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This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics (Week 217)

  1. Oct 11, 2006 #1
    Also available as http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/week217.html

    May 30, 2005
    This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics - Week 217
    John Baez

    Last week I described lots of different zeta functions, but didn't say much
    about what they're good for. This week I'd like to get started on fixing
    that problem.

    People have made lots of big conjectures related to zeta functions.
    So far they've just proved just a few... but it's still a big deal.

    For example, Andrew Wiles' proof of Fermat's Last Theorem was just
    a tiny spin-off of his work on something much bigger called the
    Taniyama-Shimura conjecture. Now, personally, I think Fermat's Last
    Theorem is a ridiculous thing. The last thing I'd ever want to know is
    whether this equation:

    x^n + y^n = z^n

    has nontrivial integer solutions for n > 2. But the Taniyama-Shimura
    Conjecture is really interesting! It's all about the connection between
    geometry, complex analysis and arithmetic, and it ties together some big
    ideas in an unexpected way. This is how it usually works in number theory:
    cute but goofy puzzles get solved as a side-effect of deep and interesting
    results related to zeta functions and L-functions - sort of like how the
    powdered drink "Tang" was invented as a spinoff of going to the moon.

    For a good popular book on Fermat's Last Theorem and the Taniyama-Shimura
    Conjecture, try:

    1) Simon Singh, Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's
    Greatest Mathematical Problem, Walker, New York, 1997.

    Despite the "world's greatest mathematical problem" baloney, this book does
    a great job of telling the story without drowning the reader in math.

    But you read This Week's Finds because you *want* to be drowned in math,
    and I wouldn't want to disappoint you. So, let me list a few of the big
    conjectures and theorems related to zeta functions.

    Here goes:

    A) The Riemann Hypothesis - the zeros of the Riemann zeta function in
    the critical strip

    0 <= Re(s) <= 1

    actually lie on the line Re(s) = 1/2.

    First stated in 1859 by Bernhard Riemann; still open.

    This implies a good estimate on the number of primes less than a given
    number, as described in "week216".

    B) The Generalized Riemann Hypothesis - the zeros of any Dirichlet L-function
    that lie in the critical strip actually lie on the line Re(s) = 1/2.

    Still open, since the Riemann Hypothesis is a special case.

    A "Dirichlet L-function" is a function like this:

    L(chi,s) = sum_{n > 0} chi(n)/n^s

    where chi is any "Dirichlet character", meaning a periodic complex function
    on the positive integers such that

    chi(nm) = chi(n) chi(m)

    If we take chi = 1 we get back the Riemann zeta function.

    Dirichlet used these L-functions to prove that there are infinitely many
    primes equal to k mod n as long as k is relatively prime to n. The
    Generalized Riemann Hypothesis would give a good estimate on the number
    of such primes less than a given number, just as the Riemann Hypothesis
    does for plain old primes.

    Erich Hecke established the basic properties of Dirichlet L-functions
    in 1936, including a special symmetry called the "functional equation"
    which Riemann had already shown for his zeta function. So I bet Hecke
    must have dreamt of the Generalized Riemann Hypothesis, even if he didn't
    dare state it.

    C) The Extended Riemann Hypothesis - for any number field, the zeros of its
    zeta function in the critical strip actually lie on the line Re(s) = 1/2.

    Still open, since the Riemann Hypothesis is a special case.

    I described the zeta functions of number fields in "week216".
    These are usually called "Dedekind zeta functions". Hecke also
    proved a functional equation for these back in 1936.

    D) The Grand Riemann Hypothesis - for any automorphic L-function,
    the zeros in the critical strip actually lie on the line Re(s) = 1/2.

    This is still open too, since it includes A)-C) as special cases!

    I don't want to tell you what "automorphic L-functions" are yet.
    For now, you can just think of them as grand generalizations of both
    Dirichlet L-functions and zeta functions of number fields.

    E) The Weil Conjectures - The zeros of the zeta function of any smooth
    algebraic variety over a finite field lie on the line Re(s) = 1/2.
    Also: such zeta functions are quotients of polynomials, they satisfy a
    functional equation, and they can be computed in terms of the topology
    of the corresponding *complex* algebraic varieties.

    First stated in 1949 by Andre Weil; proof completed by Pierre Deligne
    in 1974 based on much work by Michael Artin, J.-L. Verdier, and especially
    Alexander Grothendieck. Grothendieck invented topos theory as part of
    the attack on this problem!

    F) The Taniyama-Shimura Conjecture - every elliptic curve over the rational
    numbers is a modular curve. Or, equivalently: every L-function of an
    elliptic curve is the L-function of a modular curve.

    This was first conjectured in 1955 by Yukata Taniyama, who worked on it
    with Goto Shimura until committing suicide in 1958. Around 1982 Gerhard
    Frey suggested that this conjecture would imply Fermat's Last Theorem; this
    was proved in 1986 by Ken Ribet. In 1995 Andrew Wiles and Richard Taylor
    proved a big enough special case of the Taniyama-Shimura Conjecture to get
    Fermat's Last Theorem. The full conjecture was shown in 1999 by Breuil,
    Conrad, Diamond, and Taylor.

    I don't want to say what L-functions of curves are yet... but they are
    a lot like Dirichlet L-functions.

    G) The Langlands Conjectures - Any automorphic representation pi of a
    connected reductive group G, together with a finite-dimensional representation
    of its L-group, gives an automorphic L-function L(s,pi). Also: these
    L-functions all satisfy functional equations. Furthermore, they depend
    functorially on the group G, its L-group, and their representations.

    Zounds! Don't worry if this sounds like complete gobbledygook! I only
    mention it to show how scary math can get. As Stephen Gelbart once wrote:

    The conjectures of Langlands just alluded to amount (roughly)
    to the assertion that the other zeta-functions arising in
    number theory are but special realizations of these L(s,pi).

    Herein lies the agony as well as the ecstacy of Langlands'
    program. To merely state the conjectures correctly requires
    much of the machinery of class field theory, the structure
    theory of algebraic groups, the representation theory of real
    and p-adic groups, and (at least) the language of algebraic
    geometry. In other words, though the promised rewards are
    great, the initiation process is forbidding.

    I hope someday I'll understand this stuff well enough to say something more
    helpful! Lately I've been catching little glimpses of what it's about....

    But, right now I think it's best if I talk about the "functional equation"
    satisfied by the Riemann zeta function, since this gives the quickest way
    to see some of the strange things that are going on.

    The Riemann zeta function starts out life as a sum:

    zeta(s) = 1^{-s} + 2^{-s} + 3^{-s} + 4^{-s} + ....

    This only converges for Re(s) > 1. It blows up as we approach s = 1,
    since then we get the series

    1/1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + ....

    which diverges. However, in 1859 Riemann showed that we can analytically
    continue the zeta function to the whole complex plane except for this pole
    at s = 1.

    He also showed that the zeta function has an unexpected symmetry:
    its value at any complex number s is closely related to its value at 1-s.
    It's not true that zeta(s) = zeta(1-s), but something similar is true,
    where we multiply the zeta function by an extra fudge factor.

    To be precise: if we form the function

    pi^{-s/2} Gamma(s/2) zeta(s)

    then this function is unchanged by the transformation

    s |-> 1 - s

    This symmetry maps the line

    Re(s) = 1/2

    to itself, and the Riemann Hypothesis says all the zeta zeros in
    the critical strip actually lie on this magic line.

    This symmetry is called the "functional equation". It's the tiny tip of a
    peninsula of a vast and mysterious continent which mathematicians are still
    struggling to explore. Riemann gave two proofs of this equation. You can
    find a precise statement and a version of Riemann's second proof here:

    2) Daniel Bump, Zeta Function, lecture notes on "the functional
    equation" available at http://math.stanford.edu/~bump/zeta.html
    and http://www.maths.ex.ac.uk/~mwatkins/zeta/fnleqn.htm

    This proof is a beautiful application of Fourier analysis. Everyone
    should learn it, but let me try to sketch the essential idea here.

    I will deliberately be VERY rough, and use some simplified nonstandard
    definitions, since the precise details have a way of distracting your
    eye just as the magician pulls the rabbit out of the hat.

    We start with the function zeta(2s):

    1^{-s} + 4^{-s} + 9^{-s} + 25^{-s} + ....

    Then we apply a curious thing called the "Mellin transform", which turns
    this function into

    z^{1} + z^{4} + z^{9} + z^{25} + ....

    Weird, huh? This is almost the "theta function"

    theta(t) = sum_n exp(pi i n^2 t)

    where we sum over all integers n. Indeed, it's easy to see that

    (theta(t) - 1)/2 = z^{1} + z^{4} + z^{9} + z^{25} + ....


    z = exp(pi i t)

    The theta function transforms in a very simple way when we replace
    t by -1/t, as one can show using Fourier analysis.

    Unravelling the consequences, this implies that the zeta function
    transforms in a simple way when we replace s by 1-s. You have to
    go through the calculation to see precisely how this works... but
    the basic idea is: a symmetry in the theta function yields a symmetry
    in the zeta function.

    Hmm, I'm not sure that explained anything! But I hope at least the
    mystery is more evident now. A bunch of weird tricks, and then *presto* -
    the functional equation! To make progress on understanding the Riemann
    Hypothesis and its descendants, we need to get what's going on here.

    I feel I *do* get the Mellin transform; I'll say more about that later.
    But for now, note that the theta function transforms in a simple way, not
    just when we do this:

    t |-> -1/t

    but also when we do this:

    t |-> t + 2

    Indeed, it doesn't change at all when we add 2 to t, since exp(2 pi i) = 1.

    Now, the maps

    t |-> -1/t


    t |-> t + 1

    generate the group of all maps

    at + b
    t |-> --------
    ct + d

    where a,b,c,d form a 2x2 matrix of integers with determinant 1.
    These maps form a group called PSL(2,Z), or the "modular group".

    A function that transforms simply under this group and doesn't blow up
    in nasty ways is called a "modular form". In "week197" I gave the precise
    definition of what counts as transforming simply and not blowing up in
    nasty ways. I also explained how modular forms are related to elliptic
    curves and string theory. So, please either reread "week197" or take my
    word for it: modular forms are cool!

    The theta function is almost a modular form, but not quite. It doesn't
    blow up in nasty ways. However, it only transforms simply under a subgroup
    of PSL(2,Z), namely that generated by

    t |-> -1/t


    t |-> t + 2

    So, the theta function isn't a full-fledged modular form.
    But since it comes close, we call it an "automorphic form".

    Indeed, for any discrete subgroup G of PSL(2,Z), functions that transform
    nicely under G and don't blow up in nasty ways are called "automorphic forms"
    for G. They act a lot like modular forms, and people know vast amounts
    about them. It's the power of automorphic forms that makes number theory
    what it is today!

    We can summarize everything so far in this slogan:


    Before you start printing out bumper stickers, I should explain....

    The point of this slogan is this. We *thought* we were interested in
    the Riemann zeta function for its own sake, or what it could tell us
    about prime numbers. But with the wisdom of hindsight, the first thing we
    should do is hit this function with the Mellin transform and repackage all
    its information into an automorphic form - the theta function.

    Zeta is dead, long live theta!

    The Riemann zeta function is just like all the fancier zeta functions and
    L-functions in this respect. The fact that they satisfy a "functional
    equation" is just another way of saying their Mellin transforms are
    automorphic forms... and it's these automorphic forms that exhibit the
    deeper aspects of what's going on.

    Now let me say a little bit about the Mellin transform.

    Ignoring various fudge factors, the Mellin transform is basically just
    the linear map that sends any function of s like this:


    to this function of z:


    In other words, it basically just turns things upside down, replacing the
    base by the exponent and vice versa. The minus sign is just a matter of
    convention; don't worry about that too much.

    So, the Mellin transform basically sends any function like this, called a
    "Dirichlet series":

    a_1 1^{-s} + a_2 2^{-s} + a_3 3^{-s} + a_4 4^{-s} + ....

    to this function, called a "Taylor series":

    a_1 z^1 + a_2 z^2 + a_3 z^3 + a_4 z^4 + ....

    Now, why would we want to do this?

    The reason is that multiplying Taylor series is closely related to *addition*
    of natural numbers:

    z^n z^m = z^{n+m}

    while multiplying Dirichlet series is closely related to *multiplication*
    of natural numbers:

    n^{-s} m^{-s} = (nm)^{-s}

    The Mellin transform (and its inverse) are how we switch between these two
    pleasant setups!

    Indeed, it's all about algebra - at least at first. We can add natural
    numbers and multiply them, so N becomes a monoid in two ways. A "monoid",
    recall, is a set with a binary associative product and unit. So, we have
    two closely related monoids:




    Given a monoid, we can form something called its "monoid algebra" by taking
    formal complex linear combinations of monoid elements. We multiply these
    in the obvious way, using the product in our monoid.

    If we take the monoid algebra of (N,+,0), we get the algebra of Taylor
    series! If we take the monoid algebra of (N,x,1), we get the algebra of
    Dirichlet series!

    (Actually, this is only true if we allow ourselves to use *infinite* linear
    combinations of monoid elements in our monoid algebra. So, let's do that.
    If we used finite linear combinations, as people often do, (N,+,0) would give
    us the algebra of polynomials, while (N,x,0) would give us the algebra of
    "Dirichlet polynomials".)

    Of course, algebraically we can combine these structures. (N,+,x,0,1) is
    a rig, and by taking formal complex linear combinations of natural numbers
    we get a "rig algebra" with two products: the usual product of Taylor series,
    and the usual product of Dirichlet series. They're compatible, too, since
    one distributes over the other. They both distribute over addition.

    However, if we're trying to get an algebra of functions on the complex plane,
    with pointwise multiplication as the product, we need to make up our mind:
    either Taylor series or Dirichlet series! We then need the Mellin transform
    to translate between the two.

    So, what seems to be going on is that people take a puzzle, like

    "what is the sum of the squares of the divisors of n?"


    "how many ideals of order n are there in this number field?"

    and they call the answer a_n.

    Then they encode this sequence as either a Dirichlet series:

    a_1 1^{-s} + a_2 2^{-s} + a_3 3^{-s} + a_4 4^{-s} + ....

    or a Taylor series:

    a_1 z^1 + a_2 z^2 + a_3 z^3 + a_4 z^4 + ....

    The first format is nice because it gets along well with multiplication of
    natural numbers. For example, in our puzzle about ideals, every ideal is
    a product of prime ideals, and its norm is the product of the norms of those
    prime ideals... so our Dirichlet series will have an Euler product formula.

    The second format is nice *if* our Taylor series is an automorphic form.
    This will happen precisely when our Dirichlet series satisfies a functional

    (For experts: I'm ignoring some fudge factors involving the gamma function.)

    I still need to say more about *which* puzzles give automorphic forms,
    what it really means when they *do*. But, not this week! I'm tired,
    and I bet you are too.

    For now, let me just give some references. There's a vast amount of material
    on all these subjects, and I've already referred to lots of it. But right now
    I want to focus on stuff that's free online, especially stuff that's readable
    by anyone with a solid math background - not journal articles for experts, but
    not fluff, either.

    Here's some information on the Riemann Hypothesis provided by the Clay
    Mathematics Institute, which is offering a million dollars for its solution:

    3) Clay Mathematics Institute, Problems of the Millenium:
    the Riemann Hypothesis, http://www.claymath.org/millennium/ [Broken]

    The official problem description by Enrico Bombieri talks about evidence
    for the Riemann Hypothesis, including the Weil Conjectures. The article by
    Peter Sarnak describes generalizations leading up to the Grand Riemann
    Hypothesis. In particular, he gives a super-rapid introduction to
    automorphic L-functions.

    Here's a nice webpage that sketches Wiles and Taylor's proof of Fermat's last

    4) Charles Daney, The Mathematics of Fermat's Last Theorem,
    http://www.mbay.net/~cgd/flt/fltmain.htm [Broken]

    I like the quick introductions to "Elliptic curves and elliptic functions",
    "Elliptic curves and modular functions", "Zeta and L-functions", and "Galois
    Representations" - they're neither too detailed nor too vague, at least for

    Here's a nice little intro to the Weil Conjectures:

    5) Runar Ile, Introduction to the Weil Conjectures,
    http://folk.uio.no/~ile/WeilA4.pdf [Broken]

    James Milne goes a lot deeper - his course notes on etale cohomology include
    a proof of the Weil Conjectures:

    6) James Milne, Lectures on Etale Cohomology,
    http://www.jmilne.org/math/CourseNotes/math732.html [Broken]

    while his course notes on elliptic curves sketch the proof of Fermat's Last

    7) James Milne, Elliptic Curves,
    http://www.jmilne.org/math/CourseNotes/math679.html [Broken]

    Here's a nice history of what I've been calling the Taniyama-Shimura
    Conjecture, which explains why some people call it the Taniyama-Shimura-Weil
    conjecture, or other things:

    8) Serge Lang, Some history of the Shimura-Taniyama Conjecture,
    AMS Notices 42 (November 1995), 1301-1307. Available at

    Here's a quick introduction to the proof of this conjecture, whatever
    it's called:

    9) Henri Diamond, A proof of the full Shimura-Taniyama-Weil Conjecture
    is announced, AMS Notices 46 (December 1999), 1397-1401. Available
    at http://www.ams.org/notices/199911/comm-darmon.pdf

    I won't give any references to the Langlands Conjectures, since
    I hope to talk a lot more about those some other time.

    And, I hope to keep on understanding this stuff better and better!

    Quote of the week:

    "If I were to awaken after having slept for a thousand years, my
    first question would be: Has the Riemann hypothesis been proven?" -
    David Hilbert

    Previous issues of "This Week's Finds" and other expository articles on
    mathematics and physics, as well as some of my research papers, can be
    obtained at


    For a table of contents of all the issues of This Week's Finds, try


    A simple jumping-off point to the old issues is available at


    If you just want the latest issue, go to

    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 11, 2006 #2
    In article <d7gccq$2sk$1@glue.ucr.edu>,
    baez@math.removethis.ucr.andthis.edu (John Baez) wrote:

    > I won't give any references to the Langlands Conjectures, since
    > I hope to talk a lot more about those some other time.

    So there's this version of Langlands called Geometric Langlands having
    to do with equivalences various moduli spaces and all sorts of fun stuff
    I don't understand like "Hecke Eigensheaves". But the reason I bring it
    up is because, apparently, it's all just S-duality in disguise. You take
    N=4 SYM, compactify down to two dimensions and all sorts of neat stuff

    There's some stuff on this at

    <http://www-theory.lbl.gov/~origa/MathPhys/Langlands.html> [Broken]
    <http://www.math.northwestern.edu/langlands/mtg_prtn_04.htm> [Broken]

    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  4. Oct 11, 2006 #3
    Some corrections, thanks mainly to James Borger and Kevin Buzzard!

    >E) The Weil Conjectures - The zeros of the zeta function of any smooth
    >algebraic variety over a finite field lie on the line Re(s) = 1/2.

    This is only true for curves, which is the case Weil actually proved.
    In general, the zeros have real part n/2 for some odd n, and the poles
    have real part n/2 for some even n. In each case, the number of them is
    the dimension of the cohomology group H^n of the complex form of the
    variety. For curves, H^1 gives the only odd Betti number, so all
    zeros have real part 1/2.

    >Also: such zeta functions are quotients of polynomials, they satisfy a
    >functional equation, and they can be computed in terms of the topology
    >of the corresponding *complex* algebraic varieties.

    Actually just the number of zeros and poles and their real parts are
    determined by the topology of the complex form of the variety, by the
    correction above.

    Regarding the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture:

    >This was first conjectured in 1955 by Yukata Taniyama, who worked on it
    >with Goto Shimura until committing suicide in 1958.

    It's "Goro" Shimura.

    >9) Henri Diamond, A proof of the full Shimura-Taniyama-Weil Conjecture
    >is announced, AMS Notices 46 (December 1999), 1397-1401. Available
    >at http://www.ams.org/notices/199911/comm-darmon.pdf

    That's Henri "Darmon", not to be confused with the Fred Diamond who
    helped prove this conjecture.

    >We start with the function zeta(2s):
    >1^{-s} + 4^{-s} + 9^{-s} + 25^{-s} + ....
    >Then we apply a curious thing called the "Mellin transform",
    >which turns this function into
    >z^{1} + z^{4} + z^{9} + z^{25} + ....

    Going this way, it's actually the "inverse Mellin transform".

    I'd also like to thank Aaron Bergman for turning me on to some stuff
    about the geometric Langlands conjecture, which is basically
    the Langlands conjecture for function fields. This has some connections
    to mathematical physics - see Peter Woit's blog:



    http://www.math.uchicago.edu/~arinkin/langlands/ [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
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