10 October 2006

Tangent vectors and their fields

Voice-over: "Last time, on Blogging My Classes, Blogging My Fields,"
Screen flashes with images of surfaces and atlases. Main character says something cliche (but stunning because of the background music) about the definition of the manifold. Then screen switches to the final scene: The Scalar Bundle.
Voice-over: "And now, the continuation."

Classically, the tangent bundle T(M) to a manifold M was defined by taking equivalence classes of (parameterized) curves at each point, equivalent if they're tangent there. Slightly more universally, we can take our atlas of patches, and on each patch, consider the (locally trivial) bundle of tangent spaces to \R^n, then modding out by the transition functions between patches. But there is a better, more algebraic way to develop tangent vectors, directly from the sheaf of differentiable functions.

Within the space of linear functionals on C^\infty(M), consider those that are "derivations at the point p": l:C^\infty(M)\to\R should satisfy, for all f,g, l(fg) = f(p)l(g) + g(p)l(f). Of course, derivations at points of constant functions return zero, and one can check that derivations at points don't care about the value of the function outside a nbhd of the point, by considering bump functions. Given a coordinate patch x^i, the m derivations \d/\d x^i |_p (derivative in the i'th direction, evaluated at p) are examples, and it turns out that these form a basis for the (linear) space of derivations at p. (This is not entirely obvious. In coordinates, it comes from the fact that I can write any f(x):\R^n\to\R as f(x) = f(0) + \sum g_i(x) x^i (in a small nbhd of 0), by letting h_x(t) = f(xt) and thus g_i(x) = \int_0^t h_{x^i}(u) du.) So we have, given an n-dimensional manifold, n dimensions worth of derivations at each point.

Now, intuitively, any tangent vector gives a derivation at its basepoint, by differentiating the function "in the direction of the vector". And, intuitively, there are n dimensions worth of tangent vectors. So we can define a tangent vector at p to be a derivation at p.

Thus, it's clear that a vector field is exactly a derivation: a field worth of derivations, one at each point. Indeed, any derivation — an algebraically-defined object, exactly a linear operator L from C^\infty(M) to itself that satisfies the Leibniz rule L(fg) = L(f)g + fL(g) — gives us a derivation at each point: L_p(f) = L(f)(p). (And, by chasing definitions, two derivations agree iff they agree at each point.) More generally, we can talk about the sheaf of (tangent) vector fields, by asking about derivations of functions defined only on various open sets.

It's worth now mentioning cotangent vectors, and specifying some notation. Of course, to any vector space (e.g. T_p(M), the tangent vectors at p), we can define the dual space (of linear functionals). By linear algebra, if dim(V)<\infty, then the dual space has the same dimension; given a basis, we can construct a dual basis. Working now with manifolds, given any function f, I can get a cotangent field df defined by df(v) = v[f], where we think of v as a derivation. In particular, by the claim I made above about being able to write f in some local normal form, given a coordinate system x = {x^i} on a nbhd U, it's clear that the {dx^i} are a basis for the space of sections of T^*(U) as a module over C^\infty(U). (Similarly, the partials \d/\d x^i are a basis of {sections of T(U)} as a module over functions.)

Following the physicists' convention, I will usually just write p_i for the cotangent field p_i dx^i, and similarly I will usually just write q^i for the vector field q^i \d/\d x^i. (Continuing the summation convention.) This works, because dx^i \d/\d x^j = \delta^i_j, so (p_i dx^i)(q^j \d/\d x^j) = p_i q^j \delta^i_j = p_i q^i, so the dot-products work out right. This is only because I happen to be using a basis and its dual basis. Eventually, I may redefine the index conventions truly coordinate-independently, but for now let's maintain the convention that whenever we interpret our formulas in terms of coordinates, we always use dual bases for T and T^*.

Next time, I'd like to talk more about tensors, metrics, and similar structures. In particular, I'd like to define the Lorentz group and classify its representations.


Target said...

It's too bad you had to waste such a promising opening blogging about stuff I don't understand. :(

Theo said...

Sorry, target. But I am planning on moving this blog towards the more technically mathematical side of things, at least for a little while. It's my main outlet for math, and this really is what I'm thinking deeply about at present.