——–What is the “heart of the heart” of noncommutative geometry?——-

I’ll try to explain here that there is a definite “supplément d’âme” obtained in the transition from classical (commutative) spaces to the noncommutative ones. The main new feature is that “noncommutative spaces generate their own time” and moreover can undergo thermodynamical operations such as cooling, distillation etc…

This opens up completely new ways of handling geometric spaces and our work with Matilde Marcolli and Katia Consani is just one example of potential applications to number theory. It is closely related to the Riemann zeta function and is very close in spirit to Grothendieck’s ideas on motives so that it is not out of place in the present discussion of Katia’s question.

The story starts by a qualitative distinction between spaces which comes from the classification (by von Neumann) of noncommutative algebras in types I, II and III. The commutative spaces are all of type I. When encoding a space X by an algebra A of (complex valued) functions on X one uses some structure on X to restrict the class of functions (e.g. to smooth functions on a smooth space) and the above distinction between types uses the coarsest possible structure which is the measure theory. The corresponding algebras (called von Neumann algebras) are quite simple to characterize abstractly: they are commutants in Hilbert space of some unitary representation.

Since one can take the direct sum of algebras A and B, one can mix algebras of different types. More precisely any von Neumann algebra decomposes uniquely as an integral of algebras which cannot be decomposed further and are called factors. A factor is a von Neumann algebra whose center is as small as it can be, namely is reduced to the complex numbers. The factors of type I are Morita equivalent to the complex numbers, and thus a type I factor really corresponds to the classical notion of “point” in a space X.

To understand geometrically what factors of type II and III look like, it is useful to describe the (von Neumann) algebra A associated to the leaf space of a foliated manifold: (V,F). An element T of A assigns to each leaf an operator in the Hilbert space of square integrable functions on the leaf, and it makes sense to say that T is bounded, measurable, or zero almost everywhere. The algebraic operations are done leaf per leaf, and the algebra of bounded measurable elements modulo the negligible ones is a von Neumann algebra. The simplest example corresponds to the foliation whose leaf space is the noncommutative torus. It is the foliation of the two torus by the equation “dy= a dx” in flat coordinates. The corresponding von Neumann algebra is a factor when “a” is irrational and this factor is not of type I but of type II. To obtain type III examples one can take any codimension one foliation whose Godbillon-Vey invariant does not vanish. The integrable subbundle F defining a codimension one foliation is the orthogonal of a one form v and integrability gives dv as the wedge product of v by a one form w. The Godbillon-Vey invariant is the integral over V of the wedge product of w by dw when V is compact oriented of dimension three. In essence the form w is the logarithmic derivative of a transverse volume element and the GV invariant is an obstruction to finding a holonomy invariant tranverse volume element ie one which does not change when one moves along a leaf keeping track of the way the nearby leaves are developing.

More generally the factors of type II are those which possess a trace and those of type III are those which are neither of type I nor of type II. In the foliation context, a holonomy invariant tranverse volume element allows one to integrate the ordinary trace of operators and this yields a trace on the von Neumann algebra of the foliation.

Until the work of the Japanese mathematician Minoru Tomita, very few positive results existed on type III factors. The key result of Tomita is that a cyclic and separating vector v for a factor A in a Hilbert space H generates a one parameter group of automorphisms of A by the following recipee: one considers the modulus square S*S of the closable operator S which sends xv to S(xv)=x*v for any x in A, and then raises it to the purely imaginary power “it”. Tomita showed that the resulting unitary operator normalizes A and hence defines an automorphism of A. One obtains in this way a one parameter group of automorphisms of A associated to the choice of a cyclic and separating vector v. He also showed that the phase J of the above closable operator S yields an antiisomorphism of A with its commutant A’ which coincides with JAJ. In his account of Tomita’s work, Takesaki characterized the relation between the state defined by the cyclic and separating vector v and the one parameter group of automorphisms of Tomita as the Kubo-Martin-Schwinger (KMS) condition, which had been formulated in C*-algebraic terms by the physicists Haag, Hugenholtz and Winnink.

**independent**of the choice of the (faithful normal) state that is used in its construction. Needless to say it is this uniqueness that allows to define

**invariants**of factors. The simplest is the subgroup T(A) of R which is formed of the

**periods,**namely the set of times t for which the corresponding automorphism is inner. This, together with the spectral invariant S(A), led me to the classification of type III factors into subtypes III_s for s in [0,1] and the reduction from type III to type II and automorphisms done in my thesis except for the case III_1 which was later completed by Takesaki. All of this goes back to the beginning of the seventies and will suffice for this first heart beat. It is only the beginning of a long saga which is far from over hopefully, and whose main theme is this mysterious generation of an intrinsic “time” that emerges from the noncommutativity of a von Neumann algebra. Exactly as manifolds come with a natural “smooth” measure class, a noncommutative space X generally gives rise to a von Neumann algebra A which encodes the natural measure class on X. It is thus a totally new feature of the noncommutative world that the corresponding time evolution is well defined and gives a canonical homomorphism:

where the second line gives the definition of the group of outer automorphisms Out(A) of A as the quotient of the group Aut(A) of automorphisms by the normal subgroup Int(A) of inner automorphisms (which are obtained by conjugating by a unitary element of the algebra A).