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In the modern theory of higher order Fourier analysis, a key role are played by the Gowers uniformity norms ${\| \|_{U^k}}$ for ${k=1,2,\dots}$. For finitely supported functions ${f: {\bf Z} \rightarrow {\bf C}}$, one can define the (non-normalised) Gowers norm ${\|f\|_{\tilde U^k({\bf Z})}}$ by the formula

$\displaystyle \|f\|_{\tilde U^k({\bf Z})}^{2^k} := \sum_{n,h_1,\dots,h_k \in {\bf Z}} \prod_{\omega_1,\dots,\omega_k \in \{0,1\}} {\mathcal C}^{\omega_1+\dots+\omega_k} f(x+\omega_1 h_1 + \dots + \omega_k h_k)$

where ${{\mathcal C}}$ denotes complex conjugation, and then on any discrete interval ${[N] = \{1,\dots,N\}}$ and any function ${f: [N] \rightarrow {\bf C}}$ we can then define the (normalised) Gowers norm

$\displaystyle \|f\|_{U^k([N])} := \| f 1_{[N]} \|_{\tilde U^k({\bf Z})} / \|1_{[N]} \|_{\tilde U^k({\bf Z})}$

where ${f 1_{[N]}: {\bf Z} \rightarrow {\bf C}}$ is the extension of ${f}$ by zero to all of ${{\bf Z}}$. Thus for instance

$\displaystyle \|f\|_{U^1([N])} = |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} f(n)|$

(which technically makes ${\| \|_{U^1([N])}}$ a seminorm rather than a norm), and one can calculate

$\displaystyle \|f\|_{U^2([N])} \asymp (N \int_0^1 |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} f(n) e(-\alpha n)|^4\ d\alpha)^{1/4} \ \ \ \ \ (1)$

where ${e(\theta) := e^{2\pi i \alpha}}$, and we use the averaging notation ${\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in A} f(n) = \frac{1}{|A|} \sum_{n \in A} f(n)}$.

The significance of the Gowers norms is that they control other multilinear forms that show up in additive combinatorics. Given any polynomials ${P_1,\dots,P_m: {\bf Z}^d \rightarrow {\bf Z}}$ and functions ${f_1,\dots,f_m: [N] \rightarrow {\bf C}}$, we define the multilinear form

$\displaystyle \Lambda^{P_1,\dots,P_m}(f_1,\dots,f_m) := \sum_{n \in {\bf Z}^d} \prod_{j=1}^m f_j 1_{[N]}(P_j(n)) / \sum_{n \in {\bf Z}^d} \prod_{j=1}^m 1_{[N]}(P_j(n))$

(assuming that the denominator is finite and non-zero). Thus for instance

$\displaystyle \Lambda^{\mathrm{n}}(f) = \mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} f(n)$

$\displaystyle \Lambda^{\mathrm{n}, \mathrm{n}+\mathrm{r}}(f,g) = (\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} f(n)) (\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} g(n))$

$\displaystyle \Lambda^{\mathrm{n}, \mathrm{n}+\mathrm{r}, \mathrm{n}+2\mathrm{r}}(f,g,h) \asymp \mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} \mathop{\bf E}_{r \in [-N,N]} f(n) g(n+r) h(n+2r)$

$\displaystyle \Lambda^{\mathrm{n}, \mathrm{n}+\mathrm{r}, \mathrm{n}+\mathrm{r}^2}(f,g,h) \asymp \mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} \mathop{\bf E}_{r \in [-N^{1/2},N^{1/2}]} f(n) g(n+r) h(n+r^2)$

where we view ${\mathrm{n}, \mathrm{r}}$ as formal (indeterminate) variables, and ${f,g,h: [N] \rightarrow {\bf C}}$ are understood to be extended by zero to all of ${{\bf Z}}$. These forms are used to count patterns in various sets; for instance, the quantity ${\Lambda^{\mathrm{n}, \mathrm{n}+\mathrm{r}, \mathrm{n}+2\mathrm{r}}(1_A,1_A,1_A)}$ is closely related to the number of length three arithmetic progressions contained in ${A}$. Let us informally say that a form ${\Lambda^{P_1,\dots,P_m}(f_1,\dots,f_m)}$ is controlled by the ${U^k[N]}$ norm if the form is small whenever ${f_1,\dots,f_m: [N] \rightarrow {\bf C}}$ are ${1}$-bounded functions with at least one of the ${f_j}$ small in ${U^k[N]}$ norm. This definition was made more precise by Gowers and Wolf, who then defined the true complexity of a form ${\Lambda^{P_1,\dots,P_m}}$ to be the least ${s}$ such that ${\Lambda^{P_1,\dots,P_m}}$ is controlled by the ${U^{s+1}[N]}$ norm. For instance,
• ${\Lambda^{\mathrm{n}}}$ and ${\Lambda^{\mathrm{n}, \mathrm{n} + \mathrm{r}}}$ have true complexity ${0}$;
• ${\Lambda^{\mathrm{n}, \mathrm{n} + \mathrm{r}, \mathrm{n} + \mathrm{2r}}}$ has true complexity ${1}$;
• ${\Lambda^{\mathrm{n}, \mathrm{n} + \mathrm{r}, \mathrm{n} + \mathrm{2r}, \mathrm{n} + \mathrm{3r}}}$ has true complexity ${2}$;
• The form ${\Lambda^{\mathrm{n}, \mathrm{n}+2}}$ (which among other things could be used to count twin primes) has infinite true complexity (which is quite unfortunate for applications).
Roughly speaking, patterns of complexity ${1}$ or less are amenable to being studied by classical Fourier analytic tools (the Hardy-Littlewood circle method); patterns of higher complexity can be handled (in principle, at least) by the methods of higher order Fourier analysis; and patterns of infinite complexity are out of range of both methods and are generally quite difficult to study. See these recent slides of myself (or this video of the lecture) for some further discussion.

Gowers and Wolf formulated a conjecture on what this complexity should be, at least for linear polynomials ${P_1,\dots,P_m}$; Ben Green and I thought we had resolved this conjecture back in 2010, though it turned out there was a subtle gap in our arguments and we were only able to resolve the conjecture in a partial range of cases. However, the full conjecture was recently resolved by Daniel Altman.

The ${U^1}$ (semi-)norm is so weak that it barely controls any averages at all. For instance the average

$\displaystyle \Lambda^{2\mathrm{n}}(f) = \mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N], \hbox{ even}} f(n)$

is not controlled by the ${U^1[N]}$ semi-norm: it is perfectly possible for a ${1}$-bounded function ${f: [N] \rightarrow {\bf C}}$ to even have vanishing ${U^1([N])}$ norm but have large value of ${\Lambda^{2\mathrm{n}}(f)}$ (consider for instance the parity function ${f(n) := (-1)^n}$).

Because of this, I propose inserting an additional norm in the Gowers uniformity norm hierarchy between the ${U^1}$ and ${U^2}$ norms, which I will call the ${U^{1^+}}$ (or “profinite ${U^1}$“) norm:

$\displaystyle \| f\|_{U^{1^+}[N]} := \frac{1}{N} \sup_P |\sum_{n \in P} f(n)| = \sup_P | \mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} f 1_P(n)|$

where ${P}$ ranges over all arithmetic progressions in ${[N]}$. This can easily be seen to be a norm on functions ${f: [N] \rightarrow {\bf C}}$ that controls the ${U^1[N]}$ norm. It is also basically controlled by the ${U^2[N]}$ norm for ${1}$-bounded functions ${f}$; indeed, if ${P}$ is an arithmetic progression in ${[N]}$ of some spacing ${q \geq 1}$, then we can write ${P}$ as the intersection of an interval ${I}$ with a residue class modulo ${q}$, and from Fourier expansion we have

$\displaystyle \mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} f 1_P(n) \ll \sup_\alpha |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} f 1_I(n) e(\alpha n)|.$

If we let ${\psi}$ be a standard bump function supported on ${[-1,1]}$ with total mass and ${\delta>0}$ is a parameter then

$\displaystyle \mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} f 1_I(n) e(\alpha n)$

$\displaystyle \ll |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [-N,2N]; h, k \in [-N,N]} \frac{1}{\delta} \psi(\frac{h}{\delta N})$

$\displaystyle 1_I(n+h+k) f(n+h+k) e(\alpha(n+h+k))|$

$\displaystyle \ll |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [-N,2N]; h, k \in [-N,N]} \frac{1}{\delta} \psi(\frac{h}{\delta N}) 1_I(n+k) f(n+h+k) e(\alpha(n+h+k))|$

$\displaystyle + \delta$

(extending ${f}$ by zero outside of ${[N]}$), as can be seen by using the triangle inequality and the estimate

$\displaystyle \mathop{\bf E}_{h \in [-N,N]} \frac{1}{\delta} \psi(\frac{h}{\delta N}) 1_I(n+h+k) - \mathop{\bf E}_{h \in [-N,N]} \frac{1}{\delta} \psi(\frac{h}{\delta N}) 1_I(n+k)$

$\displaystyle \ll (1 + \mathrm{dist}(n+k, I) / \delta N)^{-2}.$

After some Fourier expansion of ${\delta \psi(\frac{h}{\delta N})}$ we now have

$\displaystyle \mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} f 1_P(n) \ll \frac{1}{\delta} \sup_{\alpha,\beta} |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]; h, k \in [-N,N]} e(\beta h + \alpha (n+h+k))$

$\displaystyle 1_P(n+k) f(n+h+k)| + \delta.$

Writing ${\alpha h + \alpha(n+h+k)}$ as a linear combination of ${n, n+h, n+k}$ and using the Gowers–Cauchy–Schwarz inequality, we conclude

$\displaystyle \mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} f 1_P(n) \ll \frac{1}{\delta} \|f\|_{U^2([N])} + \delta$

hence on optimising in ${\delta}$ we have

$\displaystyle \| f\|_{U^{1^+}[N]} \ll \|f\|_{U^2[N]}^{1/2}.$

Forms which are controlled by the ${U^{1^+}}$ norm (but not ${U^1}$) would then have their true complexity adjusted to ${0^+}$ with this insertion.

The ${U^{1^+}}$ norm recently appeared implicitly in work of Peluse and Prendiville, who showed that the form ${\Lambda^{\mathrm{n}, \mathrm{n}+\mathrm{r}, \mathrm{n}+\mathrm{r}^2}(f,g,h)}$ had true complexity ${0^+}$ in this notation (with polynomially strong bounds). [Actually, strictly speaking this control was only shown for the third function ${h}$; for the first two functions ${f,g}$ one needs to localize the ${U^{1^+}}$ norm to intervals of length ${\sim \sqrt{N}}$. But I will ignore this technical point to keep the exposition simple.] The weaker claim that ${\Lambda^{\mathrm{n}, \mathrm{n}+\mathrm{r}^2}(f,g)}$ has true complexity ${0^+}$ is substantially easier to prove (one can apply the circle method together with Gauss sum estimates).

The well known inverse theorem for the ${U^2}$ norm tells us that if a ${1}$-bounded function ${f}$ has ${U^2[N]}$ norm at least ${\eta}$ for some ${0 < \eta < 1}$, then there is a Fourier phase ${n \mapsto e(\alpha n)}$ such that

$\displaystyle |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} f(n) e(-\alpha n)| \gg \eta^2;$

this follows easily from (1) and Plancherel’s theorem. Conversely, from the Gowers–Cauchy–Schwarz inequality one has

$\displaystyle |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} f(n) e(-\alpha n)| \ll \|f\|_{U^2[N]}.$

For ${U^1[N]}$ one has a trivial inverse theorem; by definition, the ${U^1[N]}$ norm of ${f}$ is at least ${\eta}$ if and only if

$\displaystyle |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} f(n)| \geq \eta.$

Thus the frequency ${\alpha}$ appearing in the ${U^2}$ inverse theorem can be taken to be zero when working instead with the ${U^1}$ norm.

For ${U^{1^+}}$ one has the intermediate situation in which the frequency ${\alpha}$ is not taken to be zero, but is instead major arc. Indeed, suppose that ${f}$ is ${1}$-bounded with ${\|f\|_{U^{1^+}[N]} \geq \eta}$, thus

$\displaystyle |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} 1_P(n) f(n)| \geq \eta$

for some progression ${P}$. This forces the spacing ${q}$ of this progression to be ${\ll 1/\eta}$. We write the above inequality as

$\displaystyle |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} 1_{n=b\ (q)} 1_I(n) f(n)| \geq \eta$

for some residue class ${b\ (q)}$ and some interval ${I}$. By Fourier expansion and the triangle inequality we then have

$\displaystyle |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} e(-an/q) 1_I(n) f(n)| \geq \eta$

for some integer ${a}$. Convolving ${1_I}$ by ${\psi_\delta: n \mapsto \frac{1}{N\delta} \psi(\frac{n}{N\delta})}$ for ${\delta}$ a small multiple of ${\eta}$ and ${\psi}$ a Schwartz function of unit mass with Fourier transform supported on ${[-1,1]}$, we have

$\displaystyle |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} e(-an/q) (1_I * \psi_\delta)(n) f(n)| \gg \eta.$

The Fourier transform ${\xi \mapsto \sum_n 1_I * \psi_\delta(n) e(- \xi n)}$ of ${1_I * \psi_\delta}$ is bounded by ${O(N)}$ and supported on ${[-\frac{1}{\delta N},\frac{1}{\delta N}]}$, thus by Fourier expansion and the triangle inequality we have

$\displaystyle |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} e(-an/q) e(-\xi n) f(n)| \gg \eta^2$

for some ${\xi \in [-\frac{1}{\delta N},\frac{1}{\delta N}]}$, so in particular ${\xi = O(\frac{1}{\eta N})}$. Thus we have

$\displaystyle |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} f(n) e(-\alpha n)| \gg \eta^2 \ \ \ \ \ (2)$

for some ${\alpha}$ of the major arc form ${\alpha = \frac{a}{q} + O(1/\eta)}$ with ${1 \leq q \leq 1/\eta}$. Conversely, for ${\alpha}$ of this form, some routine summation by parts gives the bound

$\displaystyle |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} f(n) e(-\alpha n)| \ll \frac{q}{\eta} \|f\|_{U^{1^+}[N]} \ll \frac{1}{\eta^2} \|f\|_{U^{1^+}[N]}$

so if (2) holds for a ${1}$-bounded ${f}$ then one must have ${\|f\|_{U^{1^+}[N]} \gg \eta^4}$.

Here is a diagram showing some of the control relationships between various Gowers norms, multilinear forms, and duals of classes ${{\mathcal F}}$ of functions (where each class of functions ${{\mathcal F}}$ induces a dual norm ${\| f \|_{{\mathcal F}^*} := \sup_{\phi \in {\mathcal F}} \mathop{\bf E}_{n \in[N]} f(n) \overline{\phi(n)}}$:

Here I have included the three classes of functions that one can choose from for the ${U^3}$ inverse theorem, namely degree two nilsequences, bracket quadratic phases, and local quadratic phases, as well as the more narrow class of globally quadratic phases.

The Gowers norms have counterparts for measure-preserving systems ${(X,T,\mu)}$, known as Host-Kra seminorms. The ${U^1(X)}$ norm can be defined for ${f \in L^\infty(X)}$ as

$\displaystyle \|f\|_{U^1(X)} := \lim_{N \rightarrow \infty} \int_X |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} T^n f|\ d\mu$

and the ${U^2}$ norm can be defined as

$\displaystyle \|f\|_{U^2(X)}^4 := \lim_{N \rightarrow \infty} \mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} \| T^n f \overline{f} \|_{U^1(X)}^2.$

The ${U^1(X)}$ seminorm is orthogonal to the invariant factor ${Z^0(X)}$ (generated by the (almost everywhere) invariant measurable subsets of ${X}$) in the sense that a function ${f \in L^\infty(X)}$ has vanishing ${U^1(X)}$ seminorm if and only if it is orthogonal to all ${Z^0(X)}$-measurable (bounded) functions. Similarly, the ${U^2(X)}$ norm is orthogonal to the Kronecker factor ${Z^1(X)}$, generated by the eigenfunctions of ${X}$ (that is to say, those ${f}$ obeying an identity ${Tf = \lambda f}$ for some ${T}$-invariant ${\lambda}$); for ergodic systems, it is the largest factor isomorphic to rotation on a compact abelian group. In analogy to the Gowers ${U^{1^+}[N]}$ norm, one can then define the Host-Kra ${U^{1^+}(X)}$ seminorm by

$\displaystyle \|f\|_{U^{1^+}(X)} := \sup_{q \geq 1} \frac{1}{q} \lim_{N \rightarrow \infty} \int_X |\mathop{\bf E}_{n \in [N]} T^{qn} f|\ d\mu;$

it is orthogonal to the profinite factor ${Z^{0^+}(X)}$, generated by the periodic sets of ${X}$ (or equivalently, by those eigenfunctions whose eigenvalue is a root of unity); for ergodic systems, it is the largest factor isomorphic to rotation on a profinite abelian group.

Tamar Ziegler and I have just uploaded to the arXiv two related papers: “Concatenation theorems for anti-Gowers-uniform functions and Host-Kra characteoristic factors” and “polynomial patterns in primes“, with the former developing a “quantitative Bessel inequality” for local Gowers norms that is crucial in the latter.

We use the term “concatenation theorem” to denote results in which structural control of a function in two or more “directions” can be “concatenated” into structural control in a joint direction. A trivial example of such a concatenation theorem is the following: if a function ${f: {\bf Z} \times {\bf Z} \rightarrow {\bf R}}$ is constant in the first variable (thus ${x \mapsto f(x,y)}$ is constant for each ${y}$), and also constant in the second variable (thus ${y \mapsto f(x,y)}$ is constant for each ${x}$), then it is constant in the joint variable ${(x,y)}$. A slightly less trivial example: if a function ${f: {\bf Z} \times {\bf Z} \rightarrow {\bf R}}$ is affine-linear in the first variable (thus, for each ${y}$, there exist ${\alpha(y), \beta(y)}$ such that ${f(x,y) = \alpha(y) x + \beta(y)}$ for all ${x}$) and affine-linear in the second variable (thus, for each ${x}$, there exist ${\gamma(x), \delta(x)}$ such that ${f(x,y) = \gamma(x)y + \delta(x)}$ for all ${y}$) then ${f}$ is a quadratic polynomial in ${x,y}$; in fact it must take the form

$\displaystyle f(x,y) = \epsilon xy + \zeta x + \eta y + \theta \ \ \ \ \ (1)$

for some real numbers ${\epsilon, \zeta, \eta, \theta}$. (This can be seen for instance by using the affine linearity in ${y}$ to show that the coefficients ${\alpha(y), \beta(y)}$ are also affine linear.)

The same phenomenon extends to higher degree polynomials. Given a function ${f: G \rightarrow K}$ from one additive group ${G}$ to another, we say that ${f}$ is of degree less than ${d}$ along a subgroup ${H}$ of ${G}$ if all the ${d}$-fold iterated differences of ${f}$ along directions in ${H}$ vanish, that is to say

$\displaystyle \partial_{h_1} \dots \partial_{h_d} f(x) = 0$

for all ${x \in G}$ and ${h_1,\dots,h_d \in H}$, where ${\partial_h}$ is the difference operator

$\displaystyle \partial_h f(x) := f(x+h) - f(x).$

(We adopt the convention that the only ${f}$ of degree less than ${0}$ is the zero function.)

We then have the following simple proposition:

Proposition 1 (Concatenation of polynomiality) Let ${f: G \rightarrow K}$ be of degree less than ${d_1}$ along one subgroup ${H_1}$ of ${G}$, and of degree less than ${d_2}$ along another subgroup ${H_2}$ of ${G}$, for some ${d_1,d_2 \geq 1}$. Then ${f}$ is of degree less than ${d_1+d_2-1}$ along the subgroup ${H_1+H_2}$ of ${G}$.

Note the previous example was basically the case when ${G = {\bf Z} \times {\bf Z}}$, ${H_1 = {\bf Z} \times \{0\}}$, ${H_2 = \{0\} \times {\bf Z}}$, ${K = {\bf R}}$, and ${d_1=d_2=2}$.

Proof: The claim is trivial for ${d_1=1}$ or ${d_2=1}$ (in which ${f}$ is constant along ${H_1}$ or ${H_2}$ respectively), so suppose inductively ${d_1,d_2 \geq 2}$ and the claim has already been proven for smaller values of ${d_1-1}$.

We take a derivative in a direction ${h_1 \in H_1}$ along ${h_1}$ to obtain

$\displaystyle T^{-h_1} f = f + \partial_{h_1} f$

where ${T^{-h_1} f(x) = f(x+h_1)}$ is the shift of ${f}$ by ${-h_1}$. Then we take a further shift by a direction ${h_2 \in H_2}$ to obtain

$\displaystyle T^{-h_1-h_2} f = T^{-h_2} f + T^{-h_2} \partial_{h_1} f = f + \partial_{h_2} f + T^{-h_2} \partial_{h_1} f$

$\displaystyle \partial_{h_1+h_2} f = \partial_{h_2} f + T^{-h_2} \partial_{h_1} f.$

Since ${f}$ has degree less than ${d_1}$ along ${H_1}$ and degree less than ${d_2}$ along ${H_2}$, ${\partial_{h_1} f}$ has degree less than ${d_1-1}$ along ${H_1}$ and less than ${d_2}$ along ${H_2}$, so is degree less than ${d_1+d_2-2}$ along ${H_1+H_2}$ by induction hypothesis. Similarly ${\partial_{h_2} f}$ is also of degree less than ${d_1+d_2-2}$ along ${H_1+H_2}$. Combining this with the cocycle equation we see that ${\partial_{h_1+h_2}f}$ is of degree less than ${d_1+d_2-2}$ along ${H_1+H_2}$ for any ${h_1+h_2 \in H_1+H_2}$, and hence ${f}$ is of degree less than ${d_1+d_2-1}$ along ${H_1+H_2}$, as required. $\Box$

While this proposition is simple, it already illustrates some basic principles regarding how one would go about proving a concatenation theorem:

• (i) One should perform induction on the degrees ${d_1,d_2}$ involved, and take advantage of the recursive nature of degree (in this case, the fact that a function is of less than degree ${d}$ along some subgroup ${H}$ of directions iff all of its first derivatives along ${H}$ are of degree less than ${d-1}$).
• (ii) Structure is preserved by operations such as addition, shifting, and taking derivatives. In particular, if a function ${f}$ is of degree less than ${d}$ along some subgroup ${H}$, then any derivative ${\partial_k f}$ of ${f}$ is also of degree less than ${d}$ along ${H}$, even if ${k}$ does not belong to ${H}$.

Here is another simple example of a concatenation theorem. Suppose an at most countable additive group ${G}$ acts by measure-preserving shifts ${T: g \mapsto T^g}$ on some probability space ${(X, {\mathcal X}, \mu)}$; we call the pair ${(X,T)}$ (or more precisely ${(X, {\mathcal X}, \mu, T)}$) a ${G}$-system. We say that a function ${f \in L^\infty(X)}$ is a generalised eigenfunction of degree less than ${d}$ along some subgroup ${H}$ of ${G}$ and some ${d \geq 1}$ if one has

$\displaystyle T^h f = \lambda_h f$

almost everywhere for all ${h \in H}$, and some functions ${\lambda_h \in L^\infty(X)}$ of degree less than ${d-1}$ along ${H}$, with the convention that a function has degree less than ${0}$ if and only if it is equal to ${1}$. Thus for instance, a function ${f}$ is an generalised eigenfunction of degree less than ${1}$ along ${H}$ if it is constant on almost every ${H}$-ergodic component of ${G}$, and is a generalised function of degree less than ${2}$ along ${H}$ if it is an eigenfunction of the shift action on almost every ${H}$-ergodic component of ${G}$. A basic example of a higher order eigenfunction is the function ${f(x,y) := e^{2\pi i y}}$ on the skew shift ${({\bf R}/{\bf Z})^2}$ with ${{\bf Z}}$ action given by the generator ${T(x,y) := (x+\alpha,y+x)}$ for some irrational ${\alpha}$. One can check that ${T^h f = \lambda_h f}$ for every integer ${h}$, where ${\lambda_h: x \mapsto e^{2\pi i \binom{h}{2} \alpha} e^{2\pi i h x}}$ is a generalised eigenfunction of degree less than ${2}$ along ${{\bf Z}}$, so ${f}$ is of degree less than ${3}$ along ${{\bf Z}}$.

We then have

Proposition 2 (Concatenation of higher order eigenfunctions) Let ${(X,T)}$ be a ${G}$-system, and let ${f \in L^\infty(X)}$ be a generalised eigenfunction of degree less than ${d_1}$ along one subgroup ${H_1}$ of ${G}$, and a generalised eigenfunction of degree less than ${d_2}$ along another subgroup ${H_2}$ of ${G}$, for some ${d_1,d_2 \geq 1}$. Then ${f}$ is a generalised eigenfunction of degree less than ${d_1+d_2-1}$ along the subgroup ${H_1+H_2}$ of ${G}$.

The argument is almost identical to that of the previous proposition and is left as an exercise to the reader. The key point is the point (ii) identified earlier: the space of generalised eigenfunctions of degree less than ${d}$ along ${H}$ is preserved by multiplication and shifts, as well as the operation of “taking derivatives” ${f \mapsto \lambda_k}$ even along directions ${k}$ that do not lie in ${H}$. (To prove this latter claim, one should restrict to the region where ${f}$ is non-zero, and then divide ${T^k f}$ by ${f}$ to locate ${\lambda_k}$.)

A typical example of this proposition in action is as follows: consider the ${{\bf Z}^2}$-system given by the ${3}$-torus ${({\bf R}/{\bf Z})^3}$ with generating shifts

$\displaystyle T^{(1,0)}(x,y,z) := (x+\alpha,y,z+y)$

$\displaystyle T^{(0,1)}(x,y,z) := (x,y+\alpha,z+x)$

for some irrational ${\alpha}$, which can be checked to give a ${{\bf Z}^2}$ action

$\displaystyle T^{(n,m)}(x,y,z) := (x+n\alpha, y+m\alpha, z+ny+mx+nm\alpha).$

The function ${f(x,y,z) := e^{2\pi i z}}$ can then be checked to be a generalised eigenfunction of degree less than ${2}$ along ${{\bf Z} \times \{0\}}$, and also less than ${2}$ along ${\{0\} \times {\bf Z}}$, and less than ${3}$ along ${{\bf Z}^2}$. One can view this example as the dynamical systems translation of the example (1) (see this previous post for some more discussion of this sort of correspondence).

The main results of our concatenation paper are analogues of these propositions concerning a more complicated notion of “polynomial-like” structure that are of importance in additive combinatorics and in ergodic theory. On the ergodic theory side, the notion of structure is captured by the Host-Kra characteristic factors ${Z^{ of a ${G}$-system ${X}$ along a subgroup ${H}$. These factors can be defined in a number of ways. One is by duality, using the Gowers-Host-Kra uniformity seminorms (defined for instance here) ${\| \|_{U^d_H(X)}}$. Namely, ${Z^{ is the factor of ${X}$ defined up to equivalence by the requirement that

$\displaystyle \|f\|_{U^d_H(X)} = 0 \iff {\bf E}(f | Z^{

An equivalent definition is in terms of the dual functions ${{\mathcal D}^d_H(f)}$ of ${f}$ along ${H}$, which can be defined recursively by setting ${{\mathcal D}^0_H(f) = 1}$ and

$\displaystyle {\mathcal D}^d_H(f) = {\bf E}_h T^h f {\mathcal D}^{d-1}( f \overline{T^h f} )$

where ${{\bf E}_h}$ denotes the ergodic average along a Følner sequence in ${G}$ (in fact one can also define these concepts in non-amenable abelian settings as per this previous post). The factor ${Z^{ can then be alternately defined as the factor generated by the dual functions ${{\mathcal D}^d_H(f)}$ for ${f \in L^\infty(X)}$.

In the case when ${G=H={\bf Z}}$ and ${X}$ is ${G}$-ergodic, a deep theorem of Host and Kra shows that the factor ${Z^{ is equivalent to the inverse limit of nilsystems of step less than ${d}$. A similar statement holds with ${{\bf Z}}$ replaced by any finitely generated group by Griesmer, while the case of an infinite vector space over a finite field was treated in this paper of Bergelson, Ziegler, and myself. The situation is more subtle when ${X}$ is not ${G}$-ergodic, or when ${X}$ is ${G}$-ergodic but ${H}$ is a proper subgroup of ${G}$ acting non-ergodically, when one has to start considering measurable families of directional nilsystems; see for instance this paper of Austin for some of the subtleties involved (for instance, higher order group cohomology begins to become relevant!).

One of our main theorems is then

Proposition 3 (Concatenation of characteristic factors) Let ${(X,T)}$ be a ${G}$-system, and let ${f}$ be measurable with respect to the factor ${Z^{ and with respect to the factor ${Z^{ for some ${d_1,d_2 \geq 1}$ and some subgroups ${H_1,H_2}$ of ${G}$. Then ${f}$ is also measurable with respect to the factor ${Z^{.

We give two proofs of this proposition in the paper; an ergodic-theoretic proof using the Host-Kra theory of “cocycles of type ${ (along a subgroup ${H}$)”, which can be used to inductively describe the factors ${Z^{, and a combinatorial proof based on a combinatorial analogue of this proposition which is harder to state (but which roughly speaking asserts that a function which is nearly orthogonal to all bounded functions of small ${U^{d_1}_{H_1}}$ norm, and also to all bounded functions of small ${U^{d_2}_{H_2}}$ norm, is also nearly orthogonal to alll bounded functions of small ${U^{d_1+d_2-1}_{H_1+H_2}}$ norm). The combinatorial proof parallels the proof of Proposition 2. A key point is that dual functions ${F := {\mathcal D}^d_H(f)}$ obey a property analogous to being a generalised eigenfunction, namely that

$\displaystyle T^h F = {\bf E}_k \lambda_{h,k} F_k$

where ${F_k := T^k F}$ and ${\lambda_{h,k} := {\mathcal D}^{d-1}( T^h f \overline{T^k f} )}$ is a “structured function of order ${d-1}$” along ${H}$. (In the language of this previous paper of mine, this is an assertion that dual functions are uniformly almost periodic of order ${d}$.) Again, the point (ii) above is crucial, and in particular it is key that any structure that ${F}$ has is inherited by the associated functions ${\lambda_{h,k}}$ and ${F_k}$. This sort of inheritance is quite easy to accomplish in the ergodic setting, as there is a ready-made language of factors to encapsulate the concept of structure, and the shift-invariance and ${\sigma}$-algebra properties of factors make it easy to show that just about any “natural” operation one performs on a function measurable with respect to a given factor, returns a function that is still measurable in that factor. In the finitary combinatorial setting, though, encoding the fact (ii) becomes a remarkably complicated notational nightmare, requiring a huge amount of “epsilon management” and “second-order epsilon management” (in which one manages not only scalar epsilons, but also function-valued epsilons that depend on other parameters). In order to avoid all this we were forced to utilise a nonstandard analysis framework for the combinatorial theorems, which made the arguments greatly resemble the ergodic arguments in many respects (though the two settings are still not equivalent, see this previous blog post for some comparisons between the two settings). Unfortunately the arguments are still rather complicated.

For combinatorial applications, dual formulations of the concatenation theorem are more useful. A direct dualisation of the theorem yields the following decomposition theorem: a bounded function which is small in ${U^{d_1+d_2-1}_{H_1+H_2}}$ norm can be split into a component that is small in ${U^{d_1}_{H_1}}$ norm, and a component that is small in ${U^{d_2}_{H_2}}$ norm. (One may wish to understand this type of result by first proving the following baby version: any function that has mean zero on every coset of ${H_1+H_2}$, can be decomposed as the sum of a function that has mean zero on every ${H_1}$ coset, and a function that has mean zero on every ${H_2}$ coset. This is dual to the assertion that a function that is constant on every ${H_1}$ coset and constant on every ${H_2}$ coset, is constant on every ${H_1+H_2}$ coset.) Combining this with some standard “almost orthogonality” arguments (i.e. Cauchy-Schwarz) give the following Bessel-type inequality: if one has a lot of subgroups ${H_1,\dots,H_k}$ and a bounded function is small in ${U^{2d-1}_{H_i+H_j}}$ norm for most ${i,j}$, then it is also small in ${U^d_{H_i}}$ norm for most ${i}$. (Here is a baby version one may wish to warm up on: if a function ${f}$ has small mean on ${({\bf Z}/p{\bf Z})^2}$ for some large prime ${p}$, then it has small mean on most of the cosets of most of the one-dimensional subgroups of ${({\bf Z}/p{\bf Z})^2}$.)

There is also a generalisation of the above Bessel inequality (as well as several of the other results mentioned above) in which the subgroups ${H_i}$ are replaced by more general coset progressions ${H_i+P_i}$ (of bounded rank), so that one has a Bessel inequailty controlling “local” Gowers uniformity norms such as ${U^d_{P_i}}$ by “global” Gowers uniformity norms such as ${U^{2d-1}_{P_i+P_j}}$. This turns out to be particularly useful when attempting to compute polynomial averages such as

$\displaystyle \sum_{n \leq N} \sum_{r \leq \sqrt{N}} f(n) g(n+r^2) h(n+2r^2) \ \ \ \ \ (2)$

for various functions ${f,g,h}$. After repeated use of the van der Corput lemma, one can control such averages by expressions such as

$\displaystyle \sum_{n \leq N} \sum_{h,m,k \leq \sqrt{N}} f(n) f(n+mh) f(n+mk) f(n+m(h+k))$

(actually one ends up with more complicated expressions than this, but let’s use this example for sake of discussion). This can be viewed as an average of various ${U^2}$ Gowers uniformity norms of ${f}$ along arithmetic progressions of the form ${\{ mh: h \leq \sqrt{N}\}}$ for various ${m \leq \sqrt{N}}$. Using the above Bessel inequality, this can be controlled in turn by an average of various ${U^3}$ Gowers uniformity norms along rank two generalised arithmetic progressions of the form ${\{ m_1 h_1 + m_2 h_2: h_1,h_2 \le \sqrt{N}\}}$ for various ${m_1,m_2 \leq \sqrt{N}}$. But for generic ${m_1,m_2}$, this rank two progression is close in a certain technical sense to the “global” interval ${\{ n: n \leq N \}}$ (this is ultimately due to the basic fact that two randomly chosen large integers are likely to be coprime, or at least have a small gcd). As a consequence, one can use the concatenation theorems from our first paper to control expressions such as (2) in terms of global Gowers uniformity norms. This is important in number theoretic applications, when one is interested in computing sums such as

$\displaystyle \sum_{n \leq N} \sum_{r \leq \sqrt{N}} \mu(n) \mu(n+r^2) \mu(n+2r^2)$

or

$\displaystyle \sum_{n \leq N} \sum_{r \leq \sqrt{N}} \Lambda(n) \Lambda(n+r^2) \Lambda(n+2r^2)$

where ${\mu}$ and ${\Lambda}$ are the Möbius and von Mangoldt functions respectively. This is because we are able to control global Gowers uniformity norms of such functions (thanks to results such as the proof of the inverse conjecture for the Gowers norms, the orthogonality of the Möbius function with nilsequences, and asymptotics for linear equations in primes), but much less control is currently available for local Gowers uniformity norms, even with the assistance of the generalised Riemann hypothesis (see this previous blog post for some further discussion).

By combining these tools and strategies with the “transference principle” approach from our previous paper (as improved using the recent “densification” technique of Conlon, Fox, and Zhao, discussed in this previous post), we are able in particular to establish the following result:

Theorem 4 (Polynomial patterns in the primes) Let ${P_1,\dots,P_k: {\bf Z} \rightarrow {\bf Z}}$ be polynomials of degree at most ${d}$, whose degree ${d}$ coefficients are all distinct, for some ${d \geq 1}$. Suppose that ${P_1,\dots,P_k}$ is admissible in the sense that for every prime ${p}$, there are ${n,r}$ such that ${n+P_1(r),\dots,n+P_k(r)}$ are all coprime to ${p}$. Then there exist infinitely many pairs ${n,r}$ of natural numbers such that ${n+P_1(r),\dots,n+P_k(r)}$ are prime.

Furthermore, we obtain an asymptotic for the number of such pairs ${n,r}$ in the range ${n \leq N}$, ${r \leq N^{1/d}}$ (actually for minor technical reasons we reduce the range of ${r}$ to be very slightly less than ${N^{1/d}}$). In fact one could in principle obtain asymptotics for smaller values of ${r}$, and relax the requirement that the degree ${d}$ coefficients be distinct with the requirement that no two of the ${P_i}$ differ by a constant, provided one had good enough local uniformity results for the Möbius or von Mangoldt functions. For instance, we can obtain an asymptotic for triplets of the form ${n, n+r,n+r^d}$ unconditionally for ${d \leq 5}$, and conditionally on GRH for all ${d}$, using known results on primes in short intervals on average.

The ${d=1}$ case of this theorem was obtained in a previous paper of myself and Ben Green (using the aforementioned conjectures on the Gowers uniformity norm and the orthogonality of the Möbius function with nilsequences, both of which are now proven). For higher ${d}$, an older result of Tamar and myself was able to tackle the case when ${P_1(0)=\dots=P_k(0)=0}$ (though our results there only give lower bounds on the number of pairs ${(n,r)}$, and no asymptotics). Both of these results generalise my older theorem with Ben Green on the primes containing arbitrarily long arithmetic progressions. The theorem also extends to multidimensional polynomials, in which case there are some additional previous results; see the paper for more details. We also get a technical refinement of our previous result on narrow polynomial progressions in (dense subsets of) the primes by making the progressions just a little bit narrower in the case of the density of the set one is using is small.

In this lecture, we describe the simple but fundamental Furstenberg correspondence principle which connects the “soft analysis” subject of ergodic theory (in particular, recurrence theorems) with the “hard analysis” subject of combinatorial number theory (or more generally with results of “density Ramsey theory” type). Rather than try to set up the most general and abstract version of this principle, we shall instead study the canonical example of this principle in action, namely the equating of the Furstenberg multiple recurrence theorem with Szemerédi’s theorem on arithmetic progressions.
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