Tag Archives: dilation structure

How non-commutative geometry does not work well when applied to non-commutative analysis

I expressed several times the belief that sub-riemannian geometry represents an example of a mathematically new phenomenon, which I call “non-commutative analysis”. Repeatedly happened that apparently general results simply don’t work well when applied to sub-riemannian geometry. This “strange” (not for me) phenomenon leads to negative statements, like rigidity results (Mostow, Margulis), non-rectifiability results (like for example the failure of the theory of metric currents for Carnot groups).  And now, to this adds the following,  arXiv:1404.5494 [math.OA]

“the unexpected result that the theory of spectral triples does not apply to the Carnot manifolds in the way one would expect. [p. 11] ”


“We will prove in this thesis that any horizontal Dirac operator on an arbitrary Carnot manifold cannot be hypoelliptic. This is a big difference to the classical case, where any Dirac operator is elliptic. [p. 12]”

It appears that the author reduces the problems to the Heisenberg groups. There is a solution, then, to use

R. Beals, P.C. Greiner, Calculus on Heisenberg manifolds, Princeton University Press, 1988

which gives something resembling spectral triples, but not quite all works, still:

“and show how hypoelliptic Heisenberg pseudodifferential operators furnishing a spectral triple and detecting in addition the Hausdorff dimension of the Heisenberg manifold can be constructed. We will suggest a few concrete operators, but it remains unclear whether one can detect or at least estimate the Carnot-Caratheodory metric from them. [p. 12]”


This seems to be an excellent article, more than that, because it is a phd dissertation  many things are written clearly.

I am not surprised at all by this, it just means that, as in the case with the metric currents, there is an ingredient in the spectral triples theory which introduces by the backdoor some commutativity, which messes then with the non-commutative analysis  (or calculus).

Instead I am even more convinced than ever that the minimal (!) description of sub-riemannian manifolds, as models of a non-commutative analysis, is given by dilation structures, explained most recently in arXiv:1206.3093 [math.MG].

A corollary of this is: sub-riemannian geometry (i.e. non-commutative analysis of dilation structures)  is more non-commutative than non-commutative geometry .

I’m waiting for a negative result concerning the application of quantum groups to sub-riemannian geometry.





A less understood problem in sub-riemannian geometry (I)

A complete, locally compact riemannian manifold is a length metric space by the Hopf-Rinow theorem. The problem of intrinsic characterization of riemannian spaces asks for the recovery of the manifold structure and of the riemannian metric from the distance function coming from  to the length functional.

For 2-dim riemannian manifolds the problem has been solved by A. Wald in 1935. In 1948 A.D. Alexandrov  introduces his famous curvature (which uses comparison triangles) and proves that, under mild smoothness conditions on this curvature, one is capable to recover the differential structure and the metric of the 2-dim riemannian manifold. In 1982 Alexandrov proposes as a conjecture that a characterization of a riemannian manifold (of any dimension) is possible in terms of metric (sectional)  curvatures (of the type introduced by Alexandrov) and weak smoothness assumptions formulated in metric way (as for example Hölder smoothness).

The problem has been solved by Nikolaev in 1998, in the paper A metric characterization of Riemannian spaces. Siberian Adv. Math.   9,  no. (1999),  1-58.  The solution of Nikolaev can be summarized  like this: he starts with a locally compact length metric space (and some technical details), then

  •  he constructs a (family of) intrinsically defined tangent bundle(s) of the metric space, by using a generalization of the cosine formula for estimating a kind of a distance between two curves emanating from different points. This will lead him to a generalization of the tangent bundle of a riemannian manifold endowed with the canonical Sasaki metric.
  • He defines a notion of sectional curvature at a point of the metric space, as a limit of a function of nondegenerated geodesic triangles, limit taken as these triangles converge (in a precised sense)  to the point.
  • The sectional curvature function thus constructed is supposed to satisfy a Hölder continuity condition (thus a regularity formulated in metric terms)
  • He proves then that  the metric space is isometric with (the metric space associated to) a riemannian manifold of precise (weak) regularity (the regularity is related to the regularity of the sectional curvature function).

Sub-riemannian spaces are length metric spaces as well. Any riemannian space is a sub-riemannian one. It is not clear at first sight why the characterization of riemannian spaces does not extend to sub-riemannian ones. In fact, there are two problematic steps for such a program for extending Nikolaev result to sub-riemannian spaces:

  • the cosine formula, as well as the Sasaki metric on the tangent bundle don’t have a correspondent in sub-riemannian geometry (because there is, basically, no statement canonically corresponding to Pythagoras theorem);
  • the sectional curvature at a point cannot be introduced by means of comparison triangles, because sub-riemanian spaces do not behave well with respect to this comparison of triangle idea, as proved by Scott Pauls.

In 1996 M. Gromov formulates the problem of intrinsic characterization of sub-riemannian spaces.  He takes the Carnot-Caratheodory (or CC) distance (this is the name of the distance constructed on a sub-riemannian manifold from the differential geometric data we have, which generalizes the construction of the riemannian distance from the riemannian metric) as the only intrinsic object of a sub-riemannian space. Indeed, in the linked article, section 0.2.B. he writes:

If we live inside a Carnot-Caratheodory metric space V we may know nothing whatsoever about the (external) infinitesimal structures (i.e. the smooth structure on V, the subbundle H \subset T(V) and the metric g on H) which were involved in the construction of the CC metric.
He then formulates the goal:
Develop a sufficiently rich and robust internal CC language which would enable us to capture the essential external characteristics of our CC spaces.
He proposes as an example to recognize the rank of the horizontal distribution, but in my opinion this is, say, something much less essential than to “recognize” the “differential structure”, in the sense proposed here as the equivalence class under local equivalence of dilation structures.
As in Nikolaev solution for the riemannian case, the first step towards the goal is to have a well defined, intrinsic, notion of tangent bundle. The second step would be to be able to go to higher order approximations, eventually towards a curvature.
My solution is to base all on dilation structures. The solution is not “pure”, because it introduces another ingredient, besides the CC distance: the field of dilations. However, I believe that it is illusory to think that, for the general sub-riemannian case, we may be able to get a “sufficiently rich and robust” language without. As an example, even the best known thing, i.e. the fact that the metric tangent spaces of a (regular) sub-riemannian manifold are Carnot groups, was previously not known to be an intrinsic fact. Let me explain: all proofs, excepting the one by using dilation structures, use non-intrinsic ingredients, like differential calculus on the differential manifold which enters in the construction of the CC distance. Therefore, it is not known (or it was not known, even not understood as a problem) if this result is intrinsic or if it is an artifact of the proof method.
Well, it is not, it turns out, if we accept dilation structures as intrinsic.
There is a bigger question lingering behind, once we are ready to think about intrinsic properties of sub-riemannian spaces:  what is a sub-riemannian space? The construction of such spaces uses notions and results which are by no means intrinsic (again differential structures, horizontal bundles, and so on).
Therefore I understand Gromov’s stated goal as:
Give a minimal, axiomatic, description of sub-riemannian spaces.
[Adapted from the course notes Sub-riemannian geometry from intrinsic viewpoint.]

Escape property of the Gleason metric and sub-riemannian distances again

The last post of Tao from his series of posts on the Hilbert’s fifth problem contains interesting results which can be used for understanding the differences between Gleason distances and sub-riemannian distances or, more general, norms on groups with dilations.

For normed groups with dilations see my previous post (where links to articles are also provided). Check my homepage for more details (finally I am online again).

There is also another post of mine on the Gleason metric (distance) and the CC (or sub-riemannian) distance, where I explain why the commutator estimate (definition 3, relation (2) from the last post of Tao) forces “commutativity”, in the sense that a sub-riemannian left invariant distance on a Lie group which has the commutator estimate must be a riemannian distance.

What about the escape property (Definition 3, relation (1) from the post of Tao)?

From his Proposition 10 we see that the escape property implies the commutator estimate, therefore a sub-riemannian left invariant distance with the escape property must be riemannian.

An explanation of this phenomenon can be deduced by using the notion of “coherent projection”, section 9 of the paper

A characterization of sub-riemannian spaces as length dilation structures constructed via coherent projections, Commun. Math. Anal. 11 (2011), No. 2, pp. 70-111

in the very particular case of sub-riemannian Lie groups (or for that matter normed groups with dilations).

Suppose we have a normed group with dilations (G, \delta) which has another left invariant dilation structure on it (in the paper this is denoted by a “\delta bar”, here I shall use the notation \alpha for this supplementary dilation structure).

There is one such a dilation structure available for any Lie group (notice that I am not trying to give a proof of the H5 problem), namely for any \varepsilon > 0 (but not too big)

\alpha_{\varepsilon} g = \exp ( \varepsilon \log (g))

(maybe interesting: which famous lemma is equivalent with the fact that (G,\alpha) is a group with dilations?)
Take \delta to be a dilation structure coming from a left-invariant distribution on the group . Then \delta commutes with \alpha and moreover

(*) \lim_{\varepsilon \rightarrow 0} \alpha_{\varepsilon}^{-1} \delta_{\varepsilon} x = Q(x)

where Q is a projection: Q(Q(x)) = x for any x \in G.

It is straightforward to check that (the left-translation of) Q (over the whole group) is a coherent projection, more precisely it is the projection on the distribution!

Exercise: denote by \varepsilon = 1/n and use (*) to prove that the escape property of Tao implies that Q is (locally) injective. This implies in turn that Q = id, therefore the distribution is the tangent bundle, therefore the distance is riemannian!

UPDATE:    See the recent post 254A, Notes 4: Bulding metrics on groups, and the Gleason-Yamabe theorem by Terence Tao, for understanding in detail the role of the escape property in the proof of the Hilbert 5th problem.