Today (one of) the goals of this blog will be neglected, and we’ll focus solely on its URL. No $\mathbb{F}_{1}$ or Riemann hypothesis, just some old-fashioned ring theory.

**Misplaced Poetics**

I’d like write up one of (Jacobson-) Herstein’s commutativity theorems in noncommutative ring theory. It’s a beautiful testament to the power of subdividing rings into nontrivial classes, and is filled to the brim with small, simple, but extremely elegant ideas. Part of the theorem’s appeal stems from the fact that once confronted with its statement, you’re bound to ask: who cares?! It seems so useless, and that somehow makes it all the more fun. Of course, there was a good reason for proving the theorem, but I’ll just leave you to ponder some applications. I’m in a “l’art pour l’art”-mood, hoping Poe doesn’t turn in his grave.

**Trivial?**

Without further ado, here’s the theorem I’ve been going on about:

**Theorem. **A ring $R$ is commutative iff for any $a,b \in R$, there exists an integer $n(a,b)>1$ such that $(ab-ba)^{n(a,b)}=ab-ba$.

Of course, your first idea, like everyone else’s, is that this can be proven by (possible) extreme amounts of formula bashing. I encourage you to try this, as I have, and get very tired (and a tad bit frustrated) after wasting the better part of a Friday morning (and wacking half a tree). If you do manage to find a proof by pure calculation, let me know! The way we’ll tackle the theorem is by a reduction argument along the following lines:

- If $R$ is a division ring: see the next paragraph
- If $R$ is a left primitive ring: reduce to the previous case
- If $R$ is a semiprimitive ring: reduce to the previous case
- If $R$ is a (general) ring: reduce to the previous case

Just lovely, isn’t it.

**Thé lemma**

Crucial for proving the first part of the theorem is the following lemma, which will be applied in the next paragraph.

**Lemma. **Let $D$ be a division ring with nonzero characteristic. If $a$ is a non-central, periodic element in $D^{*}$, then there exists an additive commutator $b$ in $D^{*}$ such that $bab^{-1}=a^{i} \neq a$, for some $i>0$.

Taking $F_{p}$ to be the prime subfield of $D$, the $F_{p}$-algebra generated by $a$ is a finite subfield of $D$, of dimension $n$ over $F_{p}$, which we’ll denote $K$. The order of this field is $p^{n}$, and $a^{p^{n}}=a$. Since $a$ isn’t central, the inner derivation $\delta$, defined by $\delta(x)=ax-xa$, is non-zero. You can easily check that it is however a $K$-linear mapping of the $K$-vector space $D$. Using the Frobenius, one sees that $\delta^{p^{n}}=\delta$. Since any element $b \in K$ satisfies $b^{p^{n}}=b$, the following equation holds true $$t^{p^{n}} -t= \prod_{b \in K}(t-b) \in K[t].$$ Substituting $\delta$ into this equation, and remembering that $\delta \neq 0$ and all mono’s are left cancellable, there has to exist a $b_{0} \in K^{*}$ such that $\delta-b_{0}$ is not a mono. This means $\delta$ has an eigenvector $d$ with eigenvalue $b_{0}$. Using the definition of $\delta$, it follows that $dad^{-1}=a-b_{0} \in K \ \backslash \{a\}$. Since $a$ and $dad^{-1}$ have the same order in the cyclic group $K^{*}$, they generate the same subgroup, and $dad^{-1}=a^{i} \neq a$. To make sure $d$ is an additive commutator, replace it by $\delta(d)$, and you’ll see that the equation still holds up.

**Division rings**

Supposing $R$ is a division ring which doesn’t equal its centre $F$, you can easily see that there must exist an additive commutator which isn’t central, say $a=bb’-b’b$. Taking an element $c$ in $F^{*}$, a quick calculation shows that $ca$ is an additive commutator which can’t be central. The assumptions then imply that there is a number $k$ such that $1=a^{k}=(ca)^{k}=c^{k}a^{k}$, so any element in $F^{*}$ is periodic, and $D$ has non-zero characteristic. Using the theorem in the previous paragraph on $a$, an additive commutator $y$ exists, such that the group generated by $a$ and $y$ is a finite, periodic subgroup of $D^{*}$. This means the group has to be cyclic, which contradicts the statement $yay^{-1} \neq a$, and $R$ is commutative.

**The proof of the pudding …**

Let’s finish the proof. Suppose $R$ is a left primitive ring. The structure theorem for left primitive rings (basically a revamped version of Jacobson & Chevalley’s density theorem), says $R$ is isomorphic to a matrix ring over a skew field $D$, or $R$ has an infinite number of subrings $R_{m}$, each one having $M_{m}(D)$ as a quotient. Supposing $m>1$, and denoting by $E_{ij}$ the matrix with a $1$ in the $ij$-place and zeroes everywhere else, the obvious identity $$E_{11} E_{12} – E_{12} E_{11}=E_{12}$$ gives us a contradiction (just raise it to a power greater than $1$). This means $R \cong D$, and we reduced it to a previous case.

If our ring is semiprimitive, the Jacobson radical, denoted $J(R)$, is zero. Given a left primitive ideal $M_{i}$, take the quotient ring $R/M_{i}$, which is obviously left primitive, and inherits the property in the theorem because it’s a surjective image of $R$. This means each one of these rings is commutative. Now $R$ can be embedded in the product of all these rings, since the Jacobson radical, which is equal to the intersection of all left primitive ideals, is zero. Thus $R$ is commutative.

For a random ring, $R/J(R)$ is semiprimitive, and thus commutative. For $a, b$ in the ring, we know there exists an $n$ such that $(ab-ba)(1-(ab-ba)^{n-1})=0$. Since $ab-ba$ sits in $J(R)$, we know $(1-(ab-ba)^{n-1})$ is invertible, and $ab-ba=0$. Voilà!

More of this fun stuff can be found in Lam’s A first course in noncommutative rings and Lectures on modules and rings.