Langlands versus Connes

This is a belated response to a Math-Overflow exchange between Thomas Riepe and Chandan Singh Dalawat asking for a possible connection between Connes’ noncommutative geometry approach to the Riemann hypothesis and the Langlands program.

Here’s the punchline : a large chunk of the Connes-Marcolli book Noncommutative Geometry, Quantum Fields and Motives can be read as an exploration of the noncommutative boundary to the Langlands program (at least for $GL_1 $ and $GL_2 $ over the rationals $\mathbb{Q} $).

Recall that Langlands for $GL_1 $ over the rationals is the correspondence, given by the Artin reciprocity law, between on the one hand the abelianized absolute Galois group

$Gal(\overline{\mathbb{Q}}/\mathbb{Q})^{ab} = Gal(\mathbb{Q}(\mu_{\infty})/\mathbb{Q}) \simeq \hat{\mathbb{Z}}^* $

and on the other hand the connected components of the idele classes

$\mathbb{A}^{\ast}_{\mathbb{Q}}/\mathbb{Q}^{\ast} = \mathbb{R}^{\ast}_{+} \times \hat{\mathbb{Z}}^{\ast} $

The locally compact Abelian group of idele classes can be viewed as the nice locus of the horrible quotient space of adele classes $\mathbb{A}_{\mathbb{Q}}/\mathbb{Q}^{\ast} $. There is a well-defined map

$\mathbb{A}_{\mathbb{Q}}’/\mathbb{Q}^{\ast} \rightarrow \mathbb{R}_{+} \qquad (x_{\infty},x_2,x_3,\ldots) \mapsto | x_{\infty} | \prod | x_p |_p $

from the subset $\mathbb{A}_{\mathbb{Q}}’ $ consisting of adeles of which almost all terms belong to $\mathbb{Z}_p^{\ast} $. The inverse image of this map over $\mathbb{R}_+^{\ast} $ are precisely the idele classes $\mathbb{A}^{\ast}_{\mathbb{Q}}/\mathbb{Q}^{\ast} $. In this way one can view the adele classes as a closure, or ‘compactification’, of the idele classes.

This is somewhat reminiscent of extending the nice action of the modular group on the upper-half plane to its badly behaved action on the boundary as in the Manin-Marcolli cave post.

The topological properties of the fiber over zero, and indeed of the total space of adele classes, are horrible in the sense that the discrete group $\mathbb{Q}^* $ acts ergodically on it, due to the irrationality of $log(p_1)/log(p_2) $ for primes $p_i $. All this is explained well (in the semi-local case, that is using $\mathbb{A}_Q’ $ above) in the Connes-Marcolli book (section 2.7).

In much the same spirit as non-free actions of reductive groups on algebraic varieties are best handled using stacks, such ergodic actions are best handled by the tools of noncommutative geometry. That is, one tries to get at the geometry of $\mathbb{A}_{\mathbb{Q}}/\mathbb{Q}^{\ast} $ by studying an associated non-commutative algebra, the skew-ring extension of the group-ring of the adeles by the action of $\mathbb{Q}^* $ on it. This algebra is known to be Morita equivalent to the Bost-Connes algebra which is the algebra featuring in Connes’ approach to the Riemann hypothesis.

It shouldn’t thus come as a major surprise that one is able to recover the other side of the Langlands correspondence, that is the Galois group $Gal(\mathbb{Q}(\mu_{\infty})/\mathbb{Q}) $, from the Bost-Connes algebra as the symmetries of certain states.

In a similar vein one can read the Connes-Marcolli $GL_2 $-system (section 3.7 of their book) as an exploration of the noncommutative closure of the Langlands-space $GL_2(\mathbb{A}_{\mathbb{Q}})/GL_2(\mathbb{Q}) $.

At the moment I’m running a master-seminar noncommutative geometry trying to explain this connection in detail. But, we’re still in the early phases, struggling with the topology of ideles and adeles, reciprocity laws, L-functions and the lot. Still, if someone is interested I might attempt to post some lecture notes here.

math & manic-depression, a Faustian bargain

In the wake of a colleague’s suicide and the suicide of three students, Matilde Marcolli gave an interesting and courageous talk at Caltech in April : The dark heart of our brightness: bipolar disorder and scientific creativity. Although these slides give a pretty good picture of the talk, if you can please take the time to watch it (the talk starts 44 minutes into the video).

Courageous because as the talk progresses, she gives more and more examples from her own experiences, thereby breaking the taboo surrounding the topic of bipolar mood disorder among scientists. Interesting because she raises a couple of valid points, well worth repeating.

We didn’t can see it coming

We are always baffled when someone we know commits suicide, especially if that person is extremely successful in his/her work. ‘(S)he was so full of activity!’, ‘We did not see it coming!’ etc. etc.

Matilde argues that if a person suffers from bipolar mood disorder (from mild forms to full-blown manic-depression), a condition quite common among scientists and certainly mathematicians, we can see it coming, if we look for the proper signals!

We, active scientists, are pretty good at hiding a down-period. We have collected an arsenal of tricks not to send off signals when we feel depressed, simply because it’s not considered cool behavior. On the other hand, in our manic phases, we are quite transparent because we like to show off our activity and creativity!

Matilde tells us to watch out for people behaving orders-of-magnitude out of their normal-mode behavior. Say, someone who normally posts one or two papers a year on the arXiv, suddenly posting 5 papers in one month. Or, someone going rarely to a conference, now spending a summer flying from one conference to the next. Or, someone not blogging for months, suddenly flooding you with new posts…

As scientists we are good at spotting such order-of-magnitude-out-behavior. So we can detect friends and colleagues going through a manic-phase and hence should always take such a person serious (and try to offer help) when they send out signals of distress.

Mood disorder, a Faustian bargain

The Faust legend :
“Despite his scholarly eminence, Faust is bored and disappointed. He decides to call on the Devil for further knowledge and magic powers with which to indulge all the pleasures of the world. In response, the Devil’s representative Mephistopheles appears. He makes a bargain with Faust: Mephistopheles will serve Faust with his magic powers for a term of years, but at the end of the term, the Devil will claim Faust’s soul and Faust will be eternally damned.”

Mathematicians suffering from mood disorder seldom see their condition as a menace, but rather as an advantage. They know they do their best and most creative work in short spells of intense activity during their manic phase and take the down-phase merely as a side effect. We fear that if we seek treatment, we may as well loose our creativity.

That is, like Faust, we indulge the pleasures of our magic powers during a manic-phase, knowing only too well that the devilish depression-phase may one day claim our life or mental sanity…

Pollock your own noncommutative space

I really like Matilde Marcolli’s idea to use some of Jackson Pollock’s paintings as metaphors for noncommutative spaces. In her talk she used this painting



and refered to it (as did I in my post) as : Jackson Pollock “Untitled N.3”. Before someone writes a post ‘The Pollock noncommutative space hoax’ (similar to my own post) let me point out that I am well aware of the controversy surrounding this painting.

This painting is among 32 works recently discovered and initially attributed to Pollock.
In fact, I’ve already told part of the story in Doodles worth millions (or not)? (thanks to PD1). The story involves the people on the right : from left to right, Jackson Pollock, his wife Lee Krasner, Mercedes Matter and her son Alex Matter.

Alex Matter, whose father, Herbert, and mother, Mercedes, were artists and friends of Jackson Pollock, discovered after his mother died a group of small drip paintings in a storage locker in Wainscott, N.Y. which he believed to be authentic Pollocks.

Read the post mentioned above if you want to know how mathematics screwed up his plan, or much better, reed the article Anatomy of the Jackson Pollock controversy by Stephen Litt.

So, perhaps the painting above was not the smartest choice, but we could take any other genuine Pollock ‘drip-painting’, a technique he taught himself towards the end of 1946 to make an image by splashing, pouring, sloshing colors onto the canvas. Typically, such a painting consists of blops of paint, connected via thin drip-lines.

What does this have to do with noncommutative geometry? Well, consider the blops as ‘points’. In commutative geometry, distinct points cannot share tangent information ((technically : a commutative semi-local ring splits as the direct sum of local rings and this does no longer hold for a noncommutative semi-local ring)). In the noncommutative world though, they can!, or if you want to phrase it like this, noncommutative points ‘can talk to each other’. And, that’s what we cherish in those drip-lines.

But then, if two points share common tangent informations, they must be awfully close to each other… so one might imagine these Pollock-lines to be strings holding these points together. Hence, it would make more sense to consider the ‘Pollock-quotient-painting’, that is, the space one gets after dividing out the relation ‘connected by drip-lines’ ((my guess is that Matilde thinks of the lines as the action of a group on the points giving a topological horrible quotient space, and thats precisely where noncommutative geometry shines)).

For this reason, my own mental picture of a genuinely noncommutative space ((that is, the variety corresponding to a huge noncommutative algebra such as free algebras, group algebras of arithmetic groups or fundamental groups)) looks more like the picture below



The colored blops you see are really sets of points which you might view as, say, a FacebookGroup ((technically, think of them as the connected components of isomorphism classes of finite dimensional simple representations of your favorite noncommutative algebra)). Some chatter may occur between two distinct FacebookGroups, the more chatter the thicker the connection depicted ((technically, the size of the connection is the dimension of the ext-group between generic simples in the components)). Now, there are some tiny isolated spots (say blue ones in the upper right-hand quadrant). These should really be looked at as remote clusters of noncommutative points (sharing no (tangent) information whatsoever with the blops in the foregound). If we would zoom into them beyond the Planck scale (if I’m allowed to say a bollock-word in a Pollock-post) they might reveal again a whole universe similar to the interconnected blops upfront.

The picture was produced using the fabulous Pollock engine. Just use your mouse to draw and click to change colors in order to produce your very own noncommutative space!

For the mathematicians still around, this may sound like a lot of Pollock-bollocks but can be made precise. See my note Noncommutative geometry and dual coalgebras for a very terse reading. Now that coalgebras are gaining popularity, I really should write a more readable account of it, including some fanshi-wanshi examples…

Views of noncommutative spaces

The general public expects pictures from geometers, even from non-commutative geometers. Hence, it is important for researchers in this topic to make an attempt to convey the mental picture they have of their favourite noncommutative space, … somehow. Two examples :



This picture was created by Shahn Majid. It appears on his visions of noncommutative geometry page as well as in an extremely readable Plus-magazine article on Quantum geometry, written by Marianne Freiberger, explaining Shahn’s ideas. For more information on this, read Shahn’s SpaceTime blog.



This painting is Jackson Pollock‘s “Untitled N.3”. It depicts the way Matilde Marcolli imagines a noncommutative space. It is taken from her slides of her talk for a general audience Mathematicians look at particle physics.

best of 2008 (1) : wiskundemeisjes

Of course, excellent math-blogs exist in every language imaginable, but my linguistic limitations restrict me to the ones written in English, French, German and … Dutch. Here a few links to Dutch (or rather, Flemish) math-blogs, in order of proximity :
Stijn Symens blog, Rudy Penne’s wiskunde is sexy (math is sexy), Koen Vervloesem’s QED.

My favorite one is wiskundemeisjes (‘math-chicks’ or ‘math-girls’), written by Ionica Smeets and Jeanine Daems, two reasearchers at Leiden University. Every month they have a post called “the favorite (living) mathematician of …” in which they ask someone to nominate and introduce his/her favorite colleague mathematician. Here some examples : Roger Penrose chooses Michael Atiyah, Robbert Dijkgraaf chooses Maxim Kontsevich, Frans Oort chooses David Mumford, Gunther Cornelissen chooses Yuri I. Manin, Hendrik Lenstra chooses Bjorn Poonen, etc. the full list is here or here. This series deserves a wider audience. Perhaps Ionica and Jeanine might consider translating some of these posts?

I’m certain their English is far better than mine, so here’s a feeble attempt to translate the one post in their series they consider a complete failure (it isn’t even listed in the category). Two reasons for me to do so : it features Matilde Marcolli (one of my own favorite living mathematicians) and Matilde expresses here very clearly my own take on popular-math books/blogs.

The original post was written by Ionica and was called Weg met de ‘favoriete wiskundige van…’ :

“This week I did spend much of my time at the Fifth European Mathematical Congress in Amsterdam. Several mathematicians suggested I should have a chat with Matilde Marcolli, one of the plenary speakers. It seemed like a nice idea to ask her about her favorite (still living) mathematician, for our series.

Marcolli explained why she couldn’t answer this question : she has favorite mathematical ideas, but it doesn’t interest her one bit who discovered or proved them. And, there are mathematicians she likes, but that’s because she finds them interesting as human beings, independent of their mathematical achievements.

In addition, she thinks it’s a mistake to focus science too much on the persons. Scientific ideas should play the main role, not the scientists themselves. To her it is important to remember that many results are the combined effort of several people, that science doesn’t evolve around personalities and that scientific ideas are accessible to anyone.

Marcolli also dislikes the current trend in popular science writing: “I am completely unable to read popular-scientific books. As soon as they start telling anecdotes and stories, I throw away the book. I don’t care about their lives, I care about the real stuff.”

She’d love to read a popular science-book containing only ideas. She regrets that most of these books restrict to story-telling, but fail to disseminate the scientific ideas.”

Ionica then goes on to defend her own approach to science-popularization :

“… Probably, people will not know much about Galois-theory by reading about his turbulent life. Still, I can imagine people to become interested in ‘the real stuff’ after reading his biography, and, in this manner they will read some mathematics they wouldn’t have known to exist otherwise. But, Marcolli got me thinking, for it is true that almost all popular science-books focus on anecdotes rather than science itself. Is this wrong? For instance, do you want to see more mathematics here? I’m curious to hear your opinion on this.”

Even though my own approach is somewhat different, Ionica and Jeanine you’re doing an excellent job: “houden zo!”