Leibniz notation for vector fields
Consider a vector field , such as
Oftentimes will be expressed in the following Leibnizian notation
which is extremely strange the first time one encounters it. After all, why not just write
where , ? What do partial derivatives have to do with anything? (That was the question I asked.)
However, if viewed in the right way, it is not so strange. For if a vector field is given, then one natural thing that can be done with it is to differentiate a scalar-valued function in the direction of . In functional notation, this would be
where is a point, is gives the particular vector in the vector field at the point , and denotes the directional derivative of at with respect to the direction .
For our example, (where ) equals
The Leibniz notation on manifolds
But there is more. We can consider a more general situation, where is a vector field on a manifold. In this case, because the tangent space to a manifold varies with each point , we cannot fix certain basis vectors to describe our vector field anymore. Loosely speaking, the basis vectors now have to vary smoothly.
This makes total sense, because one of the favorite ways to define tangent vectors on abstract manifolds is to identify them with directional derivatives. The basis (which varies smoothly with ) then becomes the replacement for the fixed basis in Euclidean space. Note that this is consistent with the calculus notation for the partial derivative of with respect to the variable, because partial derivatives are merely directional derivatives with respect to the direction .
We have used the Einstein summation convention above to emphasize the mnemonic cancelling of fractions.
The quantity is the directional derivative in the direction of the th coordinate function, mapping a point on the manifold to the coordinate . Notice the subtle subtle change of viewpoint here: we are not considering as mere “variables”, but as functions of the point .
Formula (1), which is a linear combination of vectors in a tangent space, of course looks like the chain rule learned in elementary multivariate calculus, but it is much more than that: we are saying that the formula holds for general curvilinear coordinate systems on manifolds! This is definitely one of the virtues of the Leibnizian notation — making advanced concepts look simple.
As a simple example to get used to this notation, consider the function defined by . The Euclidean space can also be thought of as a manifold, and suppose we use a spherical coordinate system on it.
Let us compute . If is “viewed as a function of ”, then , so we certainly hope that with our definition of directional derivatives. This easily follows from the formula for differential forms on manifolds:
But let us see this by calculating from (1) too. We have
and substituting in (1),
Needless to say, this calculation can be done with the usual functional notation, but it will be somewhat clumsy. We have to say: let be the spherical coordinate chart; and then would be the quantity . That is not to say Leibnizian notation has no disadvantages. For example, one of the typical objections to the Leibnizian formula
is that the function means something different on the two sides of the equation. However, formula (1) partly escapes this objection: we can consider to be a function on a manifold, ignoring the vector space structure of . Cartesian coordinates simply become another coordinate chart. Spherical coordinates constitute another. Then (i.e. the directional derivative applied to ) is a natural quantity to consider, rather than “the derivative of ’ with respect to the first variable” (which is what the functional notation says).
Physicists seem to grasp the Leibnizian formalism very readily, and it is a shame that many calculus textbooks do not fully explain the logic behind the formalism — probably because it looks to be unrigorous — but the point we are trying to drive here is that when differentials are suitably interpreted, they are rigorous.
The dual to the tangent vectors
There is a subtle ambiguity in the Leibniz notation that we should also discuss here. Suppose we are on a two-dimensional manifold with coordinates and . The notation is ambiguous, because it implicitly depends on the coordinate as well. What we really mean when we refer to is a displacement where changes at a uniform rate of 1, and where does not change at all.
Say, for some bizarre reason, I decided to use a coordinate system on the Euclidean plane made up of the Euclidean coordinate and the radial coordinate. Now when I write , I mean something quite different than when I write relative to the Euclidean coordinates. In the first instance the derivative is with respect to the vector field
In the second instance, the derivative is with respect to the vector field
On closer thought, we can see that in the elementary calculus interpretation has the same ambiguity, but the problem is so trivial that we often forget that it exists. For instance, if we have a function , and we stipulate that also , then obviously , because is changing at the same time as . The definition of a partial derivative with respect to is the derivative when changes and all the other variables are held fixed. So this rule should be applied when working with the tangent vectors on a manifold too.
If we agree to use different letters for each coordinate system, and not mix them up (always a reasonable thing to do), then we will not make any mistakes arising from this ambiguity with the Leibniz notation.
Another way to understand the ambiguity is as follows. In a vector space, there is no natural isomorphism between it and its dual space (unless we involve the inner product or something like that). On manifolds, the role of the dual space is taken by the space of differential one-forms. (See differential forms (http://planetmath.org/DifferentialForms) for the rigorous details.) A basis for this dual space is for . There is a basis in the tangent space that is dual to : namely, these are the :
But if we are given a lone element , we cannot produce a unique vector from it (i.e. there is no isomorphism) — we need to be given the entire basis . So it is not surprising why the vectors should depend on each other.
Motivation for the notation of differential forms
The various ’s floating around obscures the essential idea somewhat, but the derivation of this formula is basic linear algebra. Since is a linear functional on the tangent space, defined by , it can be written as a linear combination of the dual basis . That is, for some , we have
And these are solved for by evaluating at the tangent vectors :
giving formula (3).
For those who are not familiar with the language of differential forms, the definition just used might seem to be somewhat artificial, designed solely to make the classical formula (3) work out. The following comment by Spivak might help clarify matters:
Classical differential geometers (and classical analysts) did not hesitate to talk about “infinitely small” changes of the coordinates , just as Leibniz had. No one wanted to admit that this was nonsense, because true results were obtained when these infinitely small quantities were divided into each other (provided one did it in the right way). Eventually it was realized that the closest one can come to describing an infinitely small change is to describe a direction in which this change is supposed to occur, i.e. a tangent vector. Since is supposed to be the infinitesimal change of under an infinitesimal change of the point, must be a function of this change, which means that should be a function on tangent vectors. The themselves then metamorphosed into functions, and it became clear that they must be distinguished from the tangent vectors . Once this realization came, it was only a matter of making new definitions, which preserved the old notation, and waiting for everybody to catch up. In short, all classical notions involving infinitely small quantities became functions on tangent vectors, like , except for quotients of infinitely small quantities, which became tangent vectors, like .
where on the left side really means . The formal identity obtained by multiplying both sides by ,
means that “true results are obtained by dividing by again, no matter what the functions are.” Also, the left- and right-hand sides individually do not depend on any particular curve at all, but really just the tangent vectors to that curve. Again, this leads us to realization that and should be treated as functions of a tangent vector.
|Title||Leibniz notation for vector fields|
|Date of creation||2013-03-22 15:26:54|
|Last modified on||2013-03-22 15:26:54|
|Last modified by||stevecheng (10074)|