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Hast and Matei, “Moments of arithmetic functions in short intervals”

Two of my students, Daniel Hast and Vlad Matei, have an awesome new paper, and here I am to tell you about it!

A couple of years ago at AIM I saw Jon Keating talk about this charming paper by him and Ze’ev Rudnick.  Here’s the idea.  Let f be an arithmetic function: in that particular paper, it’s the von Mangoldt function, but you can ask the same question (and they do) for Möbius and many others.

Now we know the von Mangoldt function is 1 on average.  To be more precise: in a suitably long interval ([X,X+X^{1/2 + \epsilon}] is long enough under Riemann) the average of von Mangoldt is always close to 1.  But the average over a short interval can vary.  You can think of the sum of von Mangoldt over  [x,x+H], with H = x^d,  as a function f(x) which has mean 1 but which for d < 1/2 need not be concentrated at 1.  Can we understand how much it varies?  For a start, can we compute its variance as x ranges from 1 to X?This is the subject of a conjecture of Goldston and Montgomery.  Keating and Rudnick don’t prove that conjecture in its original form; rather, they study the problem transposed into the context of the polynomial ring F_q[t].  Here, the analogue of archimedean absolute value is the absolute value

|f| = q^{\deg f}

so an interval of size q^h is the set of f such that deg(f-f_0) < q^h for some polynomial f_0.

So you can take the monic polynomials of degree n, split that up into q^{n-h} intervals of size q^h, and sum f over each interval, and take the variance of all these sums.  Call this V_f(n,h).  What Keating and Rudnick show is that

\lim_{q \rightarrow \infty} q^{-(h+1)} V(n,h) = n - h - 2.

This is not quite the analogue of the Goldston-Montgomery conjecture; that would be the limit as n,h grow with q fixed.  That, for now, seems out of reach.  Keating and Rudnick’s argument goes through the Katz equidistribution theorems (plus some rather hairy integration over groups) and the nature of those equidistribution theorems — like the Weil bounds from which they ultimately derive — is to give you control as q gets large with everything else fixed (or at least growing very slo-o-o-o-o-wly.)  Generally speaking, a large-q result like this reflects knowledge of the top cohomology group, while getting a fixed-q result requires some control of all the cohomology groups, or at least all the cohomology groups in a large range.

Now for Hast and Matei’s paper.  Their observation is that the variance of the von Mangoldt function can actually be studied algebro-geometrically without swinging the Katz hammer.  Namely:  there’s a variety X_{2,n,h} which parametrizes pairs (f_1,f_2) of monic degree-n polynomials whose difference has degree less than h, together with an ordering of the roots of each polynomial.  X_{2,n,h} carries an action of S_n x S_n by permuting the roots.  Write Y_{2,n,h} for the quotient by this action; that’s just the space of pairs of polynomials in the same h-interval.  Now the variance Keating and Rudnick ask about is more or less

\sum_{(f_1, f_2) \in Y_{2,n,h}(\mathbf{F}_q)} \Lambda(f_1) \Lambda(f_2)

where $\Lambda$ is the von Mangoldt function.  But note that $\Lambda(f_i)$ is completely determined by the factorization of $f_i$; this being the case, we can use Grothendieck-Lefschetz to express the sum above in terms of the Frobenius traces on the groups

H^i(X_{2,n,h},\mathbf{Q}_\ell) \otimes_{\mathbf{Q}_\ell[S_n \times S_n]} V_\Lambda

where $V_\Lambda$ is a representation of $S_n \times S_n$ keeping track of the function $\Lambda$.  (This move is pretty standard and is the kind of thing that happens all over the place in my paper with Church and Farb about point-counting and representation stability, in section 2.2 particularly)

When the smoke clears, the behavior of the variance V(n,h) as q gets large is controlled by the top “interesting” cohomology group of X_{2,n,h}.  Now X_{2,n,h} is a complete intersection, so you might think its interesting cohomology is all in the middle.  But no — it’s singular, so you have to be more careful.  Hast and Matei carry out a careful analysis of the singular locus of X_{2,n,h}, and use this to show that the cohomology groups that vanish in a large range.  Outside that range, Weil bounds give an upper bound on the trace of Frobenius.  In the end they get

V(n,h) = O(q^{h+1}).

In other words, they get the order of growth from Keating-Rudnick but not the constant term, and they get it without invoking all the machinery of Katz.  What’s more, their argument has nothing to do with von Mangoldt; it applies to essentially any function of f that only depends on the degrees and multiplicities of the irreducible factors.

What would be really great is to understand that top cohomology group H as an S_n x S_n – representation.  That’s what you’d need in order to get that n-h-2 from Keating-Rudnick; you could just compute it as the inner product of H with V_\Lambda.  You want the variance of a different arithmetic function, you pair H with a different representation.  H has all the answers.  But neither they nor I could see how to compute H.

Then came Brad Rodgers.  Two months ago, he posted a preprint which gets the constant term for the variance of any arithmetic function in short intervals.  His argument, like Keating-Rudnick, goes through Katz equidistribution.  This is the same information we would have gotten from knowing H.  And it turns out that Hast and Matei can actually provably recover H from Rodgers’ result; the point is that the power of q Rodgers get can only arise from H, because all the other cohomology groups of high enough weight are the ones Hast and Matei already showed are zero.

So in the end they find

H = \oplus_\lambda V_\lambda \boxtimes V_\lambda

where \lambda ranges over all partitions of n whose top row has length at most n-h-2.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this kind of representation come up before — is it familiar to anyone?

Anyway:  what I like so much about this new development is that it runs contrary to the main current in this subject, in which you prove theorems in topology or algebraic geometry and use them to solve counting problems in arithmetic statistics over function fields.  Here, the arrow goes the other way; from Rodgers’s counting theorem, they get a computation of a cohomology group which I can’t see any way to get at by algebraic geometry.  That’s cool!  The other example I know of the arrow going this direction is this beautiful paper of Browning and Vishe, in which they use the circle method over function fields to prove the irreducibility of spaces of rational curves on low-degree hypersurfaces.  I should blog about that paper too!  But this is already getting long….



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Modeling lambda-invariants by p-adic random matrices

The paper “Modeling λ-invariants by p-adic random matrices,” with Akshay Venkatesh and Sonal Jain, just got accepted by Comm. Pure. Appl.  Math. But I forgot to blog about it when we finished it!  (I was a little busy at the time with the change in my personal circumstances.)

Anyway, here’s the idea.  As I’ve already discussed here, one heuristic for the Cohen-Lenstra conjectures about the p-rank of the class group of a random quadratic imaginary field K is to view this p-part as the cokernel of g-1, where g is a random generalized symplectic matrix over Z_p.  In the new paper, we apply the same philosophy to the variation of the Iwasawa p-adic λ-invariant.

The p-adic λ-invariant of a number field K is closely related to the p-rank of the class group of K; in fact, Iwasawa theory more or less gets started from the theorem that the p-rank of the class group of K(\zeta_{p^n}) is

\lambda n + \mu p^n + \nu

for some constants \lambda, \mu, \nu when n is large enough, with \mu expected to be 0 (and proved to be 0 when K is quadratic.)  On the p-adic L-function side, the λ-invariant is (thanks to the main conjecture) related to the order of vanishing of a p-adic L-function.  On the function field side, the whole story is told by the action of Frobenius on the p-torsion of the Jacobian of a curve, which is specified by some generalized symplectic matrix g over F_p.  The p-torsion in the class group is the dimension of the fixed space of g, while the λ-invariant is the dimension of the generalized 1-eigenspace of g, which might be larger.  It’s also in a sense more natural, depending only on the characteristic polynomial of g (which is exactly what the L-function keeps track of.)

So in the paper we do two things.  On the one hand, we study the dimension of the generalized 1-eigenspace of a random generalized symplectic matrix, and from this we derive the following conjecture: for each p > 2 and r >= 0,  the probability that a random quadratic imaginary field K has p-adic λ-invariant r is

p^{-r} \prod_{t > r} (1-p^{-t}).

Note that this decreases like p^{-r} with r, while the p-rank of the class group is supposed to be r with probability more like p^{-r^2}.  So large λ-invariants should be substantially more common than large p-ranks.

The second part of the paper tests this conjecture numerically, and finds fairly good agreement with the data. A novelty here is that we compute p-adic  λ-invariants of K for small p and large disc(K); previous computational work has held K fixed and considered large p.  It turns out that you can do these computations reasonably efficiently by interpolation; you can compute special values L(s,chi_K) transcendentally for many s; given a bunch of these values, determined to a certain p-adic precision, you can compute the initial coefficients of the p-adic L-function with some controlled p-adic precision as well, and, in particular, you can provably locate the first coefficient which is nonzero mod p.  The location of this coefficient is precisely the λ-invariant.  This method shows that, indeed, large λ-invariants do pop up!  For instance, the 3-adic λ-invariant of Q(\sqrt{-956238}) is 14, which I think is a record.

Some questions still floating around:

  • Should one expect an upper bound \lambda \ll_\epsilon D_K^\epsilon for each odd p?  Certainly such a bound is widely expected for the p-rank of the class group.
  • In the experiments we did, the convergence to the conjectural asymptotic appears to be from below.  For the 3-ranks of class groups of quadratic imaginary fields, this convergence from below was conjectured by Roberts to be explained by a secondary main term with negative coefficient.  Roberts’ conjecture was proved this year — twice!  Bhargava, Shankar, and Tsimerman gave a proof along the lines of Bhargava’s earlier work (involving thoughful decompositions of fundamental domains into manageable regions, and counting lattice points therein) and Thorne and Taniguchi have a proof along more analytic lines, using the Shintani zeta function.  Anyway, one might ask (prematurely, since I have no idea how to prove the main term correct!) whether the apparent convergence from below for the statistics of the λ-invariant is also explained by some kind of negative secondary term.
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