** — 1. Introduction — **

One can argue that (modern) ergodic theory started with the ergodic Theorem in the early 30’s. Vaguely speaking the ergodic theorem asserts that in an ergodic dynamical system (essentially a system where “everything” moves around) the statistical (or time) average is the same as the space average. For instance, if a bird flies “ergodically” on the earth surface, and one measures the proportion of the time that the bird is over an ocean, after enough time (say, a couple centuries) that proportion (the time average) would get close to the actual proportion of the earth surface covered by oceans (the space average).

To make things more interesting there is more than just one ergodic theorem, and both von Neumann and Birkhoff proved a version of the ergodic theorem at around the same time. While von Neumann’s result concerns convergence, has a quick proof and is valid for any averaging scheme (and indeed any discrete amenable group action), Birkhoff’s theorem is about pointwise convergence, holds for any function in , has a harder proof and is not suitable for all averaging schemes.

In this post, a measure preserving system (m.p.s. for short) is a triple where is a probability space (the -algebra is omitted from the notation because it plays no important part in this discussion. All sets and functions will be assumed to be measurable) and preserves the measure, i.e. for any we have . A m.p.s. is ergodic if the only sets such that have measure or . Equivalently there are no functions such that a.e. We now state both versions:

Theorem 1 (von Neumann’s ergodic Theorem)Let be an ergodic m.p.s. and let . Then

Theorem 2 (Birkhoff’s ergodic Theorem)Let be an ergodic m.p.s. and let . Then

** — 2. von Neumann’s Ergodic Theorem — **

The proof of von Neumann’s Theorem (also known as mean ergodic Theorem) reveals that the result is intrinsically related with unitary operators on Hilbert spaces. It is this feature that makes this result suitable for so many generalizations and that makes it so useful in establishing recurrence results.

The following Lemma is sometimes called itself von Neumann’s Ergodic Theorem.

Lemma 3Let be a Hilbert space and let be an unitary operator. Let be the subspace of invariant vectors and let be the orthogonal projection onto . Then for any we havewhere convergence is in the norm topology.

Before we prove this lemma, let’s see how it implies the ergodic Theorem 1:

First make and note that the map defined by is a unitary operator (known as the Koopman operator of ). Also observe that in this situation, the subspace of invariant functions contains only the constant functions, and the orthogonal projection is the integral operator, i.e. . Thus the Theorem 1 is just a rephrasing of the Lemma 3 for this case.

We now prove the Lemma 3

*Proof:* The convergence clearly holds if . On the other hand, if for some , then for any we have

hence is orthogonal to and so . Moreover we have that , so the limit in the lemma is indeed .

Call the subspace of the vectors of the form . We claim that and this concludes the proof. To prove the claim, let , we have:

so and hence and this finishes the proof.

** — 3. Birkhoff’s Ergodic Theorem — **

The first proof I learned of this Theorem uses a so-called maximal inequality. Here I will present (or rather sketch) a different proof, more combinatorial in nature.

First we can easily reduce to non-negative functions, so we will assume that . Moreover we will only deal with bounded functions (so we will assume wlog that ), the general case follows from some standard estimations. Let and let and . It suffices to prove that a.e., (because considering then we get that also ).

Now fix some . It suffices to prove that a.e., because we can then take limit when . Let . Clearly , so by ergodicity either or . Since we need to prove that , it will suffice to prove that .

Let , let and let . For each we have , so and hence . Thus for , taking the maximum over , we have , or . Integrating over we get

Rewriting we get that

Since we have that as well. Now note that , so we finally have that and we are done.

** — 4. Averages over Følner sequences — **

As stated (and proved) the Birkhoff theorem seems stronger than von Neumann’s (although it is not true that almost everywhere pointwise convergence implies convergence in general, it is possible to deduce von Neumann’s Theorem from Birkhoff’s Theorem). However, the proof for the von Neumann’s Theorem also proves the following result:

Theorem 4In the conditions of the Theorem 1, let be sequences of integers such that . Then

If one attempts to modify the proof of Birkhoff’s Theorem to obtain an analogue result, one runs into difficulties, and indeed such a result is not true. The importance of this generalization lies in the fact that sequences of intervals with are essentially all the Følner sequences of , and it turns out that the von Neumann Ergodic Theorem holds for any amenable group and any Følner sequence.

We now provide an example, due to Akcoglu and del Junco which provides a counter-example for a pointwise ergodic Theorem along general Følner sequences. We mention that Lindenstrauss found sufficient conditions for a Følner sequence to verify the pointwise ergodic theorem, and every Følner sequence has a “good” subsequence (and hence every discrete amenable group has such a Følner sequence).

Theorem 5Let be an invertible ergodic m.p.s. with for each . Let be a non-decreasing unbounded sequence of integers such that . Then there exists a set such that the averagesfail to converge in a set of positive measure.

For the proof we will need to use the Rokhlin lemma:

Lemma 6 (Rokhlin Lemma)Let be an invertible ergodic m.p.s. with for each , let and let be arbitrary. Then there exists some set such that are disjoint and

We can now prove the Theorem 5

*Proof:* For each , let large enough so that , and let be the set provided by the Rokhlin Lemma with and . Let and . We observe that for sufficiently large (so that ) we have and .

Now making we have , and making we have (using Fatou’s Lemma) that . With this setup, the result follows if we show that for each we have

because if the averages were to converge almost everywhere then that would be and by the Dominated convergence Theorem we would have

which is a contradiction. To show that for we have the equation (1), note that if then for some . Then, making we have that and . In particular (because is non-decreasing) we have that

Now if , then for arbitrarily large , and since is unbounded and we conclude that for each we can take in the previous equation to be arbitrary large. But that is exactly equation (1).

As a final remark we note that more than a mere counter-example for a possible pointwise ergodic theorem for arbitrary Følner sequences, this Theorem shows that such a result fails in every (non-trivial) m.p.s.

Hi, it’s curious that even though the Birkhoffs ergodic theorem is stated for the non-negative numbers the generalizations are for amenable groups not semigroups. Do you know if semigroups provide extra difficulties or do these results also apply for semigroups?

I know that von Neumann’s theorem holds in every discrete countable semigroup (and in more general semigroups but then one needs to worry about the topology).

Lindenstrauss’s sufficient condition on a Følner sequence to be “good” for pointwise convergence uses inverses, so it hints that his result may not hold for semigroups, but perhaps one could adapt his argument to hold on semigroups.

If you are asking about Akcoglu and del Junco’s example, then I think you will find difficulties with the Rokhlin Lemma, even in certain groups.

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