Tag Archives: Banach spaces

Jenga blocks and Gowers’ hyperplane space

This post is an attempt to communicate some of the feel of Banach space theory to those who aren’t familiar with it. I once tried to explain my research to a six year old using Jenga blocks, but fortunately only got as far as the triangle inequality. Near the end of my Phd, at my supervisor’s suggestion, I started to explore the complicated Banach space that is Timothy Gowers’ solution to Banach’s hyperplane problem. These experiences inspired the following explanation of one relatively simple observation (that I included as an example in my thesis) through the delightful medium of building blocks.

Our object of study are towers of good old-fashioned building blocks. Each block has a number written on its side, so each tower built from these blocks gives a sequences of numbers (x_1, x_2, x_3, \ldots). These don’t have to be positive natural numbers, but you won’t lose much by pretending, in this post, that they are. There are innumerably many different brands of towers, but we’ll concentrate on one particular brand: the ‘Gowers Towers’. Let’s say the number written on each block represents how heavy the block is, and is inversely proportional to the length of the block. So we’d represent the sequence (0, 1, 5, 0, 3, 5, 5, 1, 10) with the Gowers Tower pictured.

It’s worth mentioning that the Gowers Towers include every individual tower of finite height that you can build with your unlimited set of Gowers branded building blocks (and lots of infinite height, but you don’t really need to worry about those here).

Let’s pretend we’ve got a measure of the instability of a tower (the norm of the sequence), and whenever we increase the instability beyond a certain threshold, K, the tower collapses.

Blocks with higher numbers are heavier, as well as narrower and perhaps inherently more unstable. How the blocks of different weights at different heights affect the stability of the Towers of Gowers is extremely complicated. However, the towers do have some nice, intuitive properties.

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Getting into Norms: a technical postscript

For mathematicians’ eyes only. The post doesn’t require much theoretical knowledge to understand, but I haven’t given many definitions.

In the last two posts I’ve been talking about an example I made with four-dimensional vectors a, b, c such that \|a\|_1 > \|b\|_1 > \|c\|_1, \|b\|_{2} > \|c\|_{2} > \|a\|_{2} and \|c\|_{\infty}>\|a\|_{\infty}>\|b\|_{\infty}. Finding it was more difficult than I at first expected, so I thought I would write the investigation up, which happily gives me an excuse to introduce a useful inequality.

My first thoughts were to choose something like c=(10,0,0,0) and a=(6,6,0,0) or a=(4,4,4,0), and then I’d got stuck choosing b. So I decided to try to prove the opposite.

First of all, it’s not possible to create such an example in two dimensions. Continue reading

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