What we (don’t) know

Do we know why the monster exists and why there’s moonshine around it?

The answer depends on whether or not you believe that vertex operator algebras are natural, elegant and inescapable objects.

the monster

Simple groups often arise from symmetries of exceptionally nice mathematical objects.

The smallest of them all, $A_5$, gives us the rotation symmetries of the icosahedron. The next one, Klein’s simple group $L_2(7)$, comes from the Klein quartic.

The smallest sporadic groups, the Mathieu groups, come from Steiner systems, and the Conway groups from the 24-dimensional Leech lattice.

What about the largest sporadic simple, the monster $\mathbb{M}$?

In his paper What is … the monster? Richard Borcherds writes (among other characterisations of $\mathbb{M}$):

“3. It is the automorphism group of the monster vertex algebra. (This is probably the best answer.)”

But, even Borcherds adds:

“Unfortunately none of these definitions is completely satisfactory. At the moment all constructions of the algebraic structures above seem artificial; they are constructed as sums of two or more apparently unrelated spaces, and it takes a lot of effort to define the algebraic structure on the sum of these spaces and to check that the monster acts on the resulting structure.
It is still an open problem to find a really simple and natural construction of the monster vertex algebra.

Here’s 2 minutes of John Conway on the “one thing” he really wants to know before he dies: why the monster group exists.


Moonshine started off with McKay’s observation that 196884 (the first coefficient in the normalized j-function) is the sum 1+196883 of the dimensions of the two smallest simple representations of $\mathbb{M}$.

Soon it was realised that every conjugacy class of the monster has a genus zero group (or ‘moonshine group’) associated to it.

Borcherds proved the ‘monstrous moonshine conjectures’ asserting that the associated main modular function of such a group is the character series of the action of the element on the monster vertex algebra.

Here’s Borcherds’ ICM talk in Berlin on this: What is … Moonshine?.

Once again, the monster vertex algebra appears to be the final answer.

However, in characterising the 171 moonshine groups among all possible genus zero groups one has proved that they are all of the form:

(ii) : $(n|h)+e,g,\dots$

In his book Moonshine beyond the Monster, Terry Gannon writes:

“We now understand the significance, in the VOA or CFT framework, of transformations in $SL_2(\mathbb{Z})$, but (ii) emphasises that many modular transformations relevant to Moonshine are more general (called the Atkin-Lehner involutions).
Monstrous moonshine will remain mysterious until we can understand its Atkin-Lehner symmetries.

a non-commutative Jack Daniels problem

At a seminar at the College de France in 1975, Tits wrote down the order of the monster group

\# \mathbb{M} = 2^{46}.3^{20}.5^9.7^6.11^2.13^3.17·19·23·29·31·41·47·59·71 \]

Andrew Ogg, who attended the talk, noticed that the prime divisors are precisely the primes $p$ for which the characteristic $p$ super-singular $j$-invariants are all defined over $\mathbb{F}_p$.

Here’s Ogg’s paper on this: Automorphismes de courbes modulaires, Séminaire Delange-Pisot-Poitou. Théorie des nombres, tome 16, no 1 (1974-1975).

Ogg offered a bottle of Jack Daniels for an explanation of this coincidence.

Even Richard Borcherds didn’t claim the bottle of Jack Daniels, though his proof of the monstrous moonshine conjecture is believed to be the best explanation, at present.

A few years ago, John Duncan and Ken Ono posted a paper “The Jack Daniels Problem”, in which they prove that monstrous moonshine implies that if $p$ is not one of Ogg’s primes it cannot be a divisor of $\# \mathbb{M}$. However, the other implication remains mysterious.

Duncan and Ono say:

“This discussion does not prove that every $p ∈ \text{Ogg}$ divides $\# \mathbb{M}$. It merely explains how the first principles of moonshine suggest this implication. Monstrous moonshine is the proof. Does this then provide a completely satisfactory solution to Ogg’s problem? Maybe or maybe not. Perhaps someone will one day furnish a map from the characteristic $p$ supersingular $j$-invariants to elements of order $p$ where the group structure of $\mathbb{M}$ is apparent.”

I don’t know whether they claimed the bottle, anyway.

But then, what is the non-commutative Jack Daniels Problem?

A footnote on the first page of Conway and Norton’s ‘Monstrous Moonshine’ paper says:

“Very recently, A. Pizer has shown these primes are the only ones that satisfy a certain conjecture of Hecke from 1936 relating modular forms of weight $2$ to quaternion algebra theta-series.”

Pizer’s paper is “A note on a conjecture of Hecke”.

Maybe there’s a connection between monstrous moonshine and the arithmetic of integral quaternion algebras. Some hints:

The commutation relations in the Big Picture are reminiscent of the meta-commutation relations for Hurwitz quaternions, originally due to Conway in his booklet on Quaternions and Octonions.

The fact that the $p$-tree in the Big Picture has valency $p+1$ comes from the fact that the Brauer-Severi of $M_2(\mathbb{F}_p)$ is $\mathbb{P}^1_{\mathbb{F}_p}$. In fact, the Big Picture should be related to the Brauer-Severi scheme of $M_2(\mathbb{Z})$.

Then, there’s Jorge Plazas claiming that Connes-Marcolli’s $GL_2$-system might be related to moonshine.

One of the first things I’ll do when I return is to run to the library and get our copy of Shimura’s ‘Introduction to the arithmetic theory of automorphic functions’.

Btw. the bottle in the title image is not a Jack Daniels but the remains of a bottle of Ricard, because I’m still in the French mountains.

Dedekind or Klein ?

The black&white psychedelic picture on the left of a tessellation of the hyperbolic upper-halfplane, was called the Dedekind tessellation in this post, following the reference given by John Stillwell in his excellent paper Modular Miracles, The American Mathematical Monthly, 108 (2001) 70-76.

But is this correct terminology? Nobody else uses it apparently. So, let’s try to track down the earliest depiction of this tessellation in the literature…

Stillwell refers to Richard Dedekind‘s 1877 paper “Schreiben an Herrn Borchard uber die Theorie der elliptische Modulfunktionen”, which appeared beginning of september 1877 in Crelle’s journal (Journal fur die reine und angewandte Mathematik, Bd. 83, 265-292).

There are a few odd things about this paper. To start, it really is the transcript of a (lengthy) letter to Herrn Borchardt (at first, I misread the recipient as Herrn Borcherds which would be really weird…), written on June 12th 1877, just 2 and a half months before it appeared… Even today in the age of camera-ready-copy it would probably take longer.

There isn’t a single figure in the paper, but, it is almost impossible to follow Dedekind’s arguments without having a mental image of the tessellation. He gives a fundamental domain for the action of the modular group $\Gamma = PSL_2(\mathbb{Z}) $ on the hyperbolic upper-half plane (a fact already known to Gauss) and goes on in section 3 to give a one-to-one mapping between this domain and the complex plane using what he calls the ‘valenz’ function $v $ (which is our modular function $j $, making an appearance in moonshine, and responsible for the black&white tessellation, the two colours corresponding to pre-images of the upper or lower half-planes).

Then there is this remarkable opening sentence.

Sie haben mich aufgefordert, eine etwas ausfuhrlichere Darstellung der Untersuchungen auszuarbeiten, von welchen ich, durch das Erscheinen der Abhandlung von Fuchs veranlasst, mir neulich erlaubt habe Ihnen eine kurze Ubersicht mitzuteilen; indem ich Ihrer Einladung hiermit Folge leiste, beschranke ich mich im wesentlichen auf den Teil dieser Untersuchungen, welcher mit der eben genannten Abhandlung zusammenhangt, und ich bitte Sie auch, die Ubergehung einiger Nebenpunkte entschuldigen zu wollen, da es mir im Augenblick an Zeit fehlt, alle Einzelheiten auszufuhren.

Well, just try to get a paper (let alone a letter) accepted by Crelle’s Journal with an opening line like : “I’ll restrict to just a few of the things I know, and even then, I cannot be bothered to fill in details as I don’t have the time to do so right now!” But somehow, Dedekind got away with it.

So, who was this guy Borchardt? How could this paper be published so swiftly? And, what might explain this extreme ‘je m’en fous’-opening ?

Carl Borchardt was a Berlin mathematician whose main claim to fame seems to be that he succeeded Crelle in 1856 as main editor of the ‘Journal fur reine und…’ until 1880 (so in 1877 he was still in charge, explaining the swift publication). It seems that during this time the ‘Journal’ was often referred to as “Borchardt’s Journal” or in France as “Journal de M Borchardt”. After Borchardt’s death, the Journal für die Reine und Angewandte Mathematik again became known as Crelle’s Journal.

As to the opening sentence, I have a toy-theory of what was going on. In 1877 a bitter dispute was raging between Kronecker (an editor for the Journal and an important one as he was the one succeeding Borchardt when he died in 1880) and Cantor. Cantor had published most of his papers at Crelle and submitted his latest find : there is a one-to-one correspondence between points in the unit interval [0,1] and points of d-dimensional space! Kronecker did everything in his power to stop that paper to the extend that Cantor wanted to retract it and submit it elsewhere. Dedekind supported Cantor and convinced him not to retract the paper and used his influence to have the paper published in Crelle in 1878. Cantor greatly resented Kronecker’s opposition to his work and never submitted any further papers to Crelle’s Journal.

Clearly, Borchardt was involved in the dispute and it is plausible that he ‘invited’ Dedekind to submit a paper on his old results in the process. As a further peace offering, Dedekind included a few ‘nice’ words for Kronecker

Bei meiner Versuchen, tiefer in diese mir unentbehrliche Theorie einzudringen und mir einen einfachen Weg zu den ausgezeichnet schonen Resultaten von Kronecker zu bahnen, die leider noch immer so schwer zuganglich sind, enkannte ich sogleich…

Probably, Dedekind was referring to Kronecker’s relation between class groups of quadratic imaginary fields and the j-function, see the miracle of 163. As an added bonus, Dedekind was elected to the Berlin academy in 1880…

Anyhow, no visible sign of ‘Dedekind’s’ tessellation in the 1877 Dedekind paper, so, we have to look further. I’m fairly certain to have found the earliest depiction of the black&white tessellation (if you have better info, please drop a line). Here it is

It is figure 7 in Felix Klein‘s paper “Uber die Transformation der elliptischen Funktionen und die Auflosung der Gleichungen funften Grades” which appeared in may 1878 in the Mathematische Annalen (Bd. 14 1878/79). He even adds the j-values which make it clear why black triangles should be oriented counter-clockwise and white triangles clockwise. If Klein would still be around today, I’m certain he’d be a metapost-guru.

So, perhaps the tessellation should be called Klein’s tessellation??
Well, not quite. Here’s what Klein writes wrt. figure 7

Diese Figur nun – welche die eigentliche Grundlage fur das Nachfolgende abgibt – ist eben diejenige, von der Dedekind bei seiner Darstellung ausgeht. Er kommt zu ihr durch rein arithmetische Betrachtung.

Case closed : Klein clearly acknowledges that Dedekind did have this picture in mind when writing his 1877 paper!

But then, there are a few odd things about Klein’s paper too, and, I do have a toy-theory about this as well… (tbc)

the McKay-Thompson series

Monstrous moonshine was born (sometime in 1978) the moment John McKay realized that the linear term in the j-function

$j(q) = \frac{1}{q} + 744 + 196884 q + 21493760 q^2 + 864229970 q^3 + \ldots $

is surprisingly close to the dimension of the smallest non-trivial irreducible representation of the monster group, which is 196883. Note that at that time, the Monster hasn’t been constructed yet, and, the only traces of its possible existence were kept as semi-secret information in a huge ledger (costing 80 pounds…) kept in the Atlas-office at Cambridge. Included were 8 huge pages describing the character table of the monster, the top left fragment, describing the lower dimensional irreducibles and their characters at small order elements, reproduced below

If you look at the dimensions of the smallest irreducible representations (the first column) : 196883, 21296876, 842609326, … you will see that the first, second and third of them are extremely close to the linear, quadratic and cubic coefficient of the j-function. In fact, more is true : one can obtain these actual j-coefficients as simple linear combination of the dimensions of the irrducibles :

$\begin{cases} 196884 &= 1 + 196883 \\
21493760 &= 1 + 196883 + 21296876 \\
864229970 &= 2 \times 1 + 2 \times 196883 + 21296876 + 842609326
\end{cases} $

Often, only the first relation is attributed to McKay, whereas the second and third were supposedly discovered by John Thompson after MKay showed him the first. Marcus du Sautoy tells a somewhat different sory in Finding Moonshine :

McKay has also gone on to find these extra equations, but is was Thompson who first published them. McKay admits that “I was a bit peeved really, I don’t think Thompson quite knew how much I knew.”

By the work of Richard Borcherds we now know the (partial according to some) explanation behind these numerical facts : there is a graded representation $V = \oplus_i V_i $ of the Monster-group (actually, it has a lot of extra structure such as being a vertex algebra) such that the dimension of the i-th factor $V_i $ equals the coefficient f $q^i $ in the j-function. The homogeneous components $V_i $ being finite dimensional representations of the monster, they decompose into the 194 irreducibles $X_j $. For the first three components we have the decompositions

$\begin{cases} V_1 &= X_1 \oplus X_2 \\
V_2 &= X_1 \oplus X_2 \oplus X_3 \\
V_3 &= X_1^{\oplus 2 } \oplus X_2^{\oplus 2} \oplus X_3 \oplus X_4
\end{cases} $

Calculating the dimensions on both sides give the above equations. However, being isomorphisms of monster-representations we are not restricted to just computing the dimensions. We might as well compute the character of any monster-element on both sides (observe that the dimension is just the character of the identity element). Characters are the traces of the matrices describing the action of a monster-element on the representation and these numbers fill the different columns of the character-table above.

Hence, the same integral combinations of the character values of any monster-element give another q-series and these are called the McKay-Thompson series. John Conway discovered them to be classical modular functions known as Hauptmoduln.

In most papers and online material on this only the first few coefficients of these series are documented, which may be just too little information to make new discoveries!

Fortunately, David Madore has compiled the first 3200 coefficients of all the 172 monster-series which are available in a huge 8Mb file. And, if you really need to have more coefficients, you can always use and modify his moonshine python program.

In order to reduce bandwidth, here a list containing the first 100 coefficients of the j-function

jfunct=[196884, 21493760, 864299970, 20245856256, 333202640600, 4252023300096, 44656994071935, 401490886656000, 3176440229784420, 22567393309593600, 146211911499519294, 874313719685775360, 4872010111798142520, 25497827389410525184, 126142916465781843075, 593121772421445058560, 2662842413150775245160, 11459912788444786513920, 47438786801234168813250, 189449976248893390028800, 731811377318137519245696, 2740630712513624654929920, 9971041659937182693533820, 35307453186561427099877376, 121883284330422510433351500, 410789960190307909157638144, 1353563541518646878675077500, 4365689224858876634610401280, 13798375834642999925542288376, 42780782244213262567058227200, 130233693825770295128044873221, 389608006170995911894300098560, 1146329398900810637779611090240, 3319627709139267167263679606784, 9468166135702260431646263438600, 26614365825753796268872151875584, 73773169969725069760801792854360, 201768789947228738648580043776000, 544763881751616630123165410477688, 1452689254439362169794355429376000, 3827767751739363485065598331130120, 9970416600217443268739409968824320, 25683334706395406994774011866319670, 65452367731499268312170283695144960, 165078821568186174782496283155142200, 412189630805216773489544457234333696, 1019253515891576791938652011091437835, 2496774105950716692603315123199672320, 6060574415413720999542378222812650932, 14581598453215019997540391326153984000, 34782974253512490652111111930326416268, 82282309236048637946346570669250805760, 193075525467822574167329529658775261720, 449497224123337477155078537760754122752, 1038483010587949794068925153685932435825, 2381407585309922413499951812839633584128, 5421449889876564723000378957979772088000, 12255365475040820661535516233050165760000, 27513411092859486460692553086168714659374, 61354289505303613617069338272284858777600, 135925092428365503809701809166616289474168, 299210983800076883665074958854523331870720, 654553043491650303064385476041569995365270, 1423197635972716062310802114654243653681152, 3076095473477196763039615540128479523917200, 6610091773782871627445909215080641586954240, 14123583372861184908287080245891873213544410, 30010041497911129625894110839466234009518080, 63419842535335416307760114920603619461313664, 133312625293210235328551896736236879235481600, 278775024890624328476718493296348769305198947, 579989466306862709777897124287027028934656000, 1200647685924154079965706763561795395948173320, 2473342981183106509136265613239678864092991488, 5070711930898997080570078906280842196519646750, 10346906640850426356226316839259822574115946496, 21015945810275143250691058902482079910086459520, 42493520024686459968969327541404178941239869440, 85539981818424975894053769448098796349808643878, 171444843023856632323050507966626554304633241600, 342155525555189176731983869123583942011978493364, 679986843667214052171954098018582522609944965120, 1345823847068981684952596216882155845897900827370, 2652886321384703560252232129659440092172381585408, 5208621342520253933693153488396012720448385783600, 10186635497140956830216811207229975611480797601792, 19845946857715387241695878080425504863628738882125, 38518943830283497365369391336243138882250145792000, 74484518929289017811719989832768142076931259410120, 143507172467283453885515222342782991192353207603200, 275501042616789153749080617893836796951133929783496, 527036058053281764188089220041629201191975505756160, 1004730453440939042843898965365412981690307145827840, 1908864098321310302488604739098618405938938477379584, 3614432179304462681879676809120464684975130836205250, 6821306832689380776546629825653465084003418476904448, 12831568450930566237049157191017104861217433634289960, 24060143444937604997591586090380473418086401696839680, 44972195698011806740150818275177754986409472910549646, 83798831110707476912751950384757452703801918339072000]

This information will come in handy when we will organize our Monstrous Easter Egg Race, starting tomorrow at 6 am (GMT)…

thanks for linking

I’ve re-installed the Google analytics plugin on december 22nd, so it is harvesting data for three weeks only. Still, it is an interesting tool to gain insight in the social networking aspect of math-blogging, something I’m still very bad at…

Below the list of all blogs referring at least 10 times over this last three weeks. In brackets are the number of referrals and included are the average time Avg. they spend on this site, as well as the bounce back rate BB. It gives me the opportunity to link back to some of their posts, as a small token of gratitude. I may repeat this in the future, so please keep on linking…

Not Even Wrong (69) : Avg (1.05 min) BB (52.94%)

The most recent post of Peter is an update on the plagiarism scandal on the arXiv.

The n-category cafe (63) : Avg (2.13 min) BB (50%)

The one series I followed at the cafe lately was the Geometric Representation Theory course run by John Baez and James Dolan. They provide downloadable movies as well as notes.

Richard Borcherd’s blog (47) : Avg (1.53 min) BB (53.19%)

It is great to see that Borcherds has taken up blogging again, with a post on the uselessness of set theory.

The Arcadian functor (32) : Avg (3.45 min) BB (34.38 %)

It is clear from the low bounce-back rate and the high average time spend on this site, that Kea’s readers and mine have common interests. Often I feel that Kea and I are talking about the same topics, but that our language is so different, that it is difficult for me to spot the precise connection. I definitely should start (for myself) a translation-project of her M-theory posts.

RupertGee’s iBlog (23) : Avg (6.48 min) BB (34.7 %)

Surprisingly, and contrasting to my previous rant iTouch-people (or at least those coming here from Rupert Gee’s blog) sure take time to read the posts and look for more.

Ars Mathematica (22) : Avg (0:01 min) BB (77,2 %)

Well, the average time and bounce back rate say it all : people coming here from Ars Mathematica are not interested in longer posts…

iTouch Fans Forum (14) : Avg (2:07 min) BB (42.86 %)

Again, better statistics than I would have expected.

Vivatsgasse 7 (13) : Avg (1:51 min) BB (38.46 %)

I hope these guys haven’t completely given up on blogging as it is one of my favourites.

Sixth form mathematics (12) : Avg (1:40 min) BB (25 %)

My few old posts on LaTeXrender still draw referrals…

Strategic Boards (12) : Avg (0:01 min) BB (91.67 %)

People in strategic board games are not really in my game-posts it seems…

The Everything Seminar (11) : Avg (2:04 min) BB (72.73 %)

Greg Muller has been posting a couple of nice posts on chord diagrams, starting here.

Noncommutative Geometry (11) : Avg (3:36 min) BB (27.27 %)

Well, we are interested in the same thing viewed from different angles, so good average times and a low bounce back rate. Maybe, I should make another attempt to have cross-interaction between the two blogs.