Edward Witten

Edward Witten
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Edward Witten

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High Energy Physics - Theory (47)
Mathematics - Differential Geometry (8)
Mathematics - Geometric Topology (7)
Mathematics - Mathematical Physics (7)
Mathematical Physics (7)
Mathematics - Representation Theory (6)
Physics - Strongly Correlated Electrons (5)
Mathematics - Algebraic Geometry (5)
Mathematics - Symplectic Geometry (2)
Physics - Mesoscopic Systems and Quantum Hall Effect (2)
Physics - Superconductivity (1)
Mathematics - Operator Algebras (1)
Mathematics - Quantum Algebra (1)
Physics - History of Physics (1)
Cosmology and Nongalactic Astrophysics (1)
Physics - Other (1)
High Energy Physics - Phenomenology (1)
Astrophysics of Galaxies (1)
Physics - Statistical Mechanics (1)

Publications Authored By Edward Witten

Symmetry protected topological (SPT) states have boundary anomalies that obstruct the effective boundary theory realized in its own dimension with UV completion and with an on-site $G$-symmetry. In this work, yet we show that a certain anomalous non-on-site $G$ symmetry along the boundary becomes on-site when viewed as a larger $H$ symmetry, via a suitable group extension $1\to K\to H\to G\to1$. Namely, a non-perturbative global (gauge/gravitational) anomaly in $G$ becomes anomaly-free in $H$. Read More

The SYK model is a quantum mechanical model that has been proposed to be holographically dual to a $1+1$-dimensional model of a quantum black hole. An emergent "gravitational" mode of this model is governed by an unusual action that that has been called the Schwarzian action. It governs a reparametrization of a circle. Read More

These notes provide an introduction to recent work by Kevin Costello in which integrable lattice models of classical statistical mechanics in two dimensions are understood in terms of quantum gauge theory in four dimensions. This construction will be compared to the more familiar relationship between quantum knot invariants in three dimensions and Chern-Simons gauge theory. (Based on a Whittaker Colloquium at the University of Edinburgh and a lecture at Strings 2016 in Beijing. Read More

Making use of known facts about "tensor models," it is possible to construct a quantum system without quenched disorder that has the same large $n$ limit for its correlation functions and thermodynamics as the SYK model. This might be useful in further probes of this approach to holographic duality. Read More

An intriguing alternative to cold dark matter (CDM) is that the dark matter is a light ( $m \sim 10^{-22}$ eV) boson having a de Broglie wavelength $\lambda \sim 1$ kpc, often called fuzzy dark matter (FDM). We describe the arguments from particle physics that motivate FDM, review previous work on its astrophysical signatures, and analyze several unexplored aspects of its behavior. In particular, (i) FDM halos smaller than about $10^7 (m/10^{-22} {\rm eV})^{-3/2} M_\odot$ do not form. Read More

Building on earlier work in the high energy and condensed matter communities, we present a web of dualities in $2+1$ dimensions that generalize the known particle/vortex duality. Some of the dualities relate theories of fermions to theories of bosons. Others relate different theories of fermions. Read More

The "parity" anomaly -- more accurately described as an anomaly in time-reversal or reflection symmetry -- arises in certain theories of fermions coupled to gauge fields and/or gravity in a spacetime of odd dimension. This anomaly has traditionally been studied on orientable manifolds only, but recent developments involving topological superconductors have made it clear that one can get more information by asking what happens on an unorientable manifold. In this paper, we give a full description of the "parity" anomaly for fermions coupled to gauge fields and gravity in $2+1$ dimensions on a possibly unorientable spacetime. Read More

In the first of these two lectures, I use a comparison to symplectic Khovanov homology to motivate the idea that the Jones polynomial and Khovanov homology of knots can be defined by counting the solutions of certain elliptic partial differential equations in 4 or 5 dimensions. The second lecture is devoted to a description of the rather unusual boundary conditions by which these equations should be supplemented. An appendix describes some physical background. Read More

The standard boundary state of a topological insulator in 3+1 dimensions has gapless charged fermions. We present model systems that reproduce this standard gapless boundary state in one phase, but also have gapped phases with topological order. Our models are weakly coupled and all the dynamics is explicit. Read More

These notes are based on lectures at the PSSCMP/PiTP summer school that was held at Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study in July, 2015. They are devoted largely to topological phases of matter that can be understood in terms of free fermions and band theory. They also contain an introduction to the fractional quantum Hall effect from the point of view of effective field theory. Read More

Symmetry-protected topological (SPT) phases of matter have been interpreted in terms of anomalies, and it has been expected that a similar picture should hold for SPT phases with fermions. Here, we describe in detail what this picture means for phases of quantum matter that can be understood via band theory and free fermions. The main examples we consider are time-reversal invariant topological insulators and superconductors in 2 or 3 space dimensions. Read More

This paper summarizes our rather lengthy paper, "Algebra of the Infrared: String Field Theoretic Structures in Massive ${\cal N}=(2,2)$ Field Theory In Two Dimensions," and is meant to be an informal, yet detailed, introduction and summary of that larger work. Read More

The geometric Langlands correspondence was described some years ago in terms of $S$-duality of $\N=4$ super Yang-Mills theory. Some additional matters relevant to this story are described here. The main goal is to explain directly why an $A$-brane of a certain simple kind can be an eigenbrane for the action of 't Hooft operators. Read More

We introduce a "web-based formalism" for describing the category of half-supersymmetric boundary conditions in $1+1$ dimensional massive field theories with ${\cal N}=(2,2)$ supersymmetry and unbroken $U(1)_R$ symmetry. We show that the category can be completely constructed from data available in the far infrared, namely, the vacua, the central charges of soliton sectors, and the spaces of soliton states on $\mathbb{R}$, together with certain "interaction and boundary emission amplitudes". These amplitudes are shown to satisfy a system of algebraic constraints related to the theory of $A_\infty$ and $L_\infty$ algebras. Read More

Superstring perturbation theory is traditionally carried out by using picture-changing operators (PCO's) to integrate over odd moduli. Naively the PCO's can be inserted anywhere on a string worldsheet, but actually a constraint must be placed on PCO insertions to avoid spurious singularities. Accordingly, it has been long known that the simplest version of the PCO procedure is valid only locally on the moduli space of Riemann surfaces, and that a correct PCO-based algorithm to compute scattering amplitudes must be based on piecing together local descriptions. Read More

We generalize the super period matrix of a super Riemann surface to the case that Ramond punctures are present. For a super Riemann surface of genus g with 2r Ramond punctures, we define, modulo certain choices that generalize those in the classical theory (and assuming a certain generic condition is satisfied), a g|r x g|r period matrix that is symmetric in the Z_2-graded sense. As an application, we analyze the genus 2 vacuum amplitude in string theory compactifications to four dimensions that are supersymmetric at tree level. Read More

The Gopakumar-Vafa (GV) formula expresses certain couplings that arise in Type IIA compactification to four dimensions on a Calabi-Yau manifold in terms of a counting of BPS states in M-theory. The couplings in question have applications to topological strings and supersymmetric black holes. In this paper, we reconsider the GV formula, taking a close look at the Schwinger-like computation that was suggested in the original GV work. Read More

Extending previous work that involved D3-branes ending on a fivebrane with $\theta_{\mathrm{YM}}\not=0$, we consider a similar two-sided problem. This construction, in case the fivebrane is of NS type, is associated to the three-dimensional Chern-Simons theory of a supergroup U$(m|n)$ or OSp$(m|2n)$ rather than an ordinary Lie group as in the one-sided case. By $S$-duality, we deduce a dual magnetic description of the supergroup Chern-Simons theory; a slightly different duality, in the orthosymplectic case, leads to a strong-weak coupling duality between certain supergroup Chern-Simons theories on $\mathbb{R}^3$; and a further $T$-duality leads to a version of Khovanov homology for supergroups. Read More

The first obstruction to splitting a supermanifold S is one of the three components of its super Atiyah class, the two other components being the ordinary Atiyah classes on the reduced space M of the even and odd tangent bundles of S. We evaluate these classes explicitly for the moduli space of super Riemann surfaces ("super moduli space") and its reduced space, the moduli space of spin curves. These classes are interpreted in terms of certain extensions arising from line bundles on the square of the varying (super) Riemann surface. Read More

The SO(32) heterotic superstring on a Calabi-Yau manifold can spontaneously break supersymmetry at one-loop order even when it is unbroken at tree-level. It is known that calculating the supersymmetry-breaking effects in this model gives a relatively accessible test case of the subtleties of superstring perturbation theory in the RNS formalism. In the present paper, we calculate the relevant amplitudes in the pure spinor approach to superstring perturbation theory, and show that the regulator used in computing loop amplitudes in the pure spinor formalism leads to subtleties somewhat analogous to the more familiar subtleties of the RNS approach. Read More

In the approximation corresponding to the classical Einstein equations, which is valid at large radius, string theory compactification on a compact manifold $M$ of $G_2$ or $\mathrm{Spin}(7)$ holonomy gives a supersymmetric vacuum in three or two dimensions. Do $\alpha'$ corrections to the Einstein equations disturb this statement? Explicitly analyzing the leading correction, we show that the metric of $M$ can be adjusted to maintain supersymmetry. Beyond leading order, a general argument based on low energy effective field theory in spacetime implies that this is true exactly (not just to all finite orders in $\alpha'$). Read More

This note is devoted to a detail concerning the work of Albert Einstein and Peter Bergmann on unified theories of electromagnetism and gravitation in five dimensions. In their paper of 1938, Einstein and Bergmann were among the first to introduce the modern viewpoint in which a four-dimensional theory that coincides with Einstein-Maxwell theory at long distances is derived from a five-dimensional theory with complete symmetry among all five dimensions. But then they drew back, modifying the theory in a way that spoiled the five-dimensional symmetry and looks contrived to modern readers. Read More

In the first of these two lectures, I describe a gauge theory approach to understanding quantum knot invariants as Laurent polynomials in a complex variable q. The two main steps are to reinterpret three-dimensional Chern-Simons gauge theory in four dimensional terms and then to apply electric-magnetic duality. The variable q is associated to instanton number in the dual description in four dimensions. Read More

The Nahm pole boundary condition for certain gauge theory equations in four and five dimensions is defined by requiring that a solution should have a specified singularity along the boundary. In the present paper, we show that this boundary condition is elliptic and has regularity properties analogous to more standard elliptic boundary conditions. We also establish a uniqueness theorem for the solution of the relevant equations on a half-space with Nahm pole boundary conditions. Read More

The Feynman $i\varepsilon$ is an important ingredient in defining perturbative scattering amplitudes in field theory. Here we describe its analog in string theory. Roughly one takes the string worldsheet to have Lorentz signature when a string is going on-shell although it has Euclidean signature generically. Read More

It has long been known that in principle, the genus g vacuum amplitude for bosonic strings or superstrings in 26 or 10 dimensions can be entirely determined from conditions of holomorphy. Moreover, this has been done in practice for bosonic strings of low genus. Here we describe in a unified way how to determine the bosonic string and superstring vacuum amplitude in genus 1 and 2 via holomorphy. Read More

We prove that for genus greater than or equal to 5, the moduli space of super Riemann surfaces is not projected (and in particular is not split): it cannot be holomorphically projected to its underlying reduced manifold. Physically, this means that certain approaches to superstring perturbation theory that are very powerful in low orders have no close analog in higher orders. Mathematically, it means that the moduli space of super Riemann surfaces cannot be constructed in an elementary way starting with the moduli space of ordinary Riemann surfaces. Read More

This article is devoted to an overview of superstring perturbation theory from the point of view of super Riemann surfaces. We aim to elucidate some of the subtleties of superstring perturbation that caused difficulty in the early literature, focusing on a concrete example -- the $SO(32)$ heterotic string compactified on a Calabi-Yau manifold, with the spin connection embedded in the gauge group. This model is known to be a significant test case for superstring perturbation theory. Read More

Perturbative superstring theory is revisited, with the goal of giving a simpler and more direct demonstration that multi-loop amplitudes are gauge-invariant (apart from known anomalies), satisfy space-time supersymmetry when expected, and have the expected infrared behavior. The main technical tool is to make the whole analysis, including especially those arguments that involve integration by parts, on supermoduli space, rather than after descending to ordinary moduli space. Read More

These are notes on the theory of super Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces, aiming to collect results that are useful for a better understanding of superstring perturbation theory in the RNS formalism. Read More

These are notes on the theory of supermanifolds and integration on them, aiming to collect results that are useful for a better understanding of superstring perturbation theory in the RNS formalism. Read More

Topological superconductors are gapped superconductors with gapless and topologically robust quasiparticles propagating on the boundary. In this paper, we present a topological field theory description of three-dimensional time-reversal invariant topological superconductors. In our theory the topological superconductor is characterized by a topological coupling between the electromagnetic field and the superconducting phase fluctuation, which has the same form as the coupling of "axions" with an Abelian gauge field. Read More

Correlation functions in Liouville theory are meromorphic functions of the Liouville momenta, as is shown explicitly by the DOZZ formula for the three-point function on the sphere. In a certain physical region, where a real classical solution exists, the semiclassical limit of the DOZZ formula is known to agree with what one would expect from the action of the classical solution. In this paper, we ask what happens outside of this physical region. Read More

In these notes, I will sketch a new approach to Khovanov homology of knots and links based on counting the solutions of certain elliptic partial differential equations in four and five dimensions. The equations are formulated on four and five-dimensional manifolds with boundary, with a rather subtle boundary condition that encodes the knots and links. The construction is formally analogous to Floer and Donaldson theory in three and four dimensions. Read More

It has been argued based on electric-magnetic duality and other ingredients that the Jones polynomial of a knot in three dimensions can be computed by counting the solutions of certain gauge theory equations in four dimensions. Here, we attempt to verify this directly by analyzing the equations and counting their solutions, without reference to any quantum dualities. After suitably perturbing the equations to make their behavior more generic, we are able to get a fairly clear understanding of how the Jones polynomial emerges. Read More

We develop an approach to Khovanov homology of knots via gauge theory (previous physics-based approches involved other descriptions of the relevant spaces of BPS states). The starting point is a system of D3-branes ending on an NS5-brane with a nonzero theta-angle. On the one hand, this system can be related to a Chern-Simons gauge theory on the boundary of the D3-brane worldvolume; on the other hand, it can be studied by standard techniques of $S$-duality and $T$-duality. Read More

The Feynman path integral of ordinary quantum mechanics is complexified and it is shown that possible integration cycles for this complexified integral are associated with branes in a two-dimensional A-model. This provides a fairly direct explanation of the relationship of the A-model to quantum mechanics; such a relationship has been explored from several points of view in the last few years. These phenomena have an analog for Chern-Simons gauge theory in three dimensions: integration cycles in the path integral of this theory can be derived from N=4 super Yang-Mills theory in four dimensions. Read More

We build up local, time translation covariant Boundary Quantum Field Theory nets of von Neumann algebras A_V on the Minkowski half-plane M_+ starting with a local conformal net A of von Neumann algebras on the real line and an element V of a unitary semigroup E(A) associated with A. The case V=1 reduces to the net A_+ considered by Rehren and one of the authors; if the vacuum character of A is summable A_V is locally isomorphic to A_+. We discuss the structure of the semigroup E(A). Read More

We reformulate the Omega-deformation of four-dimensional gauge theory in a way that is valid away from fixed points of the associated group action. We use this reformulation together with the theory of coisotropic A-branes to explain recent results linking the Omega-deformation to integrable Hamiltonian systems in one direction and Liouville theory of two-dimensional conformal field theory in another direction. Read More

The title of this article refers to analytic continuation of three-dimensional Chern-Simons gauge theory away from integer values of the usual coupling parameter k, to explore questions such as the volume conjecture, or analytic continuation of three-dimensional quantum gravity (to the extent that it can be described by gauge theory) from Lorentzian to Euclidean signature. Such analytic continuation can be carried out by rotating the integration cycle of the Feynman path integral. Morse theory or Picard-Lefschetz theory gives a natural framework for describing the appropriate integration cycles. Read More

Geometric Langlands duality relates a representation of a simple Lie group $G^\vee$ to the cohomology of a certain moduli space associated with the dual group $G$. In this correspondence, a principal $SL_2$ subgroup of $G^\vee$ makes an unexpected appearance. Why this happens can be explained using gauge theory, as we will see in this article, with the help of the equations of Nahm and Bogomolny. Read More

Geometric Langlands duality is usually formulated as a statement about Riemann surfaces, but it can be naturally understood as a consequence of electric-magnetic duality of four-dimensional gauge theory. This duality in turn is naturally understood as a consequence of the existence of a certain exotic supersymmetric conformal field theory in six dimensions. The same six-dimensional theory also gives a useful framework for understanding some recent mathematical results involving a counterpart of geometric Langlands duality for complex surfaces. Read More

ALE and Taub-NUT (or ALF) hyper-Kahler four-manifolds can be naturally constructed as hyper-Kahler quotients. In the ALE case, this construction has long been understood in terms of D-branes; here we give a D-brane derivation in the Taub-NUT case. Likewise, instantons on ALE spaces and on Taub-NUT spaces have ADHM-like constructions related to hyper-Kahler quotients. Read More

I sketch what it is supposed to mean to quantize gauge theory, and how this can be made more concrete in perturbation theory and also by starting with a finite-dimensional lattice approximation. Based on real experiments and computer simulations, quantum gauge theory in four dimensions is believed to have a mass gap. This is one of the most fundamental facts that makes the Universe the way it is. Read More

The problem of quantizing a symplectic manifold (M,\omega) can be formulated in terms of the A-model of a complexification of M. This leads to an interesting new perspective on quantization. From this point of view, the Hilbert space obtained by quantization of (M,\omega) is the space of (Bcc,B') strings, where Bcc and B' are two A-branes; B' is an ordinary Lagrangian A-brane, and Bcc is a space-filling coisotropic A-brane. Read More

By analyzing brane configurations in detail, and extracting general lessons, we develop methods for analyzing S-duality of supersymmetric boundary conditions in N=4 super Yang-Mills theory. In the process, we find that S-duality of boundary conditions is closely related to mirror symmetry of three-dimensional gauge theories, and we analyze the IR behavior of large classes of quiver gauge theories. Read More

We study boundary conditions in N=4 super Yang-Mills theory that preserve one-half the supersymmetry. The obvious Dirichlet boundary conditions can be modified to allow some of the scalar fields to have a ``pole'' at the boundary. The obvious Neumann boundary conditions can be modified by coupling to additional fields supported at the boundary. Read More

We generalize the half-BPS Janus configuration of four-dimensional N=4 super Yang-Mills theory to allow the theta-angle, as well as the gauge coupling, to vary with position. We show that the existence of this generalization is closely related to the existence of novel three-dimensional Chern-Simons theories with N=4 supersymmetry. Another closely related problem, which we also elucidate, is the D3-NS5 system in the presence of a four-dimensional theta-angle. Read More

Surface operators in gauge theory are analogous to Wilson and 't Hooft line operators except that they are supported on a two-dimensional surface rather than a one-dimensional curve. In a previous paper, we constructed a certain class of half-BPS surface operators in N=4 super Yang-Mills theory, and determined how they transform under S-duality. Those surface operators depend on a relatively large number of freely adjustable parameters. Read More

Geometric Langlands duality can be understood from statements of mirror symmetry that can be formulated in purely topological terms for an oriented two-manifold $C$. But understanding these statements is extremely difficult without picking a complex structure on $C$ and using Hitchin's equations. We sketch the essential statements both for the ``unramified'' case that $C$ is a compact oriented two-manifold without boundary, and the ``ramified'' case that one allows punctures. Read More