Structure Theory of Semisimple Groups

  • Anthony W. Knapp
Part of the Progress in Mathematics book series (PM, volume 140)


Every complex semisimple Lie algebra has a compact real form, as a consequence of a particular normalization of root vectors whose construction uses the Isomorphism Theorem of Chapter II. If go is a real semisimple Lie algebra, then the use of a compact real form of (g0) leads to the construction of a “Cartan involution” θ of go. This involution has the property that if go = t 0 ⊕ p0 is the corresponding eigenspace decomposition or “Cartan decomposition”, then to ⊕ ipo is a compact real form of (g0). Any two Cartan involutions of go are conjugate by an inner automorphism. The Cartan decomposition generalizes the decomposition of a classical matrix Lie algebra into its skew-Hermitian and Hermitian parts.

If G is a semisimple Lie group, then a Cartan decomposition g0 = t0 ⊕ p0 of its Lie algebra leads to a global decomposition G = K exp p0, where K is the analytic subgroup of G with Lie algebra go. This global decomposition generalizes the polar decomposition of matrices. The group K contains the center of G and, if the center of G is finite, is a maximal compact subgroup of G.

The Iwasawa decomposition G = K AN exhibits closed subgroups A and N of G such that A is simply connected abelian, N is simply connected nilpotent, A normalizes N, and multiplication from K × A × N to G is a diffeomorphism onto. This decomposition generalizes the Gram-Schmidt orthogonalization process. Any two Iwasawa decompositions of G are conjugate. The Lie algebra a0 of A may be taken to be any maximal abelian subspace of p0, and the Lie algebra of N is defined from a kind of root-space decomposition of g0 with respect to a0. The simultaneous eigenspaces are called “restricted roots”, and the restricted roots form an abstract root system. The Weyl group of this system coincides with the quotient of normalizer by centralizer of a0 in K.

A Cartan subalgebra of g0 is a subalgebra whose complexification is a Cartan sub-algebra of (g0). One Cartan subalgebra of g0 is obtained by adjoining to the above ao a maximal abelian subspace of the centralizer of a0 in t0. This Cartan subalgebra is θ stable. Any Cartan subalgebra of g0 is conjugate by an inner automorphism to a θ stable one, and the subalgebra built from a0 as above is maximally noncompact among all θ stable Cartan subalgebras. Any two maximally noncompact Cartan subalgebras are conjugate, and so are any two maximally compact ones. Cayley transforms allow one to pass between any two θ stable Cartan subalgebras, up to conjugacy.

A Vogan diagram of g0 superimposes certain information about the real form g0 on the Dynkin diagram of (go). The extra information involves a maximally compact θ stable Cartan subalgebra and an allowable choice of a positive system off roots. The effect of θ on simple roots is labeled, and imaginary simple roots are painted if they are “noncompact,” left unpainted if they are “compact”, Such a diagram is not unique for g0, but it determines go up to isomorphism. Every diagram that looks formally like a Vogan diagram arises from some g0.

Vogan diagrams lead quicakly to a classification of all simple real Lie algebras, the only diffcuylty being eliminating the redundancy in the chosice of postitigve system of roots. This difficylty is resolved by the Borel and de Siebenthal Theotem. Using a succession of Catkey transforms to pass form a maximally compact Cartan subalgebre to a maximally non compact Cartan subalgebre, on e readily identifies the restricted roots for each simple real Lie alebra.


Simple Root Dynkin Diagram Cartan Subalgebra Semisimple Group Iwasawa Decomposition 
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Copyright information

© Anthony W. Knapp 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anthony W. Knapp
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of MathematicsState University of New York at Stony BrookStony BrookUSA

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