Linear representation

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This article gives a basic definition in the following area: linear representation theory
View other basic definitions in linear representation theory |View terms related to linear representation theory |View facts related to linear representation theory
This article describes a notion of representation, or a group action on a certain kind of object.
View a complete list of types of representations

Definition

QUICK PHRASES: action of a group on a vector space, linear action, G-module, group action compatible with vector space structure

Let G be a group and k be a field. A linear representation or linear action of G over k can be defined in a number of ways, as outlined below. Each of these involves a vector space V over k.

Definition as a homomorphism

A linear representation of G over k homomorphism \rho:G \to GL(V) where V is a vector space over k and GL(V) denotes the general linear group of V, viz the group of automorphisms of V as a k-vector space.

A linear representation is typically described by the pair (V,\rho) where V is the vector space and \rho is the homomorphism. Sometimes, we simply talk of \rho as the representation.

Definition as a group action

A linear representation of G over k is a group action G \times V \to V (where V is a vector space over k) such that the permutation of V induced by any element of G is a linear map. Explicitly, we want that:

  • Group action: e.v = v \ \forall \ v \in V; \qquad g.(h.v) = (gh).v \ \forall g,h \in G, v \in V
  • Commutes with scalar multiplication: g.(\alpha v) = \alpha (g.v) \ \forall \ g \in G, \alpha \in k, v \in V
  • Additivity: g.(v + w) = g.v + g.w \ \forall \ g \in G, v,w \in V

Definition as a module over a group ring

Let kG denote the group ring of G over the field k. A representation of G over k is then, a left kG-module V. In other words V is a vector space over k, with a G-action such that the action gives rise to a kG-module structure.

In this language, we sometimes talk of V as a G-module and hence simply describe the representation as being V, with the action implicit in the way V is given a G-module structure.

Definition as a homomorphism from the group ring to endomorphisms of a vector space

Let kG denote the group ring of G over the field k. A representation of G over k is then, a vector space V over k, and a homomorphism of k-algebras from kG to the endomorphism algebra of V.

Equivalence of definitions

Further information: Equivalence of definitions of linear representation

Equivalence of representations

Equivalence in the language of group homomorphisms

As per the first definition, two representations (V_1,\rho_1) and (V_2,\rho_2) of a group G are said to be equivalent linear representations if there is an isomorphism \sigma: V_1 \to V_2 such that \rho_2(g) = \sigma\circ\rho_1(g)\circ\sigma^{-1}.

When V_1 = V_2 = V, this is equivalent to demanding that there exists a \sigma \in GL(V) such that \rho_2(g) = \sigma \circ \rho_1(g) \circ \sigma^{-1}, in other words, that \rho_1 and \rho_2 differ by an inner automorphism of V.

Equivalence in the language of modules

Two linear representations of G over k are equivalent if the corresponding kG-modules are isomorphic as kG-modules: in other words, there is a vector space isomorphism between them that preserves the kG-action.

Equivalence in the language of algebra homomorphisms

Two linear representations of G over k, say \alpha_1:kG \to \operatorname{End}(V_1) and \alpha_2:kG \to operatorname{End}(V_2), are equivalent, if there is an isomorphism \sigma:V_1 \to V_2 such that for any x \in kG, we have:

\alpha_2(x) = \sigma \circ \alpha_1(x) \circ \sigma^{-1}

Equivalence of equivalence notions

Further information: Equivalence of definitions of linear representation

Constructions

Direct sum

Further information: direct sum of linear representations Let (V_1,\rho_1) and (V_2,\rho_2) be two representations of a group G. Then the direct sum of these is defined as follows:

  • The vector space for it is V_1 \oplus V_2
  • The action is: g.(v_1 \oplus v_2) = g.v_1 \oplus g.v_2.

In other words, it acts on each vector space separately.

Tensor product

Further information: tensor product of linear representations Let (V_1,\rho_1) and (V_2,\rho_2) be two representations of a group G. The tensor product of these is defined as follows:

  • The vector space for it is V_1 \otimes V_2
  • The action is such that g.(v_1 \otimes v_2) = g.v_1 \otimes g.v_2

Dual space

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Examples

Trivial representation

Every group has a trivial repreesntation on any vector space: the representation where every element of the group acts as the identity on every vector. We typically use the term trivial representation for the trivial one-dimensional representation: the trivial representation on a one-dimensional space.

Finite-dimensional representations

Further information: finite-dimensional linear representation

A representation is termed finite-dimensional if the vector space is finite-dimensional. When the vector space is finite-dimensional, we can choose a basis for the vector space and hence write the image of every element of G as a matrix in that basis.

There are some properties of automorphisms of linear transformations over finite-dimensional vector spaces that are easily computed from the matrix, but are in fact independent of the choice of basis. The most important among these are the coefficients of the characteristic polynomial. In particular, there is a notion of trace (which is the sum of the diagonal entries) and the determinant.

Trace leads to the notion of character of a representation. Given a representation (V,\rho) where V is a finite-dimensional vector space, the character of \rho, denoted as \chi_\rho is defined as the map from G to k that sends g \in G to Trace(\rho(g)). The character is a special kind of class function (a class function being a function on the group that takes the same value within every conjugacy class).

Invariant subspaces and irreducible representations

Further information: irreducible linear representation Given a representation (V,\rho) of a group G, an invariant subspace is a subspace W \le V such that \rho(g) takes W to W for every g \in G.

A representation is termed irreducible if it has no proper nontrivial invariant subspace (that is, the only invariant subspace is the zero subspace or the whole space).

A representation is termed completely reducible if it is expressible as a direct sum of irreducible representations.

Decomposition of representations

Further information: indecomposable linear representation A direct sum decomposition of a linear representation is an expression of the linear representation as a direct sum of linear representations. A linear representation is said to be direct sum-indecomposable if for any direct sum decomposition of the representation, one of the summands is the zero-dimensional representation.

Note that any irreducible representation is direct sum-indecomposable, but the converse may not be true. In fact, the converse is true provided that every representation is completely reducible.