Tag Archives: Gauss

The Reimann curvature tensor

I have harpooned the great white whale of mathematics (for me at least) the Reimann curvature tensor.  Even better, I understand what curvature is, and how the Reimann curvature tensor expresses it.  Below you’ll see the nightmare of notation by which it is expressed.

Start with curvature.  We all know that a sphere (e.g. the earth) is curved.  But that’s when you look at it from space.  Gauss showed that you could prove a surface was curved just be performing measurements entirely within the surface itself, not looking at it from the outside (theorem egregium).

Start with the earth, assuming that it is a perfect sphere (it isn’t because its rotation fattens its middle).  We’ve got longitude running from pole to pole and the equator around the middle.  Perfect sphere means that all points are the same distance from the center — e.g. the radius.  Call the radius 1.

Now think of a line from the north pole to the plane formed by the equator (radius 1).  Take the midpoint of that line and inscribe a circle on the sphere, parallel to the plane of the equator.  Its radius is the half the square root of 3 (or 1.73). This comes from the right angle triangle just built with hypotenuse is 1 and  one side 1/2.   The circumference of the equator is 2*pi (remember the sphere’s radius is 1).  The circumference of the newly inscribed circle is 1.73 * pi.

Now pick a point on the smaller circle and follow a longitude down to the equator.  Call this point down1.  Move in one direction by 1/4 of the circumference of the sphere (pi/2).  Call that point on the equator down then across

Now go back to the smaller circle at the first point you picked and move in the same direction as you did on the equator by absolute distance pi/2 (not by pi/2 radians).  Then follow the longitude down to the equator.  Call that point across then down.  The two will not be the same.  Across then down is farther from down 1 than down then across.

The difference occurs because the surface of the sphere is curved, and the difference in endpoints of the two paths is exactly what the Reimann curvature tensor measures.

Here is the way the Riemann curvature tensor is notated.  Hideous isn’t it?

If you’re going to have any hope of understanding general relativity (not special relativity) you need to understand curvature.

I used paths in the example, Riemann uses the slope of the paths (e.g derivatives) which makes things much more complicated.  Which is where triangles (dels), and the capital gammas (Γ) come in.

To really understand the actual notation, you need to understand what a covariant derivative actually is, which is much more complicated, but knowing what you know now, you’ll see where you are going when enmeshed in thickets of notation.

What the Riemann curvature tensor is actually saying is that the order of taking covariant derivatives (which is the same thing as the order of taking paths)  is NOT commutative.

The simplest functions we grow up with are commutative.  2 + 3 is the same as 3 + 2, and 5*3 = 3*5.  The order of the terms doesn’t matter.

Although we weren’t taught to think of it that way, subtraction is not.  5 – 3 is not the same as 3 – 5.  There is all sorts of nonCommutativity in math.  The Lie bracket is one such, the Poisson bracket  another, and most groups are nonCommutative.  But that’s enough.  I wish I’d known this when I started studying general relativity.

Two math tips

Two of the most important theorems in differential geometry are Gauss’s Theorem egregium and the Inverse function theorem. Basically the theorem egregium says that you don’t need to look at the shape of a two dimensional surface (say the surface of a walnut) from outside (e.g. from the way it sits in 3 dimensional space) to understand its shape. All the information is contained in the surface itself.

The inverse function theorem (InFT) is used over and over. If you have a continuous function from Euclidean space U of finite dimension n to Euclidean space V of the same dimension, and certain properties of its derivative are present at a point x of U, then there exists a another function to get you back from space V to U.

Even better, once you’ve proved the inverse function theorem, proof of another important theorem (the implicit function theorem aka the ImFT) is quite simple. The ImFT lets you know if given f(x, y, .. .) –> R (e.g. a real valued function) if you can express one variable (say x) in terms of the others. Again sometimes it’s difficult to solve such an equation for x in terms of y — consider arctan(e^(x + y^2) * sin(xy) + ln x). What is important to know in this case, is whether it’s even possible.

The proofs of both are tricky. In particular, the proof of the inverse function theorem is an existence proof. You may not be able to write down the function from V to U even though you’ve just proved that it exists. So using the InFT to prove the implicit function theory is also nonconstructive.

At some point in your mathematical adolescence, you should sit down and follow these proofs. They aren’t easy and they aren’t short.

Here’s where to go. Both can be found in books by James J. Callahan, emeritus professor of Mathematics at Smith College in Northampton Mass. The proof of the InVT is to be found on pages 169 – 174 of his “Advanced Calculus, A Geometric View”, which is geometric, with lots of pictures. What’s good about this proof is that it’s broken down into some 13 steps. Be prepared to meet a lot of functions and variables.

Just the statement of InVT involves functions f, f^-1, df, df^-1, spaces U^n, R^n, variables a, q, B

The proof of InVT involves functions g, phi, dphi, h, dh, N, most of which are vector valued (N is real valued)

Then there are the geometric objects U^n, R^n, Wa, Wfa, Br, Br/2

Vectors a, x, u, delta x, delta u, delta v, delta w

Real number r

That’s just to get you through step 8 of the 13 step proof, which proves the existence of the inverse function (aka f^-1). The rest involves proving properties of f^-1 such as continuity and differentiability. I must confess that just proving existence of f^-1 was enough for me.

The proof of the implicit function theorem for two variables — e.g. f(x, y) = k takes less than a page (190).

The proof of the Theorem Egregium is to be found in his book “The Geometry of Spacetime” pp. 258 – 262 in 9 steps. Be prepared for fewer functions, but many more symbols.

As to why I’m doing this please see https://luysii.wordpress.com/2011/12/31/some-new-years-resolutions/