If is a finite-dimensional complex vector space, then the symmetric group naturally acts on the tensor power by permuting the factors. This action of commutes with the action of , so all permutations are morphisms of -representations. This defines a morphism , and a natural question to ask is whether this map is surjective.
Part of Schur-Weyl duality asserts that the answer is yes. The double commutant theorem plays an important role in the proof and also highlights an important corollary, namely that admits a canonical decomposition
where runs over partitions, are some irreducible representations of , and are the Specht modules, which describe all irreducible representations of . This gives a fundamental relationship between the representation theories of the general linear and symmetric groups; in particular, the assignment can be upgraded to a functor called a Schur functor, generalizing the construction of the exterior and symmetric products.
The proof below is more or less from Etingof’s notes on representation theory (Section 4.18). We will prove four versions of Schur-Weyl duality involving , and (in the special case that is a complex inner product space) .
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The theory of symmetric functions, which generalizes some ideas that came up in the previous discussion of Polya theory, can be motivated by thinking about polynomial functions of the roots of a monic polynomial . Problems on high school competitions often ask for the sum of the squares or the cubes of the roots of a given polynomial, and those not familiar with symmetric functions will often be surprised that these quantities end up being integers even though the roots themselves aren’t integers. The key is that the sums being asked for are always symmetric in the roots, i.e. invariant under an arbitrary permutation. The coefficients of a monic polynomial are the elementary symmetric polynomials of its roots, which we are given are integers. It follows that any symmetric polynomial that can be written using integer coefficients in terms of the elementary symmetric polynomials must in fact be an integer, and as we will see, every symmetric polynomial with integer coefficients has this property.
These ideas lead naturally to the use of symmetric polynomials in Galois theory, but combinatorialists are interested in symmetric functions for a very different reason involving the representation theory of . This post is a brief overview of the basic results of symmetric function theory relevant to combinatorialists. I’m mostly following Sagan, who recommends Macdonald as a more comprehensive reference.
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