The Unapologetic Mathematician

Mathematics for the interested outsider

Consequences of Orthogonality

We have some immediate consequences of the orthonormality relations.

First of all, since irreducible characters are orthonormal any collection of them forms an orthonormal basis of the subspace it spans. Of course whatever subspace this is, it has to fit within the space of class functions, and so it can’t have any more basis elements than the dimension of this larger space. That is, there can be at most as many irreducible characters as there are conjugacy classes in G. And so we know that the character table must have only finitely many rows. For instance, since S_3 has three conjugacy classes, it can have at most three irreducible characters. We know two already, so there’s only room for one more, if there are any more at all.

For something a little more concrete, let V^{(i)} be a collection of irreps with corresponding characters \chi^{(i)}. Then the representation

\displaystyle V=\bigoplus\limits_{i=1}^km_iV^{(i)}

has character


That is, direct sums of representations correspond to sums of characters. This is just the tip of a far-reaching correspondence between the high-level properties of the category of representations and the low-level properties of the algebra of characters.

Anyway, proving this relation is pretty straightforward. If A and B are two matrix representations then their direct sum is

\displaystyle\left[A\oplus B\right](g)=\left(\begin{array}{c|c}A(g)&0\\\hline0&B(g)\end{array}\right)

It should be clear that the trace of the direct sum on the left is the sum of the traces on the right. This is all we need, since we can just split off one irreducible component after another to turn the direct sum on one side into a sum on the other.

Next we have a way of reading off the coefficients. Let V be the same representation from above, with the same character. I say that the multiplicity m_j=\langle\chi^{(j)},\chi\rangle. Indeed, we can easily calculate


Notice that this is very similar to the result we showed at the end of calculating the dimensions of spaces of morphisms. This is not a coincidence.

More generally, if V is the representation from above and W is another representation that decomposes as

\displaystyle W=\bigoplus\limits_{j=1}^kn_jV^{(j)}

then the character of W is


and we calculate the inner product


In particular, we see that


We see that in all these cases \langle\chi,\psi\rangle=\dim\hom_G(V,W). Just like sums of characters correspond to direct sums of representations, inner products of characters correspond to \hom-spaces between representations. We just have to pass from plain vector spaces to their dimensions when we pass from representations to their characters. Of course, this isn’t much of a stretch, since we saw that the character \chi of a representation V includes information about the dimension: \chi(e)=\dim(V).

This goes even further: what happens when we swap the arguments to an inner product? We get the complex conjugate: \langle\psi,\chi\rangle=\overline{\langle\chi,\psi\rangle}. What happens when we swap the arguments to the \hom functor? We get the dual space: \displaystyle\hom_G(W,V)\cong\hom_G(V,W)^*. Complex conjugation corresponds to passing to the dual space.

Finally, the character \chi is irreducible if and only if \langle\chi,\chi\rangle=1. Indeed, if \chi is itself irreducible then our decomposition only involves one nonzero coefficient, which is a 1. The formula we just computed gives


Conversely, if this formula holds then we have to write 1 as a sum of squares. The only possibility is for all but one of the numbers m_i to be 0, and the remaining one to be 1, in which case \chi=\chi^{(i)}, and is thus irreducble.

October 25, 2010 - Posted by | Algebra, Group theory, Representation Theory


  1. […] let’s take the consequences we just worked out of the orthonormality relations and finish the […]

    Pingback by One Complete Character Table (part 1) « The Unapologetic Mathematician | October 26, 2010 | Reply

  2. […] is irreducible if and only if is. We’ll prove this one by using the properties we proved a few days ago. In particular, we’ll calculate the inner product of the character […]

    Pingback by Lifting and Descending Representations « The Unapologetic Mathematician | October 29, 2010 | Reply

  3. […] particular, we find that . If and are both irreducible characters, then our character properties tell us that both of the inner products on the right are , and we conclude that the inner product […]

    Pingback by Outer Tensor Products « The Unapologetic Mathematician | November 4, 2010 | Reply

  4. […] this isn’t irreducible, but we can calculate inner products with the existing irreducible characters and decompose it […]

    Pingback by The Character Table of S4 « The Unapologetic Mathematician | November 8, 2010 | Reply

  5. […] the are pairwise-inequivalent irreps. But our consequences of orthonormality prove that there can be only finitely many such inequivalent irreps. So we may as well say that is […]

    Pingback by Subspaces from Irreducible Representations « The Unapologetic Mathematician | November 10, 2010 | Reply

  6. […] the space. We’ve seen that this is the multiplicity of the trivial representation in , which we’ve also seen is the inner product . We […]

    Pingback by The Dimension of the Space of Tensors Over the Group Algebra « The Unapologetic Mathematician | November 16, 2010 | Reply

  7. […] let be any irreducible representation of , with character . We know that the multiplicity of in is given by the inner product . This, we can […]

    Pingback by Decomposing the Left Regular Representation « The Unapologetic Mathematician | November 17, 2010 | Reply

  8. […] defined the character table of a group, and we’ve seen that it must be finite. Specifically, it cannot have any more rows — cannot have any more irreducible […]

    Pingback by The Character Table is Square « The Unapologetic Mathematician | November 19, 2010 | Reply

  9. […] a special case, let and be irreducible characters of and respectively, so the inner products are multiplicities. For […]

    Pingback by (Fake) Frobenius Reciprocity « The Unapologetic Mathematician | November 30, 2010 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: