The Natural Theoretic of Electromagnetism. Thought of the Day 147.0

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In Maxwell’s theory, the field strength F = 1/2Fμν dxμ ∧ dxν is a real 2-form on spacetime, and thence a natural object at the same time. The homogeneous Maxwell equation dF = 0 is an equation involving forms and it has a well-known local solution F = dA’, i.e. there exists a local spacetime 1-form A’ which is a potential for the field strength F. Of course, if spacetime is contractible, as e.g. for Minkowski space, the solution is also a global one. As is well-known, in the non-commutative Yang-Mills theory case the field strength F = 1/2FAμν TA ⊗ dxμ ∧ dxν is no longer a spacetime form. This is a somewhat trivial remark since the transformation laws of such field strength are obtained as the transformation laws of the curvature of a principal connection with values in the Lie algebra of some (semisimple) non-Abelian Lie group G (e.g. G = SU(n), n 2 ≥ 2). However, the common belief that electromagnetism is to be intended as the particular case (for G =U(1)) of a non-commutative theory is not really physically evident. Even if we subscribe this common belief, which is motivated also by the tremendous success of the quantized theory, let us for a while discuss electromagnetism as a standalone theory.

From a mathematical viewpoint this is a (different) approach to electromagnetism and the choice between the two can be dealt with on a physical ground only. Of course the 1-form A’ is defined modulo a closed form, i.e. locally A” = A’ + dα is another solution.

How can one decide whether the potential of electromagnetism should be considered as a 1-form or rather as a principal connection on a U(1)-bundle? First of all we notice that by a standard hole argument (one can easily define compact supported closed 1-forms, e.g. by choosing the differential of compact supported functions which always exist on a paracompact manifold) the potentials A and A’ represent the same physical situation. On the other hand, from a mathematical viewpoint we would like the dynamical field, i.e. the potential A’, to be a global section of some suitable configuration bundle. This requirement is a mathematical one, motivated on the wish of a well-defined geometrical perspective based on global Variational Calculus.

The first mathematical way out is to restrict attention to contractible spacetimes, where A’ may be always chosen to be global. Then one can require the gauge transformations A” = A’ + dα to be Lagrangian symmetries. In this way, field equations select a whole equivalence class of gauge-equivalent potentials, a procedure which solves the hole argument problem. In this picture the potential A’ is really a 1-form, which can be dragged along spacetime diffeomorphism and which admits the ordinary Lie derivatives of 1-forms. Unfortunately, the restriction to contractible spacetimes is physically unmotivated and probably wrong.

Alternatively, one can restrict electromagnetic fields F, deciding that only exact 2-forms F are allowed. That actually restricts the observable physical situations, by changing the homogeneous Maxwell equations (i.e. Bianchi identities) by requiring that F is not only closed but exact. One should in principle be able to empirically reject this option.

On non-contractible spacetimes, one is necessarily forced to resort to a more “democratic” attitude. The spacetime is covered by a number of patches Uα. On each patch Uα one defines a potential A(α). In the intersection of two patches the two potentials A(α) and A(β) may not agree. In each patch, in fact, the observer chooses his own conventions and he finds a different representative of the electromagnetic potential, which is related by a gauge transformation to the representatives chosen in the neighbour patch(es). Thence we have a family of gauge transformations, one in each intersection Uαβ, which obey cocycle identities. If one recognizes in them the action of U(1) then one can build a principal bundle P = (P, M, π; U(1)) and interpret the ensuing potential as a connection on P. This leads way to the gauge natural formalism.

Anyway this does not close the matter. One can investigate if and when the principal bundle P, in addition to the obvious principal structure, can be also endowed with a natural structure. If that were possible then the bundle of connections Cp (which is associated to P) would also be natural. The problem of deciding whether a given gauge natural bundle can be endowed with a natural structure is quite difficult in general and no full theory is yet completely developed in mathematical terms. That is to say, there is no complete classification of the topological and differential geometric conditions which a principal bundle P has to satisfy in order to ensure that, among the principal trivializations which determine its gauge natural structure, one can choose a sub-class of trivializations which induce a purely natural bundle structure. Nor it is clear how many inequivalent natural structures a good principal bundle may support. Though, there are important examples of bundles which support at the same time a natural and a gauge natural structure. Actually any natural bundle is associated to some frame bundle L(M), which is principal; thence each natural bundle is also gauge natural in a trivial way. Since on any paracompact manifold one can choose a global Riemannian metric g, the corresponding tangent bundle T(M) can be associated to the orthonormal frame bundle O(M, g) besides being obviously associated to L(M). Thence the natural bundle T(M) may be also endowed with a gauge natural bundle structure with structure group O(m). And if M is orientable the structure can be further reduced to a gauge natural bundle with structure group SO(m).

Roughly speaking, the task is achieved by imposing restrictions to cocycles which generate T(M) according to the prescription by imposing a privileged class of changes of local laboratories and sets of measures. Imposing the cocycle ψ(αβ) to take its values in O(m) rather than in the larger group GL(m). Inequivalent gauge natural structures are in one-to-one correspondence with (non isometric) Riemannian metrics on M. Actually whenever there is a Lie group homomorphism ρ : GU(m) → G for some s onto some given Lie group G we can build a natural G-principal bundle on M. In fact, let (Uα, ψ(α)) be an atlas of the given manifold M, ψ(αβ) be its transition functions and jψ(αβ) be the induced transition functions of L(M). Then we can define a G-valued cocycle on M by setting ρ(jψ(αβ)) and thence a (unique up to fibered isomorphisms) G-principal bundle P(M) = (P(M), M, π; G). The bundle P(M), as well as any gauge natural bundle associated to it, is natural by construction. Now, defining a whole family of natural U(1)-bundles Pq(M) by using the bundle homomorphisms

ρq: GL(m) → U(1): J ↦ exp(iq ln det|J|) —– (1)

where q is any real number and In denotes the natural logarithm. In the case q = 0 the image of ρ0 is the trivial group {I}; and, all the induced bundles are trivial, i.e. P = M x U(1).

The natural lift φ’ of a diffeomorphism φ: M → M is given by

φ'[x, e]α = [φ(x), eiq ln det|J|. e]α —– (2)

where J is the Jacobin of the morphism φ. The bundles Pq(M) are all trivial since they allow a global section. In fact, on any manifold M, one can define a global Riemannian metric g, where the local sections glue together.

Since the bundles Pq(M) are all trivial, they are all isomorphic to M x U(1) as principal U(1)-bundles, though in a non-canonical way unless q = 0. Any two of the bundles Pq1(M) and Pq2(M) for two different values of q are isomorphic as principal bundles but the isomorphism obtained is not the lift of a spacetime diffeomorphism because of the two different values of q. Thence they are not isomorphic as natural bundles. We are thence facing a very interesting situation: a gauge natural bundle C associated to the trivial principal bundle P can be endowed with an infinite family of natural structures, one for each q ∈ R; each of these natural structures can be used to regard principal connections on P as natural objects on M and thence one can regard electromagnetism as a natural theory.

Now that the mathematical situation has been a little bit clarified, it is again a matter of physical interpretation. One can in fact restrict to electromagnetic potentials which are a priori connections on a trivial structure bundle P ≅ M x U(1) or to accept that more complicated situations may occur in Nature. But, non-trivial situations are still empirically unsupported, at least at a fundamental level.

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