The rigidity of a matrix A for target rank r is the minimum number of entries of A that need to be changed in order to obtain a matrix of rank at most r (Valiant, 1977).

We study the dependence of rigidity on the target field. We consider especially two natural regimes: when one is allowed to make changes only from the field of definition of the matrix ("strict rigidity"), and when the changes are allowed to be in an arbitrary extension field ("absolute rigidity").

We demonstrate, apparently for the first time, a separation between these two concepts. We establish a gap of a factor of 3/2-o(1) between strict and absolute rigidities.

The question seems especially timely because of recent results by Dvir and Liu (Theory of Computing, 2020) where important families of matrices, previously expected to be rigid, are shown not to be absolutely rigid, while their strict rigidity remains open. Our lower-bound method combines elementary arguments from algebraic geometry with "untouched minors" arguments.

Finally, we point out that more families of long-time rigidity candidates fall as a consequence of the results of Dvir and Liu. These include the incidence matrices of projective planes over finite fields, proposed by Valiant as candidates for rigidity over 𝔽₂.