## This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics (Week 159)

#### John Baez

Today I want to continue talking about 11d supergravity. I mainly want to describe this paper:

1) Yi Ling and Lee Smolin, Eleven dimensional supergravity as a constrained topological field theory, available as hep-th/0003285.

This paper gives an elegant new formulation of 11d supergravity by starting from a kind of BF theory and then imposing constraints, very much like Plebanski's formulation of ordinary gravity in 4d spacetime. Recall that in Plebanski's formalism, we start with:

a) a Lorentz connection A, which can locally be thought of as a 1-form taking values in the Lie algebra of the Lorentz group,

and:

b) a field B, which can locally be thought of as a 2-form valued in the Lie algebra of the Lorentz group.

We get a topological field theory by using the Lagrangian

tr(B ^ F)

where F is the curvature of A. The equations of motion say that both the curvature of A and the exterior covariant derivative of B vanish. All solutions of these equations are locally gauge-equivalent, so there are no local degrees of freedom - that's what I mean by saying we get a topological field theory.

But if we impose the constraint that

B = e ^ e

where e is a "cotetrad" - which locally amounts to a 1-form taking values in R^4 - we get the equations of general relativity! We can impose this constraint by throwing an extra term into the Lagrangian, involving an extra "Lagrange multiplier" field. The sole purpose of this extra field is to ensure that when we compute the variation of the action with respect to it, we get zero iff B = e ^ e.

Similarly, in Ling and Smolin's formulation of 11d supergravity we start with:

a) a super-Poincare superconnection A, which can locally be described as a 1-form taking values in the super-Lie algebra of the super-Poincare group - or "super-Poincare algebra", for short.

b) a 3-form C.

c) a 6-form D.

We think of all three of these as "gauge fields". I already mentioned in "week157" how a p-form can be viewed as a generalization of the electromagnetic vector potential which couples naturally to a membrane that traces out a p-dimensional surface in spacetime: we just integrate the p-form over this surface to get the action. Annoyingly, physicists call a membrane that traces out a p-dimensional surface in spacetime a "(p-1)-brane", so a string is a 1-brane, a point particle is a 0-brane... and an instanton is a -1-brane. They should have remembered to count spacetime dimensions instead of space dimensions! Then we wouldn't have this nasty "minus one" stuff.

But anyway, the usual formulation of 11d supergravity (see "week157") involves a 3-form field, which couples naturally to 2-branes. This is nice because there's lots of evidence that M-theory has a lot to do with 2-branes. The nice thing about Ling and Smolin's formulation is that it also includes a 6-form field, which couples to 5-branes. There's also a lot of evidence that M-theory is related to 5-branes, but these have always been a bit more mysterious than the 2-branes. Now, however, they're staring us in the face right from the start!

Next, before I go further, I should say what the "super-Poincare algebra" is!

In fact, I've been pretty coy all along about explaining supersymmetry. Let me quickly try to remedy that. The basic idea of supersymmetry is that we should build the distinction between bosons and fermions into all the math we ever do. So instead of doing math with vector spaces, we should do it with "supervector spaces". A supervector space is just a direct sum of two vector spaces, called the "even" or "bosonic" space and the "odd" or "fermionic" space. So, for example, the Hilbert space of a quantum system built out of bosons and fermions will always be a supervector space.

Supervector spaces work a lot like ordinary vector spaces, so we can redo all of math replacing vector spaces by supervector spaces. To do this, we just copy all the usual stuff, EXCEPT that whenever we switch two vectors past each other in our formulas, we stick in an extra minus sign when they're both odd! This reflects the way fermions actually work in nature: when you exchange two of them, their wavefunction picks up a phase of -1.

Supervector spaces are also an obvious idea if you've studied enough math. For example, differential forms of odd degree anticommute with each other, while forms of even degree commute with everything. So the differential forms on a manifold really form a supervector space, and in fact, a "supercommutative algebra". For reasons like this, mathematicians and physicists got together back in the 1980s and figured out how to redo huge wads of algebra in the context of supervector spaces. It's actually very easy if you use a little category theory....

Anyway, using this trick we can come up with the notion of a "super-Lie algebra". It's almost like a Lie algebra, except that the bracket [A,B] of two odd elements A and B behaves like an anticommutator AB+BA instead of the usual commutator AB-BA. This means we need to throw in suitable signs into the Jacobi identity and other Lie algebra axioms: an extra minus sign whenever two odd elements get switched!

Now, how about the super-Poincare algebra?

As you probably know, the Lie algebra of the Poincare group has translation generators Pa and rotation/boost generators Lab, where the indices go from 1 to n if spacetime has n dimensions. I won't bother writing down the well-known commutation relations between these guys.

The super-Lie algebra of the super-Poincare group contains all this stuff as its even part, but it also has an odd part! The odd part has a basis of "supertranslation generators" QA, where A ranges over a basis of real spinors. Now, spinors are like "square roots of vectors": there's a natural symmetric bilinear map taking a pair of spinors to a vector. So it's natural to define the bracket of two supertranslations by:

[QA,QB] = ΓABa Pa

where the so-called "γ matrix" ΓABa is just the physicist's coordinate-ridden way of describing this map taking a pair of spinors to a vector. Since this map is symmetric, we have

[QA,QB] = [QB,QA]

If you're used to Lie algebras, this equation must look like it's missing a minus sign - but we're doing super-Lie algebras, and the supertranslation generators are odd, so we expect that!

To complete the definition, we need to describe the brackets between supertranslations and the even elements of our super-Lie algebra. This is easy. The bracket of an ordinary translation and a supertranslation is zero. The bracket of a rotation/boost and a supertranslation is defined using the usual action of the Lie algebra of the Lorentz group on spinors.

Okay, now let's go back and think a minute about what the "superconnection" in Ling and Smolin's formulation of 11d supergravity is really like. If we work locally, we can think of this as a 1-form taking values in the super-Poincare algebra. Thus it really consists of 3 parts:

a) a 1-form taking values in the Lorentz Lie algebra so(10,1). This is secretly the "spin connection" in the usual formulation of 11d supergravity, as described last week.

a') a 1-form taking values in the translation Lie algebra R11. This is secretly the "elfbein" in the usual formulation of 11d supergravity, as described last week.

a'') a 1-form taking values in the space of real spinors. This is just the "gravitino" in the usual formulation of 11d supergravity, as described last week.

So you see, this fancy-schmancy super-baloney really helps simplify our description of what's going on!

I'm getting a little worn out, so I'll just summarize the rest of the story. First, how do Ling and Smolin get their 11d topological field theory? Like I said, it's a kind of BF theory, where the Lagrangian is like tr(B ^ F). But there are a bunch of F fields - i.e., curvatures - and thus a bunch of B fields. Namely, we've got the curvature of the superconnection A, the curvature dC of the 3-form C, and the curvature dD of the 6-form D. And if you analyze it, the curvature of the superconnection consists of 3 separate parts. So we really have five F fields. Each one has its corresponding B field, and the Lagrangian is a sum of terms of the form tr(B ^ F).

To get 11d supergravity, we have to impose a bunch of constraints by throwing extra terms into the Lagrangian. There is one term like this for each F field. We also have to throw in a term which gives the analog of Maxwell's equations for the 3-form field C. So the paper's title is a mild lie! We're not seeing 11d supergravity as simply a constrained topological field theory - there's also an extra interaction.

By the way, if you've never seen the Plebanski formulation of 4d gravity as a constrained BF theory, here's the original paper:

2) M. J. Plebanski, On the separation of Einsteinian substructures, J. Math. Phys. 18 (1977), 2511.

Ling and Smolin's formulation of 11d supergravity is related to some work of Fre and collaborators, which I haven't read yet:

3) Pietro Fre, Comments on the six index photon in D = 11, preprint TH-3884-CERN.

4) R. D'Auria and P. Fre, Geometric supergravity in D = 11 and its hidden supergroup, Nucl. Phys. B201 (1982), 101. Erratum, Nucl. Phys. B206 (182), 496.

5) L. Castellani, P. Fre and P. van Nieuwenhuizen, A review of the group manifold approach and its applications to conformal supergravity, Ann. Phys. 136 (1981), 398.

Here's another formulation of 11d supergravity I'd like to check out:

6) Martin Cederwall, Ulf Gran, Mikkel Nielsen, and Bengt Nillson, Generalised 11-dimensional supergravity, available as hep-th/0010042.

Cederwall has done interesting work on octonions and physics, so I want to look here for clues that 11d supergravity is related to the octonions.

Actually, now that I've said a bit about supersymmetry, I can explain a bit about how it's related to division algebras and exceptional groups. All this stuff will be described in more detail in my review article on octonions, which I'll finish by March of next year. But I can't resist saying a little right now....

As we've seen, a crucial part of the super-Poincare algebra is the map taking a pair of real spinors to a vector. Abstractly we can write this as follows:

m: S x S → V.

In certain dimensions we can split the spinor space S into spaces of left- and right-handed spinors, say S+ and S-. Then we get a map

m: S+ x S- → V.

This stuff works both for Minkowski spacetime and for Euclidean space. If we do it for Euclidean space, we find a marvelous fact....

In certain special cases - namely dimensions 1 and 2 - the dimension of V matches the dimension of S. This lets us identify V with S. Then the map

m: S x S → V

turns out to be multiplication for the real and complex numbers, respectively.

In other special cases - namely dimensions 4 and 8 - the dimension of V matches the dimension of S+, and also S-. This lets us identify V with S+ and S-. Then the map

m: S+ x S- → V

turns out to be multiplication for the quaternions and octonions, respectively.

In other words, the vector-spinor interaction which plays such an important role in physics:

```                  \
\
\
~~~~~~~~~
/
/
/

```
also gives rise to all the division algebras! (Here I've drawn the usual picture of a spinor particle and a spinor antiparticle annihilating to form a vector boson: this is a physics application of the map m.)

Another crucial part of the super-Poincare algebra is the action of the Lorentz Lie algebra on spinors. Again, this has a Euclidean analogue, where the Lie algebra of the Lorentz group gets replaced by that of the rotation group. In n dimensions, we thus get an action

so(n) x S → S

which we can also dualize to get a map

S x S → so(n).

Of course, we also have the Lie bracket

so(n) x so(n) → so(n).

So it's natural to ask: can we use all three of these maps to define a Lie bracket on the direct sum of so(n) and the spinor space S?

And the answer is: yes, but only if n = 9. Then we get the exceptional Lie algebra F4.

Spurred on by our success, we can ask: what if we use right-handed spinors instead? If we restrict the above maps to right-handed spinors, can we define a Lie bracket on the direct sum of so(n) and the space S+?

And the answer is: yes, but only if n = 16. Then we get the exceptional Lie algebra E8.

And then we ask: can we get the other exceptional Lie algebras by some variant of this trick?

And the answer is: yes, at least for E6 and E7.

If n = 10, the spinor space S is naturally a complex vector space, so u(1) acts on it. Using this and the above maps, we can make the direct sum of so(10), S and u(1) into a Lie algebra, which turns out to be E6.

If n = 12, the right-handed spinor space S+ is naturally a quaternionic vector space, so su(2) acts on it. Using this and the above maps, we can make the direct sum of so(12), S+ and su(2) into a Lie algebra, which turns out to be E7.

In short, we have the following story:

```natural maps involving vectors and spinors give: R in dimension 1
C in dimension 2
H in dimension 4
O in dimension 8

natural maps involving so(n) and spinors give:  F4 in dimension 9
E6 in dimension 10
E7 in dimension 12
E8 in dimension 16
```
And you'll note that the dimensions in the second list are 8 more than the corresponding dimensions in the first list. This is no coincidence! It has to do with the octonions. But I'm too tired to explain that now....

Anyway, my main point was just that the natural maps involving rotation/boost generators (i.e. the Lorentz Lie algebra, or rotation Lie algebra), translation generators (i.e. vectors) and supertranslation generators (i.e. spinors) are the essential ingredient for constructing:

a) the super-Poincare algebra

b) the division algebras R, C, H and O

c) the exceptional Lie algebras F4, E6, E7 and E8

So it's not really odd to expect relations between these three things!

Of course, I've shown how items b) and c) are related to rotations, spinors and vectors in Euclidean space, while item a) is related to rotations/boosts, spinors and vectors in Minkowski spacetime. To round off the picture, I'd have to describe the relation between spinors in n-dimensional Euclidean space to spinors in (n+2)-dimensional Minkowski spacetime. It's this relation that gives the isomorphisms

so(2,1) = sl(2,R)

so(3,1) = sl(2,C)

so(5,1) = sl(2,H)

so(9,1) = sl(2,O)

which I mentioned already in "week104". This is what lets us write down the super-Yang-Mills Lagrangians and superstring Lagrangians in spacetimes of dimension 3, 4, 6, and 10 - i.e., 2 more than the magic numbers 1, 2, 4, and 8. Adding 8, we can guess there should also be fun stuff in spacetimes of dimensions 11, 12, 14 and 18, related to F4, E6, E7 and E8, respectively. Is this true? Is the 11d case related to 11d supergravity - or M-theory? I don't know.