipulate 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 on depends on some parameter and varies by the formula

for some function . Let be any real or complex number. Then, assuming sufficient smoothness and integrability of all quantities involved, we have

for all that are independent of . If we allow to now depend on also, then we have the more general total derivative formula

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 for some symmetric function for a natural number . By (6), the left-hand side of (10) is then

Differentiating under the integral sign using (9) we have

and similarly

where are the standard copies of on :

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

where we have suppressed the dependence on for brevity. Since , we can write this expression using (6) as

where is the symmetric function

But from (2) one has

and the claim follows.

Remark 4It is also instructive to prove this lemma in the special case when is a natural number, in which case the fractional dimensional integral can be interpreted as a classical integral. In this case, the identity (10) is immediate from applying the product rule to (9) to conclude thatOne could in fact derive (10) for arbitrary real or complex from the case when 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 be a solution to the heat equation with initial data a rapidly decreasing finite non-negative Radon measure, or more explicitlyfor al . Then for any , the quantity

is monotone non-decreasing in for , constant for , and monotone non-increasing for .

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

For any , let denote the Radon measure

Then the quantity can be written as a fractional dimensional integral

Observe that

and thus by Lemma 3 and the product rule

where we use for the variable of integration in the factor space of .

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

and hence by Lemma 3

Multiplying by and integrating by parts, we see that

where we use the Einstein summation convention in . Similarly, if is any reasonable function depending only on , we have

and hence on integration by parts

We conclude that

and thus by (13)

The choice of that then achieves the most cancellation turns out to be (this cancels the terms that are linear or quadratic in the ), so that . Repeating the calculations establishing (7), one has

and

where is the random variable drawn from with the normalised probability measure . Since , one thus has

This expression is clearly non-negative for , equal to zero for , and positive for , giving the claim. (One could simplify here as if desired, though it is not strictly necessary to do so for the proof.)

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

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

Given any finite collection of elements in some Banach space , the triangle inequality tells us that

However, when the all “oscillate in different ways”, one expects to improve substantially upon the triangle inequality. For instance, if is a Hilbert space and the are mutually orthogonal, we have the Pythagorean theorem

For sake of comparison, from the triangle inequality and Cauchy-Schwarz one has the general inequality

for any finite collection in any Banach space , where denotes the cardinality of . Thus orthogonality in a Hilbert space yields “square root cancellation”, saving a factor of or so over the trivial bound coming from the triangle inequality.

More generally, let us somewhat informally say that a collection exhibits *decoupling in * if one has the Pythagorean-like inequality

for any , thus one obtains almost the full square root cancellation in the norm. The theory of *almost orthogonality* can then be viewed as the theory of decoupling in Hilbert spaces such as . In spaces for one usually does not expect this sort of decoupling; for instance, if the are disjointly supported one has

and the right-hand side can be much larger than when . At the opposite extreme, one usually does not expect to get decoupling in , since one could conceivably align the to all attain a maximum magnitude at the same location with the same phase, at which point the triangle inequality in becomes sharp.

However, in some cases one can get decoupling for certain . For instance, suppose we are in , and that are *bi-orthogonal* in the sense that the products for are pairwise orthogonal in . Then we have

giving decoupling in . (Similarly if each of the is orthogonal to all but of the other .) A similar argument also gives decoupling when one has tri-orthogonality (with the mostly orthogonal to each other), and so forth. As a slight variant, Khintchine’s inequality also indicates that decoupling should occur for any fixed if one multiplies each of the by an independent random sign .

In recent years, Bourgain and Demeter have been establishing *decoupling theorems* in spaces for various key exponents of , in the “restriction theory” setting in which the are Fourier transforms of measures supported on different portions of a given surface or curve; this builds upon the earlier decoupling theorems of Wolff. In a recent paper with Guth, they established the following decoupling theorem for the curve parameterised by the polynomial curve

For any ball in , let denote the weight

which should be viewed as a smoothed out version of the indicator function of . In particular, the space can be viewed as a smoothed out version of the space . For future reference we observe a fundamental self-similarity of the curve : any arc in this curve, with a compact interval, is affinely equivalent to the standard arc .

Theorem 1 (Decoupling theorem)Let . Subdivide the unit interval into equal subintervals of length , and for each such , let be the Fourier transformof a finite Borel measure on the arc , where . Then the exhibit decoupling in for any ball of radius .

Orthogonality gives the case of this theorem. The bi-orthogonality type arguments sketched earlier only give decoupling in up to the range ; the point here is that we can now get a much larger value of . The case of this theorem was previously established by Bourgain and Demeter (who obtained in fact an analogous theorem for any curved hypersurface). The exponent (and the radius ) is best possible, as can be seen by the following basic example. If

where is a bump function adapted to , then standard Fourier-analytic computations show that will be comparable to on a rectangular box of dimensions (and thus volume ) centred at the origin, and exhibit decay away from this box, with comparable to

On the other hand, is comparable to on a ball of radius comparable to centred at the origin, so is , which is just barely consistent with decoupling. This calculation shows that decoupling will fail if is replaced by any larger exponent, and also if the radius of the ball is reduced to be significantly smaller than .

This theorem has the following consequence of importance in analytic number theory:

Corollary 2 (Vinogradov main conjecture)Let be integers, and let . Then

*Proof:* By the Hölder inequality (and the trivial bound of for the exponential sum), it suffices to treat the critical case , that is to say to show that

We can rescale this as

As the integrand is periodic along the lattice , this is equivalent to

The left-hand side may be bounded by , where and . Since

the claim now follows from the decoupling theorem and a brief calculation.

Using the Plancherel formula, one may equivalently (when is an integer) write the Vinogradov main conjecture in terms of solutions to the system of equations

but we will not use this formulation here.

A history of the Vinogradov main conjecture may be found in this survey of Wooley; prior to the Bourgain-Demeter-Guth theorem, the conjecture was solved completely for , or for and either below or above , with the bulk of recent progress coming from the *efficient congruencing* technique of Wooley. It has numerous applications to exponential sums, Waring’s problem, and the zeta function; to give just one application, the main conjecture implies the predicted asymptotic for the number of ways to express a large number as the sum of fifth powers (the previous best result required fifth powers). The Bourgain-Demeter-Guth approach to the Vinogradov main conjecture, based on decoupling, is ostensibly very different from the efficient congruencing technique, which relies heavily on the arithmetic structure of the program, but it appears (as I have been told from second-hand sources) that the two methods are actually closely related, with the former being a sort of “Archimedean” version of the latter (with the intervals in the decoupling theorem being analogous to congruence classes in the efficient congruencing method); hopefully there will be some future work making this connection more precise. One advantage of the decoupling approach is that it generalises to non-arithmetic settings in which the set that is drawn from is replaced by some other similarly separated set of real numbers. (A random thought – could this allow the Vinogradov-Korobov bounds on the zeta function to extend to Beurling zeta functions?)

Below the fold we sketch the Bourgain-Demeter-Guth argument proving Theorem 1.

I thank Jean Bourgain and Andrew Granville for helpful discussions.

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