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Appendix A

Schurs Lemma

Schurs lemma states that a self-adjoint set of operators is irreducible if and


only if any operator that commutes with all members of the set is a multiple of
the identity operator.
A self-adjoint set S is dened by the condition that if the operator T is a
member of S then so is T . To say that a set of operators is irreducible on
a vector space V means that no subspace of V is invariant under the action
of all operators in the set. If there is a subspace V1 (other than V itself) such
that if | V1 then also T | V1 for every operator T in S, we say that the
set S is reducible (and also that S reduces V ). Otherwise S is irreducible.
Let S be a self-adjoint set, and let S  be the set of operators that commute
with all members of S. Thus if R S  then [T, R] = 0 for all T S. Since S
is a self-adjoint set, it follows that R is also a member of S  . Without loss of
generality, we may consider only those operators in S  that are Hermitian, since
an arbitrary member of S  is expressible as a linear combination of Hermitian
operators in S  : R = R1 + iR2 , with R1 = 12 (R + R ) and R2 = (R R )/2i.
Hence we take R to be Hermitian.
Let {|n } be a complete orthogonal set of eigenvectors of R, with R|n  =
rn |n . Dene Vm to be the subspace spanned by those eigenvectors of R whose
eigenvalue is rm , and denote by Vm the complementary subspace of vectors
orthogonal to Vm . Since [T, R] = 0, we obtain 0 =
m |(T R RT )|n  =
(rn rm )
m |T |n  for all T in the set S, where |m  Vm and |n  Vm .
Now if rn = rm we would have T |n  orthogonal to |m . This would hold for
all T in the set S and all of the eigenvectors |n  that span Vm , and hence
the subspace Vm would be invariant. But that is impossible if the set S is
irreducible, so in this case we must have rn = rm for all m and n. If R has
only one distinct eigenvalue, then R is a multiple of the identity operator. Thus
any operator R that commutes with all members of the irreducible set S can
only be a multiple of the identity.

613
614 App. A: Schurs Lemma

Conversely, if the set S were to reduce the space V into nontrivial invariant
subspaces V1 and V , we could choose two unequal numbers, r1 and r2 , and
dene an operator R such that R|m  = r1 |m  for any |m  V1 and R|n  =
r2 |n  for any |n  V . Now T |m  V1 and T |n  V for every operator
T in S, and hence it follows from the denition of R that [T, R] = 0. Thus
we have an operator (not a multiple of the identity) that commutes with all
members of the set S if S is not irreducible. So the lemma is proven.