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I’ve just uploaded to the arXiv my paper “Mixing for progressions in non-abelian groups“, submitted to Forum of Mathematics, Sigma (which, along with sister publication Forum of Mathematics, Pi, has just opened up its online submission system). This paper is loosely related in subject topic to my two previous papers on polynomial expansion and on recurrence in quasirandom groups (with Vitaly Bergelson), although the methods here are rather different from those in those two papers. The starting motivation for this paper was a question posed in this foundational paper of Tim Gowers on quasirandom groups. In that paper, Gowers showed (among other things) that if ${G}$ was a quasirandom group, patterns such as ${(x,xg,xh, xgh)}$ were mixing in the sense that, for any four sets ${A,B,C,D \subset G}$, the number of such quadruples ${(x,xg,xh, xgh)}$ in ${A \times B \times C \times D}$ was equal to ${(\mu(A) \mu(B) \mu(C) \mu(D) + o(1)) |G|^3}$, where ${\mu(A) := |A| / |G|}$, and ${o(1)}$ denotes a quantity that goes to zero as the quasirandomness of the group goes to infinity. In my recent paper with Vitaly, we also considered mixing properties of some other patterns, namely ${(x,xg,gx)}$ and ${(g,x,xg,gx)}$. This paper is concerned instead with the pattern ${(x,xg,xg^2)}$, that is to say a geometric progression of length three. As observed by Gowers, by applying (a suitably quantitative version of) Roth’s theorem in (cosets of) a cyclic group, one can obtain a recurrence theorem for this pattern without much effort: if ${G}$ is an arbitrary finite group, and ${A}$ is a subset of ${G}$ with ${\mu(A) \geq \delta}$, then there are at least ${c(\delta) |G|^2}$ pairs ${(x,g) \in G}$ such that ${x, xg, xg^2 \in A}$, where ${c(\delta)>0}$ is a quantity depending only on ${\delta}$. However, this argument does not settle the question of whether there is a stronger mixing property, in that the number of pairs ${(x,g) \in G^2}$ such that ${(x,xg,xg^2) \in A \times B \times C}$ should be ${(\mu(A)\mu(B)\mu(C)+o(1)) |G|^2}$ for any ${A,B,C \subset G}$. Informally, this would assert that for ${x, g}$ chosen uniformly at random from ${G}$, the triplet ${(x, xg, xg^2)}$ should resemble a uniformly selected element of ${G^3}$ in some weak sense.

For non-quasirandom groups, such mixing properties can certainly fail. For instance, if ${G}$ is the cyclic group ${G = ({\bf Z}/N{\bf Z},+)}$ (which is abelian and thus highly non-quasirandom) with the additive group operation, and ${A = \{1,\ldots,\lfloor \delta N\rfloor\}}$ for some small but fixed ${\delta > 0}$, then ${\mu(A) = \delta + o(1)}$ in the limit ${N \rightarrow \infty}$, but the number of pairs ${(x,g) \in G^2}$ with ${x, x+g, x+2g \in A}$ is ${(\delta^2/2 + o(1)) |G|^2}$ rather than ${(\delta^3+o(1)) |G|^2}$. The problem here is that the identity ${(x+2g) = 2(x+g) - x}$ ensures that if ${x}$ and ${x+g}$ both lie in ${A}$, then ${x+2g}$ has a highly elevated likelihood of also falling in ${A}$. One can view ${A}$ as the preimage of a small ball under the one-dimensional representation ${\rho: G \rightarrow U(1)}$ defined by ${\rho(n) := e^{2\pi i n/N}}$; similar obstructions to mixing can also be constructed from other low-dimensional representations.

However, by definition, quasirandom groups do not have low-dimensional representations, and Gowers asked whether mixing for ${(x,xg,xg^2)}$ could hold for quasirandom groups. I do not know if this is the case for arbitrary quasirandom groups, but I was able to settle the question for a specific class of quasirandom groups, namely the special linear groups ${G := SL_d(F)}$ over a finite field ${F}$ in the regime where the dimension ${d}$ is bounded (but is at least two) and ${F}$ is large. Indeed, for such groups I can obtain a count of ${(\mu(A) \mu(B) \mu(C) + O( |F|^{-\min(d-1,2)/8} )) |G|^2}$ for the number of pairs ${(x,g) \in G^2}$ with ${(x, xg, xg^2) \in A \times B \times C}$. In fact, I have the somewhat stronger statement that there are ${(\mu(A) \mu(B) \mu(C) \mu(D) + O( |F|^{-\min(d-1,2)/8} )) |G|^2}$ pairs ${(x,g) \in G^2}$ with ${(x,xg,xg^2,g) \in A \times B \times C \times D}$ for any ${A,B,C,D \subset G}$.

I was also able to obtain a partial result for the length four progression ${(x,xg,xg^2, xg^3)}$ in the simpler two-dimensional case ${G = SL_2(F)}$, but I had to make the unusual restriction that the group element ${g \in G}$ was hyperbolic in the sense that it was diagonalisable over the finite field ${F}$ (as opposed to diagonalisable over the algebraic closure ${\overline{F}}$ of that field); this amounts to the discriminant of the matrix being a quadratic residue, and this holds for approximately half of the elements of ${G}$. The result is then that for any ${A,B,C,D \subset G}$, one has ${(\frac{1}{2} \mu(A) \mu(B) \mu(C) \mu(D) + o(1)) |G|^2}$ pairs ${(x,g) \in G}$ with ${g}$ hyperbolic and ${(x,xg,xg^2,xg^3) \subset A \times B \times C \times D}$. (Again, I actually show a slightly stronger statement in which ${g}$ is restricted to an arbitrary subset ${E}$ of hyperbolic elements.)

For the length three argument, the main tools used are the Cauchy-Schwarz inequality, the quasirandomness of ${G}$, and some algebraic geometry to ensure that a certain family of probability measures on ${G}$ that are defined algebraically are approximately uniformly distributed. The length four argument is significantly more difficult and relies on a rather ad hoc argument involving, among other things, expander properties related to the work of Bourgain and Gamburd, and also a “twisted” version of an argument of Gowers that is used (among other things) to establish an inverse theorem for the ${U^3}$ norm.

I give some details of these arguments below the fold.