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absolute differential form

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Absolute differential forms

1. Idea
2. Definitions
3. Examples
4. Related concepts
5. References

1. Idea
It's well known that one can integrate a differential form on an oriented submanifold.
Less well known (but also true), one can integrate a differential pseudoform on an
pseudoriented (transversely oriented) submanifold. But in classical differential
geometry, one also sees forms that can be integrated on unoriented submanifolds.

I call these absolute forms. The term ‘absolute’ suggests a lack of additional required
structure, in this case some sort of orientation on the domain of integration. It also
suggests absolute value, since many of the examples from classical differential
geometry involve absolute values. Indeed, we can define the absolute value of a form
or a pseudoform to be an absolute form, although not every absolute form arises in this

The main theorem of absolute forms is that, if ω is a (pseudo)-p-form and R is a

(pseudo)-oriented p-dimensional submanifold, then

| ω| ≤ |ω|,
∫ ∫
R |R|

where |ω| is an absolute p-form (the absolute value of ω ), |R| is simply R with its
(pseudo)-orientation ignored, and the absolute value on the left is the ordinary absolute
value of scalars. This theorem also applies if we start with an absolute p-form ω ,
(although in that case R starts out unoriented and so is the same as |R|). If R is a de
Rham chain (a formal linear combination of appropriately oriented submanifolds), we
also take absolute values of the formal coefficients in |R|. (This operation does not
respect the usual notion of equality of chains, but the theorem is true all the same.)

2. Definitions
Let X be a differentiable manifold (or similar sort of space), and let p be a natural
number (typically 0 ≤ p ≤ n, where n is the dimension of X ). Recall that an (exterior
differential) p -form ω on X is a function that assigns a real number (or whatever is the
relevant sort of scalar) ω (v , …, v ) to a point c in X and a p-tuple (v , …, v ) of tangent
c 1 p 1 p

vectors at c, multilinearly and alternating in the v . Similarly, a p -pseudoform ω on X i

is a function that assigns a scalar ω (v , …, v ) to a point c in X , a local orientation o at

c 1 p

c, and a p-tuple (v , …, v ) of tangent vectors at c, multilinearly and alternating in the v

1 p i

and reversing sign under a reversal of o.

Definition 2.1. An absolute p -form ω on X is a function that assigns a scalar

ω (v , …, v ) to a point c in X and a p-tuple (v , …, v ) of tangent vectors at c and that
c 1 p 1 p

satisfies the following conditions:

1. Fixing c, ωc ( −) shall be uniformly continuous.

2. The p-tuple (v , …, v ) shall be linearly independent if ω (v , …, v ) ≠ 0. Thus,

1 p c 1 p

although ω is not linear, we may still call it alternating; however (as a


consequence of 3), it is actually symmetric.

3. Fix a p-dimensional subspace S of the tangent space at c and an orientation o of

S. Now given a linearly independent p-tuple (v , …, v ) from S (that is a basis of 1 p

S), let ω (v , …, v ) be ± ω (v , …, v ) according to whether the orientation of S

c 1 p S c 1 p

induced by the v matches o, and extend this by continuity to all p-tuples from S

(which extension must be unique and exists by 1&2). The resulting function
ω ( −) shall be multilinear (and so also alternating, by 2).
c S

The multilinearity condition here is rather weaker than for a (pseudo)-form, since it
applies only within a p-dimensional subspace. Shifting one vector even slightly outside
of S loses all connection provided by multilinearity, which is why we need a continuity
condition; continuity holds for (pseudo)-forms automatically.

An absolute p-form ω is continuous if it is jointly continuous in all of its data (c as well

as the v ). Since the domain of the function ω is a manifold (a vector bundle over X ,

although ω is not a map of vector bundles), we can even discuss differentiability,

smoothness, and even analyticity of ω when X has the relevant structure.

An absolute 0-form is the same thing as a 0-form. An absolute n-form on an n-

dimensional manifold X is essentially the same thing as an n-pseudoform; with the
notation from condition 3, the only possibility for S is the entire tangent space T X , and c

we have
o o
ω̃c (v1 , …, vn ) = ωc (v1 , …, vn )
Tc X

to relate the n-pseudoform ω̃ to the absolute n-form ω . Finally, the only absolute p-form
for p > n is 0.

At a point c, an absolute p-form ω is:

indefinite if ω (v , …, v
c 1 p) > 0 for some (necessarily linearly independent) p-tuple
of vectors and ω (v , …,
c 1 vp ) < 0 for some p-tuple,

semidefinite if not indefinite,

definite (and hence semidefinite) if ωc (v1 , …, vp ) ≠ 0 for every independent p-

tuple of vectors at c,

positive (and hence semidefinite) if ω (v , c 1 …, vp ) ≥ 0 for every p-tuple of vectors

(it is enough when they are independent),

negative (and hence semidefinite) if ωc (v1 , …, vp ) ≤ 0 for every (independent) p-

tuple of vectors.

All these are at a point c; ω satisfies the condition tout court if it holds for all c.

Given an absolute p-form ω , its absolute value |ω| is a positive semidefinite absolute

|ω|c (v1 , …, vp ) ≔ |ωc (v1 , …, vp )|.

If we start with a p-form ω , then the same definition defines a positive absolute p-form
|ω|. If we start with a p-pseudoform ω , then essentially the same definition still works;

we use either orientation to evaluate ω with the same result. Note that |ω| is
continuous if ω is. However, we may not conclude that |ω| is differentiable just because
ω is differentiable (or even analytic). On the other hand, |ω| inherits differentiability

properties from ω wherever ω ≠ 0. (Even then, however, we cannot inherit analyticity,

except in 1 dimension.)

Given two absolute p-forms ω and η, their sum ω + η is an absolute p-form:

(ω + η)c (v1 , …, vp ) ≔ ωc (v1 , …, vp ) + η c (v1 , …, vp ).

Given an absolute p-form ω and a scalar field f , their product fω is an absolute p-


(f ω)c (v1 , …, vp ) ≔ f (c)ωc (v1 , …, vp ).

In this way, the space of absolute p-forms is a module over the algebra of scalar fields
and the space of sections of a vector bundle. For now, we decline to define products of
absolute forms of aribtrary rank.

Given an absolute p-form ω on X , a manifold U , and a continuously differentiable map

R : U → X, the pullback R ω is an absolute p-form on U :

(R ω)c (v1 , …, vp ) ≔ ωR(c) (R∗ v1 , …, R∗ vp ).

Here, R v is the pushforward? of v under R . Note that R ω is continuous if ω is; we can

∗ i i

also pull back differentiability and analyticity properties that ω and R both have.
Given a continuous absolute p-form ω on X , a p-dimensional manifold U , and a
continuously differentiable map R : U → X, the integral ∫ ω is a scalar:

ω ≔ R ω.
∫ ∫

On the right-hand side, R ω is a continuous absolute p-form on U , but since U is p-

dimensional, this is essentially the same as a continuous p-pseudoform on U , and we

already know how to integrate this (see integration of differential forms).

3. Examples
Examples of absolute forms from classical differential geometry include:

Absolute 0-forms are the same as ordinary 0-forms.

Absolute n-forms on an n-dimensional manifold are the same as n-pseudoforms

(and hence the same as absolutely continuous Radon measures).

In complex analysis, |dz| is an absolute 1-form sometimes used in contour

integration. This literally is the absolute value of the differential of the identity map

More generally, the arclength? element ds = ‖dx‖ on a Riemannian manifold is an

absolute 1-form. Neither ds nor (in general) dx is actually the differential of
anything, but dx is the canonical vector-valued 1-form (which, on an affine space,
really is the differential of the identity map x), and we really can use the metric to
take the norm of such a form to get an absolute 1-form.

Similarly, the surface area? element dS on a Riemannian manifold is an absolute 2-

form, and we can continue into higher dimensions (although the classical volume
element dV in ℝ is already covered as a 3-pseudoform). In principle, we ought to

be able to write down expression for dS etc in terms of ds, although so far the only
thing that I know how to do is dS = ‖dx ×̂  dx‖ / 2, where ×̂  indicates a wedge
product of vector-valued forms whose vectors are multiplied by the cross product.
(This can be generalized to any finite-dimensional area in any finite-dimensional
Riemannian manifold; in particular, dV = |dx ⋅ ̂ dx ×̂  dx| / 6.)

4. Related concepts
exterior differential forms

cogerm differential forms are a more general concept including both.

5. References
Near the end of a Usenet post from 2002, we see a definition of ∫ |ω| for ω a (pseudo)-

p-form and R a p-dimensional submanifold, but without a broader context for |ω| itself:
Toby Bartels and Ralph Hartley; Densitized Pseudo Twisted Forms

Apparently absolute p-forms (at least if continuous) are the same as even p-densities
as defined by Gelfand; see this MathOverflow answer:

Juan Carlos Álvarez Paiva; answer to Why do I need densities in order to integrate
on a non-orientable manifold?.

Last revised on May 21, 2018 at 00:43:37. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.

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