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  Is ghost-number a physical reality/observable?

+ 8 like - 0 dislike

One perspective is to say that one introduced the ghost fields into the Lagrangian to be able to write the gauge transformation determinant as a path-integral. Hence I was tempted to think of them as just some auxiliary variables introduced into the theory to make things manageable.

But then one observes that having introduced them there is now an extra global $U(1)$ symmetry - the "ghost number"

  • Hence hasn't one now basically added a new factor of $U(1)$ to the symmetry group of the theory? How can the symmetry of the theory depend on introduction of some auxiliary fields?

  • Now if one takes the point of view that the global symmetry has been enhanced then the particles should also lie in the irreducible representations of this new factor. Hence ghost number should be like a new quantum number for the particles and which has to be conserved!

  • But one sees that ghost field excitations are BRST exact and hence unphysical since they are $0$ in the BRST cohomology.

I am unable to conceptually reconcile the above three ideas - the first two seem to tell me that the ghost-number is a very physical thing but the last one seems to tell me that it is unphysical.

  • At the risk of sounding more naive - if the particles are now charged under the ghost number symmetry then shouldn't one be able to measure that in the laboratory?

  • Lastly this ghost number symmetry is a global/rigid $U(1)$ symmetry - can't there be a case where it is local and needs to be gauged?

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
asked Oct 12, 2011 in Theoretical Physics by Anirbit (585 points) [ no revision ]
retagged Apr 19, 2014 by dimension10

2 Answers

+ 14 like - 0 dislike

This is a temperamental difference more than a physical one, but I feel like this question deserves an answer with a lot less formalism than what Urs is using. The physical point that you should never lose sight of is that gauge symmetries are not symmetries at all: they don't map one state to another one, but instead identify a priori different states as just one physical state. Effectively, you've taken a much larger state space and then modded out by the gauge transformations; after this, no remnant of the original gauge group is really physical. So already when you write a Lagrangian in terms of degrees of freedom like $A_\mu$, you're vastly overcounting the number of degrees of freedom. You do this because it makes the theory manifestly local. But you should always remember that the real physical observables are only the gauge-invariant objects, and you can identify these objects without fixing a gauge or using the BRST formalism at all. When you introduce ghosts, you're basically just fixing a gauge in a rather complicated way. Neither the ghost fields nor the $A_\mu$ fields are physical, and while they might be convenient calculational tools, you should never take them too seriously, or you risk losing sight of physics in exchange for arbitrary choices you've made.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
answered Oct 12, 2011 by Matt Reece (1,630 points) [ no revision ]
Thanks for that, I was going to write my own answer which eliminates the unnecessary jargon.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
For me, coming from the other end, it is curious to see where the jargon is located here. Whether and which jargon is "necessary" may depend on what one wants to achieve. I can imagine students who take the statement of the above form "...you should never take them too seriously..." as a satisfactory explanation for what's going on. And maybe even most of the students reading here. But I am hoping once in a while a student comes by who looks for more genuine understanding of what's going on. But of course its good to offer both versions.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
I think it depends on the OP, who in this case seems to be a physicist and whose question is quite elementary. Given that, the standard of sophistication you are showing is likely to overwhelm the OP with a variety of concepts much more difficult than their simple question necessitates. I think your last sentence by itself is an excellent answer, and there are better paths to get there. Just my two cents, it is actually quite interesting for me to see how different people think differently.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
Awesome answer :-) I find this fact all too easy to forget a lot of times.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
That's the right answer, @Matt, of course. After 10 minutes of deeply thinking about the formalism-rich other answer, I still can't believe that it actually answers the original question besides offering a rich collection of obscure buzzwords.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
@Matt Even if the gauge field formalism is introducing a lot of extraneous degrees of freedom, the $U(1)$ symmetry of them is not unphysical. I guess the point of view to take would be that the $U(1)$ symmetry is only being made manifest by the gauge fields? Is the $U(1)$ symmetry of the ghost fields also like that? That even though these degrees of freedom are fictional and can be gauged away the global symmetry that they enlighten is not unreal?

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
+ 8 like - 0 dislike

The mystery here should disappear once one realizes that the BRST complex -- being a dg-algebra -- is the formal dual to a space , namely to the "homotopically reduced" phase space.

For ordinary algebras this is more familiar: the algebra of functions $\mathcal{O}(X)$ on some space $X$ is the "formal dual" to $X$, in that maps $f : X \to Y$ correspond to morphisms of algebras the other way around $f^* : \mathcal{O}(Y) \to \mathcal{O}(X)$.

Now, if $X$ is some phase space, then an observable is simply a map $A : X \to \mathbb{A}$. Dually this is a morphism of algebras $A^* : \mathcal{O}(\mathbb{A}) \to \mathcal{O}(X)$. Since $\mathcal{O}(\mathbb{A})$ is the algebra free on one generator, one finds again that an observable is just an element of $\mathcal{O}(X)$.

(All this is true in smooth geometry with the symbols interpreted suitably.)

The only difference is now that the BRST complex is not just an algebra, but a dg-algebra. It is therefore the formal dual to a space in "higher geometry" (specifically: in dg-geometry). Concretely, the BRST complex is the algebra of functions on the Lie algebroid which is the infinitesimal approximation to the Lie groupoid whose objects are field configurations, and whose morphisms are gauge transformations. This Lie groupoid is a "weak" quotient of fields by symmetries, hence is model for the reduced phase space.

So this means that an observable on the space formally dual to a BRST complex $V^\bullet$ is a dg-algebra homomorphism $A^* : \mathcal{O}(\mathbb{A}) \to V^\bullet$. Here on the left we have now the dg-algebra which as an algebra is free on a single generator which is a) in degree 0 and b) whose differential is 0. Therefore such dg-morphisms $A^*$ precisely pick an element of the BRST complex which is a) in degree 0 and b) which is BRST closed.

This way one recovers the definition of observables as BRST-closed elements in degree 0. In other words, the elements of higher ghost degree are not observables.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
answered Oct 12, 2011 by Urs Schreiber (6,095 points) [ no revision ]
Most voted comments show all comments
... maps from that space to a certain classifying space. The point now is that this concept makes sense more generally than just for topological spaces. For instance also morphisms between cochain complexes (graded vector spaces equipped with a nilpotent linear endomorphism d of degree + 1) have a notion of gauge transformations between them, called "cochain homotopies" in this context. Therefore there is also a notion of cohomology on these. Indeed the ordinary definition of the degree-n cohomology of a cochain complex (ker d / im d) is equivalently the space of cochain homomorphisms from...

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
...the given complex to the complex R[-n], which is the complex concentrated on the ground field in degree n and with trivial differential. Now, if this cochain complex is also equipped with a product that respects the differential, then it is called a dg-algebra, and the notion of cohomology still applies. The BRST complex is an example of such a dg-algebra. Being an algebra, we can think of it as being the "algebra of functions on some space" and define that space thereby. For the case of the BRST complex this space is the infinitesimal version of a Lie groupoid, the Lie groupoid of...

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
...field configurations. But, you know, I see that there is no way of having all this decently discussed in these puny comment boxes here. We'll have to move this discussion elsewhere. Let me see. I'll write out a longer reply elsewhere and then point you to it.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
Okay, I have written out in more detail and with more explanations the things that I have said here so far at http://ncatlab.org/nlab/show/BRST+complex . If you have a look and then let me know which questions you have next, I'll try to to answer these and explain more.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
Thanks for the help. It will take me some time to get through all these details!

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
Most recent comments show all comments
I can walk you through it. What's your first question?

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
Thanks for the offer. I am more rooted in the formalism that is there in say Weinberg's book. Can you tell more about the BRST complex? Is getting a nilpotent operator like the BRST operator enough to generate a cohomology theory for it? I would rather think of cohomology as a theory attached to some given nice enough space - here I don't see as to which space's geometry (if any!) is being captured by the BRST operator?

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)

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