Metric. Part 1.


A (semi-Riemannian) metric on a manifold M is a smooth field gab on M that is symmetric and invertible; i.e., there exists an (inverse) field gbc on M such that gabgbc = δac.

The inverse field gbc of a metric gab is symmetric and unique. It is symmetric since

gcb = gnb δnc = gnb(gnm gmc) = (gmn gnb)gmc = δmb gmc = gbc

(Here we use the symmetry of gnm for the third equality.) It is unique because if g′bc is also an inverse field, then

g′bc = g′nc δnb = g′nc(gnm gmb) = (gmn g′nc) gmb = δmc gmb = gcb = gbc

(Here again we use the symmetry of gnm for the third equality; and we use the symmetry of gcb for the final equality.) The inverse field gbc of a metric gab is smooth. This follows, essentially, because given any invertible square matrix A (over R), the components of the inverse matrix A−1 depend smoothly on the components of A.

The requirement that a metric be invertible can be given a second formulation. Indeed, given any field gab on the manifold M (not necessarily symmetric and not necessarily smooth), the following conditions are equivalent.

(1) There is a tensor field gbc on M such that gabgbc = δac.

(2) ∀ p in M, and all vectors ξa at p, if gabξa = 0, then ξa =0.

(When the conditions obtain, we say that gab is non-degenerate.) To see this, assume first that (1) holds. Then given any vector ξa at any point p, if gab ξa = 0, it follows that ξc = δac ξa = gbc gab ξa = 0. Conversely, suppose that (2) holds. Then at any point p, the map from (Mp)a to (Mp)b defined by ξa → gab ξa is an injective linear map. Since (Mp)a and (Mp)b have the same dimension, it must be surjective as well. So the map must have an inverse gbc defined by gbc(gab ξa) = ξc or gbc gab = δac.


In the presence of a metric gab, it is customary to adopt a notation convention for “lowering and raising indices.” Consider first the case of vectors. Given a contravariant vector ξa at some point, we write gab ξa as ξb; and given a covariant vector ηb, we write gbc ηb as ηc. The notation is evidently consistent in the sense that first lowering and then raising the index of a vector (or vice versa) leaves the vector intact.

One would like to extend this notational convention to tensors with more complex index structure. But now one confronts a problem. Given a tensor αcab at a point, for example, how should we write gmc αcab? As αmab? Or as αamb? Or as αabm? In general, these three tensors will not be equal. To get around the problem, we introduce a new convention. In any context where we may want to lower or raise indices, we shall write indices, whether contravariant or covariant, in a particular sequence. So, for example, we shall write αabc or αacb or αcab. (These tensors may be equal – they belong to the same vector space – but they need not be.) Clearly this convention solves our problem. We write gmc αabc as αabm; gmc αacb as αamb; and so forth. No ambiguity arises. (And it is still the case that if we first lower an index on a tensor and then raise it (or vice versa), the result is to leave the tensor intact.)

We claimed in the preceding paragraph that the tensors αabc and αacb (at some point) need not be equal. Here is an example. Suppose ξ1a, ξ2a, … , ξna is a basis for the tangent space at a point p. Further suppose αabc = ξia ξjb ξkc at the point. Then αacb = ξia ξjc ξkb. Hence, lowering indices, we have αabc =ξia ξjb ξkc but αacb =ξia ξjc ξib at p. These two will not be equal unless j = k.

We have reserved special notation for two tensor fields: the index substiution field δba and the Riemann curvature field Rabcd (associated with some derivative operator). Our convention will be to write these as δab and Rabcd – i.e., with contravariant indices before covariant ones. As it turns out, the order does not matter in the case of the first since δab = δba. (It does matter with the second.) To verify the equality, it suffices to observe that the two fields have the same action on an arbitrary field αb:

δbaαb = (gbngamδnmb = gbnganαb = gbngnaαb = δabαb

Now suppose gab is a metric on the n-dimensional manifold M and p is a point in M. Then there exists an m, with 0 ≤ m ≤ n, and a basis ξ1a, ξ2a,…, ξna for the tangent space at p such that

gabξia ξib = +1 if 1≤i≤m

gabξiaξib = −1 if m<i≤n

gabξiaξjb = 0 if i ≠ j

Such a basis is called orthonormal. Orthonormal bases at p are not unique, but all have the same associated number m. We call the pair (m, n − m) the signature of gab at p. (The existence of orthonormal bases and the invariance of the associated number m are basic facts of linear algebraic life.) A simple continuity argument shows that any connected manifold must have the same signature at each point. We shall henceforth restrict attention to connected manifolds and refer simply to the “signature of gab

A metric with signature (n, 0) is said to be positive definite. With signature (0, n), it is said to be negative definite. With any other signature it is said to be indefinite. A Lorentzian metric is a metric with signature (1, n − 1). The mathematics of relativity theory is, to some degree, just a chapter in the theory of four-dimensional manifolds with Lorentzian metrics.

Suppose gab has signature (m, n − m), and ξ1a, ξ2a, . . . , ξna is an orthonormal basis at a point. Further, suppose μa and νa are vectors there. If

μa = ∑ni=1 μi ξia and νa = ∑ni=1 νi ξia, then it follows from the linearity of gab that

gabμa νb = μ1ν1 +…+ μmνm − μ(m+1)ν(m+1) −…−μnνn.

In the special case where the metric is positive definite, this comes to

gabμaνb = μ1ν1 +…+ μnνn

And where it is Lorentzian,

gab μaνb = μ1ν1 − μ2ν2 −…− μnνn

Metrics and derivative operators are not just independent objects, but, in a quite natural sense, a metric determines a unique derivative operator.

Suppose gab and ∇ are both defined on the manifold M. Further suppose

γ : I → M is a smooth curve on M with tangent field ξa and λa is a smooth field on γ. Both ∇ and gab determine a criterion of “constancy” for λa. λa is constant with respect to ∇ if ξnnλa = 0 and is constant with respect to gab if gab λa λb is constant along γ – i.e., if ξnn (gab λa λb = 0. It seems natural to consider pairs gab and ∇ for which the first condition of constancy implies the second. Let us say that ∇ is compatible with gab if, for all γ and λa as above, λa is constant w.r.t. gab whenever it is constant with respect to ∇.

Einstein Algebra and General Theory of Relativity Preserve the Empirical Structure of the Theories


In general relativity, we represent possible universes using relativistic spacetimes, which are Lorentzian manifolds (M, g), where M is a smooth four dimensional manifold, and g is a smooth Lorentzian metric. An isometry between spacetimes (M,g) and (M,g′) is a smooth map φ : M → M′ such that φ ∗ (g′) = g, where φ∗ is the pullback along φ. We do not require isometries to be diffeomorphisms, so these are not necessarily isomorphisms, i.e., they may not be invertible. Two spacetimes (M,g), (M′,g′) are isomorphic, if there is an invertible isometry between them, i.e., if there exists a diffeomorphism φ : M → M′ that is also an isometry. We then say the spacetimes are isometric.

The use of category theoretic tools to examine relationships between theories is motivated by a simple observation: The class of models of a physical theory often has the structure of a category. In what follows, we will represent general relativity with the category GR, whose objects are relativistic spacetimes (M,g) and whose arrows are isometries between spacetimes.

According to the criterion for theoretical equivalence that we will consider, two theories are equivalent if their categories of models are “isomorphic” in an appropriate sense. In order to describe this sense, we need some basic notions from category theory. Two (covariant) functors F : C → D and G : C → D are naturally isomorphic if there is a family ηc : Fc → Gc of isomorphisms of D indexed by the objects c of C that satisfies ηc ◦ Ff = Gf ◦ ηc for every arrow f : c → c′ in C. The family of maps η is called a natural isomorphism and denoted η : F ⇒ G. The existence of a natural isomorphism between two functors captures a sense in which the functors are themselves “isomorphic” to one another as maps between categories. Categories C and D are dual if there are contravariant functors F : C → D and G : D → C such that GF is naturally isomorphic to the identity functor 1C and FG is naturally isomorphic to the identity functor 1D. Roughly speaking, F and G give a duality, or contravariant equivalence, between two categories if they are contravariant isomorphisms in the category of categories up to isomorphism in the category of functors. One can think of dual categories as “mirror images” of one another, in the sense that the two categories differ only in that the directions of their arrows are systematically reversed.

For the purposes of capturing the relationship between general relativity and the theory of Einstein algebras, we will appeal to the following standard of equivalence.

Theories T1 and T2 are equivalent if the category of models of T1 is dual to the category of models of T2.

Equivalence differs from duality only in that the two functors realizing an equivalence are covariant, rather than contravariant. When T1 and T2 are equivalent in either sense, there is a way to “translate” (or perhaps better, “transform”) models of T1 into models of T2, and vice versa. These transformations take objects of one category – models of one theory—to objects of the other in a way that preserves all of the structure of the arrows between objects, including, for instance, the group structure of the automorphisms of each object, the inclusion relations of “sub-objects”, and so on. These transformations are guaranteed to be inverses to one another “up to isomorphism,” in the sense that if one begins with an object of one category, maps using a functor realizing (half) an equivalence or duality to the corresponding object of the other category, and then maps back with the appropriate corresponding functor, the object one ends up with is isomorphic to the object with which one began. In the case of the theory of Einstein algebras and general relativity, there is also a precise sense in which they preserve the empirical structure of the theories.

Local Gauge Transformations in Locally Gauge Invariant Relativistic Field Theory


The question arises of whether local space-time symmetries – arbitrary co-ordinate transformations that leave the explicit form of the equations of motion unaffected – also have an active interpretation. As in the case of local gauge symmetry, it has been argued in the literature that the introduction of a force is required to ‘restore’ local symmetry.  In the case of arbitrary co-ordinate transformations, the force invoked is gravity. Once again, we believe that the arguments (though seductive) are wrong, and that it is important to see why. Kosso’s discussion of arbitrary coordinate transformations is analogous to his argument with respect to local gauge transformations. He writes:

Observing this symmetry requires comparing experimental outcomes between two reference frames that are in variable relative motion, frames that are relatively accelerating or rotating….One can, in principle, observe that this sort of transformation has occurred. … just look out of the window and you can see if you are speeding up or turning with respect to some object that defines a coordinate system in the reference frame of the ground…Now do the experiments to see if the invariance is true. Do the same experiments in the original reference frame that is stationary on the ground, and again in the accelerating reference frame of the train, and see if the physics is the same. One can run the same experiments, with mechanical forces or with light and electromagnetic forces, and observe the results, so the invariance should be observable…But when the experiments are done, the invariance is not directly observed. Spurious forces appear in the accelerating system, objects move spontaneously, light bends, and so on. … The physics is different.

In other words, if we place ourselves at rest first in an inertial reference frame, and then in a non-inertial reference frame, our observations will be distinguishable. For example, in the non-inertial reference frame objects that are seemingly force-free will appear to accelerate, and so we will have to introduce extra, ‘spurious’, forces to account for this accelerated motion. The transformation described by Kosso is clearly not a symmetry transformation. Despite that, his claim appears to be that if we move to General Relativity, this transformation becomes a symmetry transformation. In order to assess this claim, let’s begin by considering Kosso’s experiment from the point of view of classical physics.

Suppose that we describe these observations using Newtonian physics and Maxwell’s equations. We would not be surprised that our descriptions differ depending on the choice of coordinate system: arbitrary coordinate transformations are not symmetries of the Newtonian and Maxwell equations of motion as usually expressed. Nevertheless, we are free to re-write Newtonian and Maxwellian physics in generally covariant form. But notice: the arbitrary coordinate transformations now apply not just to the Newtonian particles and the Maxwellian electromagnetic fields, but also to the metric, and this is necessary for general covariance.

Kosso’s example is given in terms of passive transformations – transformations of the coordinate systems in which we re-coordinatise the fields. In the Kosso experiment, however, we re-coordinatise the matter fields without re-coordinatising the metric field. This is not achieved by a mere coordinate transformation in generally covariant classical theory: a passive arbitrary coordinate transformation induces a re-coordinatisation of not only the matter fields but also the metric. The two states described by Kosso are not related by an arbitrary coordinate transformation in generally covariant classical theory. Further, such a coordinate transformation applied to only the matter and electromagnetic fields is not a symmetry of the equations of Newtonian and Maxwellian physics, regardless of whether those equations are written in generally covariant form.

Suppose that we use General Relativity to describe the above observations. Kosso suggests that in General Relativity the observations made in an inertial reference frame will indeed be related by a symmetry transformation to those made in a non-inertial reference frame. He writes:

The invariance can be restored by revising the physics, by adding a specific dynamical principle. This is why the local symmetry is a dynamical symmetry. We can add to the physics a claim about a specific force that restores the invariance. It is a force that exactly compensates for the local transform. In the case of the general theory of relativity the dynamical principle is the principle of equivalence, and the force is gravity. … With gravity included in the physics and with the windows of the train shuttered, there is no way to tell if the transformation, the acceleration, has taken place. That is, there is now no difference in the outcome of experiments between the transformed and untransformed systems. The force pulling objects to the back of the train could just as well be gravity. Thus the physics, all things including gravity considered, is invariant from one locally transformed frame to the next. The symmetry is restored.

This analysis mixes together the equivalence principle with the meaning of invariance under arbitrary coordinate transformations in a way which seems to us to be confused, with the consequence that the account of local symmetry in General Relativity is mistaken.

Einstein’s field equations are covariant under arbitrary smooth coordinate transformations. However, as with generally covariant Newtonian physics, these symmetry transformations are transformations of the matter fields (such as particles and electromagnetic radiation) combined with transformations of the metric. Kosso’s example, as we have already emphasised, re-coordinatises the matter fields without re-coordinatising the metric field. So, the two states described by Kosso are not related by an arbitrary coordinate transformation even in General Relativity. We can put the point vividly by locating ourselves at the origin of the coordinate system: I will always be able to tell whether the train, myself, and its other contents are all freely falling together, or whether there is a relative acceleration of the other contents relative to the train and me (in which case the other contents would appear to be flung around). This is completely independent of what coordinate system I use – my conclusion is the same regardless of whether I use a coordinate system at rest with respect to the train or one that is accelerating arbitrarily. (This coordinate independence is, of course, the symmetry that Kosso sought in the opening quotation above, but his analysis is mistaken.)

What, then, of the equivalence principle? The Kosso transformation leads to a physically and observationally distinct scenario, and the principle of equivalence is not relevant to the difference between those scenarios. What the principle of equivalence tells us is that the effect in the second scenario, where the contents of the train appear to accelerate to the back of the train, may be due to acceleration of the train in the absence of a gravitational field, or due to the presence of a gravitational field in which the contents of the train are in free fall but the train is not. Mere coordinate transformations cannot be used to bring real physical forces in and out of existence.

It is perhaps worthwhile briefly indicating the analogy between this case and the gauge case. Active arbitrary coordinate transformations in General Relativity involve transformations of both the matter fields and the metric, and they are symmetry transformations having no observable consequences. Coordinate transformations applied to the matter fields alone are no more symmetry transformations in General Relativity than they are in Newtonian physics (whether written in generally covariant form or not). Such transformations do have observational consequences. Analogously, local gauge transformations in locally gauge invariant relativistic field theory are transformations of both the particle fields and the gauge fields, and they are symmetry transformations having no observable consequences. Local phase transformations alone (i.e. local gauge transformations of the matter fields alone) are no more symmetries of this theory than they are of the globally phase invariant theory of free particles. Neither an arbitrary coordinate transformation in General Relativity, nor a local gauge transformation in locally gauge invariant relativistic field theory, can bring forces in and out of existence: no generation of gravitational effects, and no changes to the interference pattern.