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The iterated function to be studied is a map for an arbitrary set X. The transfer operator is defined as an operator acting on the space of functions as
where is an auxiliary valuation function. When f has a Jacobian determinant, then g is usually taken to be g = 1 / | J | .
Whereas the iteration of a function f naturally leads to a study of the orbits of points of X under iteration (the study of point dynamics), the transfer operator defines how (smooth) maps evolve under iteration. Thus, transfer operators typically appear in physics problems, such as quantum chaos and statistical mechanics, where attention is focused on the time evolution of smooth functions.
It is often the case that the transfer operator is positive, has discrete positive real-valued eigenvalues, with the largest eigenvalue being equal to one. For this reason, the transfer operator is sometimes called the Frobenius-Perron operator.
The eigenfunctions of the transfer operator are usually fractals. When the logarithm of the transfer operator corresponds to a quantum Hamiltonian, the eigenvalues will typically be very closely spaced, and thus even a very narrow and carefully selected ensemble of quantum states will encompass a large number of very different fractal eigenstates with non-zero support over the entire volume. This can be used to explain many results from classical statistical mechanics, including the irreversibility of time and the increase of entropy.
The transfer operator of the Bernoulli map is exactly solvable and is a classic example of deterministic chaos; the discrete eigenvalues correspond to the Bernoulli polynomials. This operator also has a continuous spectrum consisting of the Hurwitz zeta function.
The transfer operator of the Gauss map is called the Gauss-Kuzmin-Wirsing (GKW) operator and due to its extraordinary difficulty, has not been fully solved. The theory of the GKW dates back to a hypothesis by Gauss on continued fractions and is closely related to the Riemann zeta function.
- Dieter H. Mayer (1978). The Ruelle-Araki transfer operator in classical statistical mechanics. Springer-Verlag. ISBN 0387099905.
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