Tag Archives: theorem

The fundamental theorem of geometric group theory, Part II: proof

1 Oct

A refresher from last week: If a group G acts on a proper geodesic metric space X properly discontinuously and cocompactly by isometries, then G is quasi-isometric to X.  Moreover, G is finitely generated.

Yes, I put “proper geodesic metric space” in italics because I forgot it in the statement of the theorem last week.  [Aside: actually, you only need “length space” there, and proper geodesic will follow by Hopf-Rinow.  But let’s skip that and just go with proper geodesic.]  I also added the second sentence (which isn’t really a moreover, it comes for free during the proof).

At the end of last week I defined proper: closed balls are compact. A space is geodesic if there is a shortest path between any two points which realizes the distance between those points.  For instance, the plane is geodesic: you can just draw a line between any two points.  But if you take away the origin from the plane, it’s not geodesic anymore.  The distance between (1,1) and (-1,-1) is 2\sqrt{2}, but the line should go through the origin.  There is no geodesic between those two points in this space.

Now we have all our words, so let’s prove the theorem!  I’ll italicize everywhere we use one of the conditions of the theorem.

Since our action is cocompact, we have a compact set K so that translates of it tile X.  Pick a point inside K, call it x_0, and a radius R so that K is entirely contained inside a ball of radius R/3 centered at x_0.  For notation, this ball will be labelled B(x_0,R/3).

Schematic: special point is the yellow dot, yellow circle is radius R/3, lighter circle is radius R.  Cartoon on right illustrates this relationship

Schematic: K is the red square, special point is the yellow dot, yellow circle is radius R/3, lighter circle is radius R. Cartoon on right illustrates this relationship

We’ll pick a subset of the group G: Let A =\{ g\in G: g.B(x_0,R)\cap B(x_0,R) \neq \emptyset\}.  X is proper, so closed balls are compact.  Since the action is properly discontinuous, this means that is finite.  [Reminder: properly discontinuous means that only finitely many group elements translate compact sets to intersect themselves].

Now we’ll show that G is finitely generated, and it’s generated by A.  Choose some group element g in G.  Draw a geodesic in between your special point x_0 and its g-translate g.x_0.  Now we’ll mark some points on that geodesic: mark a point every R/3 away from x_0, all the way to the end of the geodesic.  You’ll have [(length of the segment)/(R/3) rounded up] many points marked.  Let’s call that number n.

firststep

There are n blue points, and they’re all R/3 away from each other. Notice the last blue point might be closer to g.x_0, but it’s definitely less than or equal to R/3 away.

Here’s the clever part.  Remember that K tiles X by G-translates (cocompactness), so each of those blue points lives inside a G-translate of K.  Since x_0 lives inside K, that means there’s a nearby translate of x_0 to each blue point.  And since K fits inside a R/3 ball, each translate is less than or equal to R/3 away from its blue point.

The green points are translates of x_0: I also colored x_0 and g.x_0.  The yellow circle indicates the the green point is within R/3 of its blue point.

The green points are translates of x_0: I also colored x_0 and g.x_0. The yellow circle indicates the the green point is within R/3 of its blue point.

We can bound how far apart the consecutive green points are from each other: each one is within R/3 of its blue point, which are all R/3 apart from their neighbors.  So the green points are at most R/3+R/3+R/3= R from each other.

Middle portion is exactly R/3 long.  So by the triangle inequality, the green points are less than or equal to R from each other.

Middle portion is exactly R/3 long. So by the triangle inequality, the green points are less than or equal to R from each other.

Remember that the green points represent G-translates of x_0.  In the picture above I numbered them g_0.x_0=x_0,g_1.x_0,g_2.x_0,\ldots g_nx_0=g.x_0.  We just said that d(g_1.x_0,g_2.x_0)\leq R.  Since G acts by isometries, this means that d(g_2^{-1}g_1.x_0,x_0)\leq R.  So g_2^{-1}g_1 lives inside our set A that we defined above- it moves x_0 within of itself.

Here’s a bit of cleverness: we can write g=g_n=g_0^{-1}g_1\cdot g_1^{-1}g_2 \cdots g_{n-1}^{-1}g_n, because all of the middle terms would cancel out and we’d be left with g=g_0\cdot g_n = 1\cdot g = g.  But each of those two-letter terms lives in A, so we just wrote as a product of elements in A.  That means that A generates G.  We said above that A is finite, so G is finitely generated.

That was the “moreover” part of the theorem.  The main thing is to show that G is quasi-isometric to X.  Let’s try the function g\mapsto g.x_0.

Above, we wrote as a product of elements of A, so that means that the length of is at most n.  In other words, d_G(1,g)\leq n.  Now we’d like to bound it by d_X(x_0,g.x_0).  We found by dividing the geodesic into pieces, so we have n\leq \frac{d_X(x_0,g.x_0)}{R/3}+1, where we added a 1 for the rounding.  So we have one side of the quasi-isometry: d_G(g_1,g_2)\leq \frac{3}{R}d_X(g_1.x_0,g_2.x_0)+1 (using the action by isometries).

Now we need to bound the other side, which will be like stepping back through our clever argument.  Let M be the maximum distance that an element of translates x_0.  In symbols, M=max_{a\in A} d_X(x_0,a.x_0).  Choose some in G, with length n.  That means we can write as a product of elements in A: g=a_1\cdots a_n.  Each a_i moves x_0 at most M.  If we step between each translate, we have d(a_i.x_0,a_{i+1}.x_0)=d(a_{i+1}^{-1}a_i.x_0,x_0)\leq M.  There are steps from x_0 to g.x_0, and each step contributes at most M to the distance.  So d_X(x_0,g.x_0)\leq M d_G(1,g).

With bounds on both sides, we can just pick the larger number to get our actual quasi-isometry.  We also need the function to be quasi-onto, but it is because the action is cocompact so there are translates of x_0 all over the place.

Huzzah!

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The fundamental theorem of geometric group theory (part I), topology

24 Sep

I love the phrase “THE fundamental theorem of…” It’s so over the top and hyperbolic, which is unlike most mathematical writing you’ll run into.  So you know that it’s important if you run into the fundamental theorem of anything.  By now we all have some background on geometric group theory: you’ll want to know what a group action is and what a quasi-isometry is.  (Refresher: a group G acts on a space X if each group element g gives a homomorphism of the space X to itself.  A quasi-isometry between two spaces X and Y is a function f so that distances between points get stretched by a controlled scaling amount + an additive error term).  We say a group G is quasi-isometric to a space X if its Cayley graph is quasi-isometric to X.  Remember, a Cayley graph is a picture you can draw from a group if you know its generators.

Still from Wikipedia: a Cayley graph of the symmetries of a square

There are several more terms we’ll want to know to understand the theorem, but I’ll just do one more before we start.  We say a group G acts on a space X by isometries if it acts on X, and each homomorphism is actually an isometry (it preserves distance).  So for instance, the integers acting on the real line by multiplication isn’t by isometries, because each homomorphism spreads the line out (so the homomorphism of the reals to themselves given by 3 is x \mapsto 3x, which stretches out distances).  But if the action is defined by addition, then you’re okay: x\mapsto x+3 preserves distances.

Under the red function, f(2)-f(1)=6-3=3, but 2-1=1, so this isn't an isometry. Under the green function, f(2)-f(1)=5-4=1, which is equal to 2-1. This is always true, so this is an isometry.

Under the red function, f(2)-f(1)=6-3=3, but 2-1=1, so this isn’t an isometry.
Under the green function, f(2)-f(1)=5-4=1, which is equal to 2-1. This is always true, so this is an isometry.

So here’s the fundamental theorem:

If a group G acts properly discontinuously, cocompactly, and by isometries on a proper metric space X, then G is quasi-isometric to X. 

You can parse this so far as “If a group G acts by isometries on a space X with condition condition condition, then G is quasi-isometric to X.”  Putting aside the conditions for now, how would we prove such a theorem?  Well, to show something is quasi-isometric, you need to come up with a function so that the quasi-isometry condition holds: for all x,y in X, we need \frac{1}{K} d_G(f(x),f(y))-C\leq d_X(x,y) \leq K d_G(f(x),f(y))+C.

So let’s deal with those conditions!  An action is cocompact if there’s some compact subset S of X so that G-translates of S cover all of X.  Remember, each element g in G gives an isometry of X, so it’ll send S to some isometric copy of itself somewhere else in X.  In our example above, the integer 3 will send the compact subset [5,7] to the isometric copy [8,10].  In fact, our example action is cocompact: you can keep using [5,7] as your compact set, and notice that any point on the real line will eventually be covered by a translate of [5,7].  For instance, -434.32 is covered by [-435,-433], which is the image of [5,7] under the isometry given by -440.

This action is also cocompact. Here I have the plane, conveniently cut up with an integer lattice. Can you figure out what the action is? Hint: the red square is a unit square, and the pink squares are suppose to be various translates of it.

This action is also cocompact. Here I have the plane, conveniently cut up with an integer lattice. Can you figure out what the action is? Hint: the red square is a unit square, and the pink squares are suppose to be various translates of it.

G acts on X properly discontinuously if for any two points x,y in X, they each have a neighborhood U_x, U_y so that only finitely many g make g.U_x\cap U_y\neq\emptyset.  Let’s look at our example action again.  If I take the points 4365.234 and 564.54 in the real line, I’d like to find neighborhoods around them.  Let’s choose the intervals [4365,4366] and [564,565].  The only integers that make these hit each other are -3801 and -3800.  In particular, 2 is finite, so this indicates proper discontinuity.  If we actually wanted to prove the action is properly discontinuous, we’d want to show this is possible for all numbers, not just these two specific ones I chose.

Schematic of proper discontinuity: only finitely many g will send the yellow oval to hit the blue blob

Schematic of proper discontinuity: only finitely many g will send the yellow oval to hit the blue blob

Finally, a metric space X is proper if all closed balls are compact.  Balls are intuitively defined: they’re all the points that are at a fixed distance or less from your center.  In the plane, balls are circles, centered around points.  And compact-well, aw shucks I haven’t defined compact and we’ve been using it!  Time for some topology.  We’ll prove this theorem next time around, this post is just definitions and background.  (Sorry for the cliffhanger, but it should be clear what we’re going to do next time: make a function, show it’s a quasi-isometry).

Just like groups are the fundamental object of study in algebra, open sets are the fundamental object of study in topology.  You’re already familiar with one type of open set, the open interval (say, (6,98), which includes all numbers between 6 and 98 but doesn’t include 6 and 98).  I just described another above: balls.  So, open circles in the plane are open sets.  Sets are closed if their complement is open: that is, the rest of the space minus that set is open.  In the real line example, [6,74] is closed because (-\infty,6)\cup(74,\infty) is open (it’s the union of infinitely many open sets, say (74,76) with (75,77) with (76,78) and on and on).

Notice that I haven’t yet defined what an open set is.  That’s because it’s a choice- you can have the same space have different topologies on it if you use different definitions of open sets.  I’ll point you to these wikipedia articles for more examples on that.

A set is compact if every covering of it by open sets has a finite subcover.  That means that any time you write your set S as a union of open sets, you can choose finitely many of those and still be able to hit all the points of S.  From above, the set (74,\infty) is not compact, because you can’t get rid of any of the sets in that infinite covering and still cover the set.  On the real line, a set is compact if it’s closed and bounded (this is the Heine-Borel theorem, a staple of real analysis).

So that’s enough for today.  More next time (like a proof!)  Also, I’m using my husband’s surface to blog this, which means I did all the pictures using my fingers.  It’s like finger painting.  What d’you think?  Better than usual pictures, or worse?

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