Roots of unity and the Big Picture

All lattices in the moonshine picture are number-like, that is of the form $M \frac{g}{h}$ with $M$ a positive integer and $0 \leq g < h$ with $(g,h)=1$. To understand the action of the Bost-Connes algebra on the Big Picture it is sometimes better to view the lattice $M \frac{g}{h}$ as a primitive $h$-th root of unity, centered at $hM$.

The distance from $M$ to any of the lattices $M \frac{g}{h}$ is equal to $2 log(h)$, and the distances from $M$ and $M \frac{g}{h}$ to $hM$ are all equal to $log(h)$.

For a prime value $h$, these $h$ lattices are among the $h+1$ lattices branching off at $hM$ in the $h$-adic tree (the remaining one being $h^2M$).

For general $h$ the situation is more complex. Here’s the picture for $h=6$ with edges in the $2$-adic tree painted blue, those in the $3$-adic tree red.

\xymatrix{& & M \frac{1}{2} \ar@[blue]@{-}[d] & \\
& M \ar@[blue]@{-}[r] \ar@[red]@{-}[d] & 2M \ar@[red]@{-}[d] & M \frac{1}{6} \ar@[red]@{-}[d] \\
M \frac{1}{3} \ar@[red]@{-}[r] & 3M \ar@[blue]@{-}[r] \ar@[red]@{-}[d] & \boxed{6 M} \ar@[blue]@{-}[r] & 3M \frac{1}{2} \ar@[red]@{-}[d] \\ & M \frac{2}{3} & & M \frac{5}{6}} \]

To describe the moonshine group $(n|h)+e,f,\dots$ (an example was worked out in the tetrahedral snake post), we need to study the action of base-change with the matrix
x = \begin{bmatrix} 1 & \frac{1}{h} \\ 0 & 1 \end{bmatrix} \]
which sends a lattice of the form $M \frac{g}{h}$ with $0 \leq g < h$ to $M \frac{g+M}{h}$, so is a rotation over $\frac{2 \pi M}{h}$ around $h M$. But, we also have to describe the base-change action with the matrix \[ y = \begin{bmatrix} 1 & 0 \\ n & 1 \end{bmatrix} \] and for this we better use the second description of the lattice as $M \frac{g}{h}=(\frac{g'}{h},\frac{1}{h^2M})$ with $g'$ the multiplicative inverse of $g$ modulo $h$. Under the action by $y$, the second factor $\frac{1}{h^2M}$ will be fixed, so this time we have to look at all lattices of the form $(\frac{g}{h},\frac{1}{h^2M})$ with $0 \leq g < h$, which again can be considered as another set of $h$-th roots of unity, centered at $hM$. Here's this second interpretation for $h=6$: \[ \xymatrix{M \frac{5}{6} \ar@[red]@{-}[d] & & 4M \frac{1}{3} \ar@[red]@{-}[d] & \\ 3M \frac{1}{2} \ar@[blue]@{-}[r] \ar@[red]@{-}[d] & \boxed{6M} \ar@[blue]@{-}[r] \ar@[red]@{-}[d] & 12 M \ar@[red]@{-}[r] \ar@[red]@{-}[d] & 4 M \frac{2}{3} \\ M \frac{1}{6} & 18 M \ar@[blue]@{-}[r] \ar@[blue]@{-}[d] & 36 M & \\ & 9M \frac{1}{2} & & } \] Under $x$ the first set of $h$-th roots of unity centered at $hM$ is permuted, whereas $y$ permutes the second set of $h$-th roots of unity.
These interpretations can be used to spot errors in computing the finite groups $\Gamma_0(n|h)/\Gamma_0(n.h)$.

Here’s part of the calculation of the action of $y$ on the $(360|1)$-snake (which consists of $60$-lattices).

First I got a group of order roughly $600.000$. After correcting some erroneous cycles, the order went down to 6912.

Finally I spotted that I mis-numbered two lattices in the description of $x$ and $y$, and the order went down to $48$ as it should, because I knew it had to be equal to $C_2 \times C_2 \times A_4$.

Penrose tiles in Helsinki

(image credit: Steve’s travels & stuff)

A central street in Helsinki has been paved with Penrose tiles.

(image credit: Sattuman soittoa)

From a Finnish paper:

“The street could also be an object to mathematical awe. The stone under one’s feet is embroidered with some profound geometry, namely, Penrose tiling.

In 1974, a British mathematician Roger Penrose realised a plane could be fully covered with a few simple rules such that the pattern constantly changes. These kind of discontinuous patterns are interesting to mathematicians since the patterns can be used to solve other geometrical problems. Together, the tiles can randomly form patterns reminding a star or the Sun but they do not regularly recur in the tiling.

Similar features are found in the old Arabic ornaments. The tiling of the Central Street prom was selected by Yrjö Rossi.

If your kid stays put to stare at the tiling, they might have what they need in order to become a mathematician.”

(via Reddit/m)

nc-geometry and moonshine?

A well-known link between Conway’s Big Picture and non-commutative geometry is given by the Bost-Connes system.

This quantum statistical mechanical system encodes the arithmetic properties of cyclotomic extensions of $\mathbb{Q}$.

The corresponding Bost-Connes algebra encodes the action by the power-maps on the roots of unity.

It has generators $e_n$ and $e_n^*$ for every natural number $n$ and additional generators $e(\frac{g}{h})$ for every element in the additive group $\mathbb{Q}/\mathbb{Z}$ (which is of course isomorphic to the multiplicative group of roots of unity).

The defining equations are
e_n.e(\frac{g}{h}).e_n^* = \rho_n(e(\frac{g}{h})) \\
e_n^*.e(\frac{g}{h}) = \Psi^n(e(\frac{g}{h}).e_n^* \\
e(\frac{g}{h}).e_n = e_n.\Psi^n(e(\frac{g}{h})) \\
e_n.e_m=e_{nm} \\
e_n^*.e_m^* = e_{nm}^* \\
e_n.e_m^* = e_m^*.e_n~\quad~\text{if $(m,n)=1$}

Here $\Psi^n$ are the power-maps, that is $\Psi^n(e(\frac{g}{h})) = e(\frac{ng}{h}~mod~1)$, and the maps $\rho_n$ are given by
\rho_n(e(\frac{g}{h})) = \sum e(\frac{i}{j}) \]
where the sum is taken over all $\frac{i}{j} \in \mathbb{Q}/\mathbb{Z}$ such that $n.\frac{i}{j}=\frac{g}{h}$.

Conway’s Big Picture has as its vertices the (equivalence classes of) lattices $M,\frac{g}{h}$ with $M \in \mathbb{Q}_+$ and $\frac{g}{h} \in \mathbb{Q}/\mathbb{Z}$.

The Bost-Connes algebra acts on the vector-space with basis the vertices of the Big Picture. The action is given by:
e_n \ast \frac{c}{d},\frac{g}{h} = \frac{nc}{d},\rho^m(\frac{g}{h})~\quad~\text{with $m=(n,d)$} \\
e_n^* \ast \frac{c}{d},\frac{g}{h} = (n,c) \times \frac{c}{nd},\Psi^{\frac{n}{m}}(\frac{g}{h})~\quad~\text{with $m=(n,c)$} \\
e(\frac{a}{b}) \ast \frac{c}{d},\frac{g}{h} = \frac{c}{d},\Psi^c(\frac{a}{b}) \frac{g}{h}

This connection makes one wonder whether non-commutative geometry can shed a new light on monstrous moonshine?

This question is taken up by Jorge Plazas in his paper Non-commutative geometry of groups like $\Gamma_0(N)$

Plazas shows that the bigger Connes-Marcolli $GL_2$-system also acts on the Big Picture. An intriguing quote:

“Our interest in the $GL_2$-system comes from the fact that its thermodynamic properties encode the arithmetic theory of modular functions to an extend which makes it possible for us to capture aspects of moonshine theory.”

Looks like the right kind of paper to take along when I disappear next week for some time in the French mountains…

Everything’s wrappable to a sphere

One of the better opening quotes of a paper:

“Even quite ungainly objects, like chairs and tables, will become almost spherical if you wrap them in enough newspaper.”

The paper in question is The orbifold notation for surface groups by John Conway.

Here’s Conway talking leisurely about Thurston’s idea to capture the acting group via the topology of the orbifold space and his own notation for such orbifolds.

Here’s another version of the paper, with illustrations: The orbifold notation for two-dimensional groups, by Conway and Daniel H. Huson.

A very accessible account are these lecture notes:

A field guide to the orbifolds, notes from class on “Geometry and the Imagination” in Minneapolis, with John Conway, Peter Doyle, Jane Gilman and Bill Thurston, on June 17–28, 1991.

And, here are notes by Thurston on The Geometry and Topology of Three-Manifolds, including stuff about orbifolds.

I came across these papers struggling my way through On the discrete groups of moonshine by Conway, McKay and Sebbar.

On the genus $0$ property of moonshine groups they have this to say:

“As for groups of the form $(n|h)+e,f,\dots$, the genus can be determined from the fundamental regions using the Riemann-Hurwitz formula. Since most of the groups are not subgroups of the modular group, the calculations of the genus, which cannot be produced here because of their length, are carried out by finding the elliptic fixed points and the cone points in the orbifolds attached to the fundamental regions. The Euler characteristic of the orbifold determines the genus of the group. See [paper] for more details on orbifold techniques.”

Chomp and the moonshine thread

Chomp is a 2-player game, usually played with chocolate bars.

The players take turns in choosing one chocolate block and “eat it”, together with all other blocks that are below it and to its right. There is a catch: the top left block contains poison, so the first player forced to eat it dies, that is, looses the game.

If you start with a rectangular bar, the first player has a winning strategy, though it may take you too long to actually find the correct first move. See this post for the strategy-stealing argument.

If you label the blocks of the rectangular bar by $(a,b)$ with $0 \leq a \leq k$ and $0 \leq b \leq l$, with the poisonous one being $(0,0)$, then this can be viewed as choosing a divisor $d$ of $N=p^k q^l$ and removing all multiples of $d$ from the set of divisors of $N$. The first person forced to name $1$ looses.

This allows for higher dimensional versions of Chomp.

If you start with the set of all divisors of a given natural number $N$, then the strategy-stealing argument shows that the first player has a winning move.

A general position of the game corresponds to a finite set of integers, closed under taking divisors. At each move the player has to choose an element of this set and remove it as well as all its multiples.

The thread of $(N|1)$, relevant in understanding a moonshine group of the form $(n|m)+e,f,\dots$ with $N=n \times h$, consists of all divisors of $N$.

But then, the union of all threads for all 171 moonshine groups is a position in higher dimensional Chomp.

Who wins starting from this moonshine thread?

Perhaps not terribly important, but it forces one to imagine the subgraph of the monstrous moonshine picture on the $97$ number-lattices way better than by its Hasse diagram.

Click on the image for a larger version.

By the way, notice the (slight) resemblance with the ‘monstrous moonshine painting’ by Atria

Here’s how the Hasse diagram of the moonshine thread was produced. These are ‘notes to self’, because I tend to forget such things quickly.

1. Work though the list of 171 moonshine groups in Monstrous Moonshine, pages 327-329. Add to a list all divisors of $N$ for a group of type $N+e,f,\dots$ or $n|h+e,f,\dots$ with $N=n \times h$. This should give you these $97$ integers:


2. Let $L$ be this list and use Sage:


3. Copy the output to a file, say, and remove all new-line breaks from it.

4. Install Graphviz on Mac OS X.

5. In Terminal, type
dot -Tpng -o chomp.png

the monstrous moonshine picture – 1

We’re slowly closing in on the elusive moonshine picture, which is the subgraph of Conway’s Big Picture needed to describe all 171 moonshine groups.

About nine years ago I had a first go at it, drawing a tiny fraction of it, just enough to understand the 9 moonshine groups appearing in Duncan’s realization of McKay’s E(8)-observation.

Over the last weeks I’ve made enough doodles to feel confident that the full picture is within reach and is less unwieldy than I once feared it might be.

The moonshine picture only involves about 212 lattices and there are about 97 snakes crawling into it, the dimension of the largest cell being 3.

I write ‘about’ on purpose as I may have forgotten a few, or counted some twice as is likely to happen in all projects involving a few hundreds of things. I’ll come back to it later.

For now, I can only show you the monstrous moonshine painting, which is a work by the Chilean artist Magdalena Atria.

Here’s a close up:

It is a large scale painting made with plasticine, directly attached to the wall of the Alejandra Von Hartz gallery where it was exhibited in 2010.

What does it have to do with monstrous moonshine?

From the press release:

“In mathematics ‘monstrous moonshine’ is a term devised by John H. Conway and Simon P. Norton in 1979, used to describe the (then totally unexpected) connection between the monster group M and modular functions.

The term ‘monstrous moonshine’ was picked to convey the feelings from the bizarre relations between seemingly unrelated structures. The same spirit of connecting apparently unrelated situations, at times revealing deeper links and at times constructing them, permeates through Atria’s work in this exhibition.”

I was impressed by the first sentence until I read the Wikipedia article on monstrous moonshine which starts off with:

“In mathematics, monstrous moonshine, or moonshine theory, is the unexpected connection between the monster group M and modular functions, in particular, the j function. The term was coined by John Conway and Simon P. Norton in 1979.”

It appears that curators of art-exhibitions, and the intended public of their writings, are familiar with modular forms and functions, but fail to grasp the $j$-function.

When they speak about ‘modular forms’, I fear they’re thinking of something entirely different.