This is how my ex-husband Joseph Bernstein used to start his courses in representation theory.
Suppose there is a four-armed dragon on every face of a cube. Each dragon has a bowl of kasha in front of him. Dragons are very greedy, so instead of eating their own kasha they try to steal kasha from their neighbors. Every minute every dragon extends four arms to the neighboring cube’s faces and tries to get the kasha from the bowls there. As four arms are fighting for every bowl of kasha, each arm manages to steal one-fourth of what is in the bowl. Thus each dragon steals one-fourth of of the kasha of each of his neighbors, while all of his own kasha is stolen too. Given the initial amounts of kasha in every bowl, what is the asymptotic behavior of the amounts of kasha?
You might ask how this relates to representation theory. First, it relates to linear algebra. We can consider the amounts of kasha as a six-dimensional vector space and the stealing process as a linear operator. As mathematicians, we can easily assume that a negative amount of kasha is allowed.
Now to representation theory. The group of rotations of the cube naturally acts on the 6-dimensional vector space of kashas. And the stealing operator is an intertwining operator of this representation. Now for a spoiler alert: I’m about to finish the solution, so stop here if you want to try it on your own.
The intertwining operator acts as a scalar on irreducible representations of the group. Thus we should decompose our representation into irreducible ones. The group has five irreducible representations with dimensions 1, 1, 2, 3, and 3.
We can decompose the kasha into the following three representations:
- One-dimensional. Every dragon has the same amounts of kasha. The stealing operator acts as identity.
- Three-dimensional. Dragons on opposite sides have the opposite amount of kasha. The stealing operator acts as zero.
- Two-dimensional. Dragons on opposite sides have the same amount of kasha and the total amount of kasha is zero. The stealing operator acts as −1/2.
We see that asymptotically every dragon will have the same amount of kasha.
Now it is your turn to use this method to solve a similar problem, where there are n dragons sitting on the sides of an n-gon. Each dragon has two arms, and steals half of the kasha from his neighbors. Hey, wait a minute! Why dragons? There are people around the table stealing each other’s kasha. But the question is still the same: What is the asymptotic behavior of the amounts of kasha?Share: