The Unapologetic Mathematician

Mathematics for the interested outsider

Direct Sums of Representations

We know that we can take direct sums of vector spaces. Can we take representations \rho:A\rightarrow\mathrm{End}(V) and \sigma:A\rightarrow\mathrm{End}(W) and use them to put a representation on V\oplus W? Of course we can, or I wouldn’t be making this post!

This is even easier than tensor products were, and we don’t even need A to be a bialgebra. An element of V\oplus W is just a pair (v,w) with v\in V and w\in W. We simply follow our noses to define


The important thing to notice here is that the direct summands V and W do not interact with each other in the direct sum V\oplus W. This is very different from tensor products, where the tensorands V and W are very closely related in the tensor product V\otimes W. If you’ve seen a bit of pop quantum mechanics, this is exactly the reason quantum system exhibit entanglement while classical systems don’t.

Okay, so we have a direct sum of representations. Is it a biproduct? Luckily, we don’t have to bother with universal conditions here, because a biproduct can be defined purely in terms of the morphisms \pi_i and \iota_i. And we automatically have the candidates for the proper morphisms sitting around: the inclusion and projection morphisms on the underlying vector spaces! All we need to do is check that they intertwine representations, and we’re done. And we really only need to check that the first inclusion and projection morphisms work, because all the others are pretty much the same.

So, we’ve got \iota_1:V\rightarrow V\oplus W defined by \iota_1(v)=(v,0). Following this with the action on V\oplus W we get


But this is the same as if we applied \iota_1 to \left[\rho(a)\right](v). Thus, \iota_1 is an intertwiner.

On the other hand, we have \pi_1:V\oplus W\rightarrow V, defined by \pi_1(v,w)=v. Acting now by \rho we get \left[\rho(a)\right](v), while if we acted by \rho\oplus\sigma beforehand we’d get


Just as we want.

The upshot is that taking the direct sum of two representations in this manner is a biproduct on the category of representations.

December 9, 2008 - Posted by | Algebra, Representation Theory


  1. […] the composition of intertwiners is bilinear, this makes into an -category. Secondly, we can take direct sums of representations, which is a categorical biproduct. Thirdly, every intertwiner has a kernel and a […]

    Pingback by The Category of Representations is Abelian « The Unapologetic Mathematician | December 15, 2008 | Reply

  2. […] Weyl group acts irreducibly on . That is, we cannot decompose the representation of on as the direct sum of two other representations. Even more explicitly, we cannot write for two nontrivial subspaces […]

    Pingback by Properties of Irreducible Root Systems II « The Unapologetic Mathematician | February 11, 2010 | Reply

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