On Geometric Complexity Theory: Multiplicity Obstructions Are Stronger Than Occurrence Obstructions

Authors Julian Dörfler, Christian Ikenmeyer, Greta Panova

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Julian Dörfler
  • Saarland University, Saarbrücken, Germany
Christian Ikenmeyer
  • Max Planck Institute for Software Systems, Saarbrücken, Germany
Greta Panova
  • University of Southern Californa, Los Angeles, CA, USA
  • University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA


This work was done in part while CI and GP were visiting the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing.

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Julian Dörfler, Christian Ikenmeyer, and Greta Panova. On Geometric Complexity Theory: Multiplicity Obstructions Are Stronger Than Occurrence Obstructions. In 46th International Colloquium on Automata, Languages, and Programming (ICALP 2019). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 132, pp. 51:1-51:14, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2019)


Geometric Complexity Theory as initiated by Mulmuley and Sohoni in two papers (SIAM J Comput 2001, 2008) aims to separate algebraic complexity classes via representation theoretic multiplicities in coordinate rings of specific group varieties. We provide the first toy setting in which a separation can be achieved for a family of polynomials via these multiplicities. Mulmuley and Sohoni’s papers also conjecture that the vanishing behavior of multiplicities would be sufficient to separate complexity classes (so-called occurrence obstructions). The existence of such strong occurrence obstructions has been recently disproven in 2016 in two successive papers, Ikenmeyer-Panova (Adv. Math.) and Bürgisser-Ikenmeyer-Panova (J. AMS). This raises the question whether separating group varieties via representation theoretic multiplicities is stronger than separating them via occurrences. We provide first finite settings where a separation via multiplicities can be achieved, while the separation via occurrences is provably impossible. These settings are surprisingly simple and natural: We study the variety of products of homogeneous linear forms (the so-called Chow variety) and the variety of polynomials of bounded border Waring rank (i.e. a higher secant variety of the Veronese variety). As a side result we prove a slight generalization of Hermite’s reciprocity theorem, which proves Foulkes' conjecture for a new infinite family of cases.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Theory of computation → Algebraic complexity theory
  • Algebraic complexity theory
  • geometric complexity theory
  • Waring rank
  • plethysm coefficients
  • occurrence obstructions
  • multiplicity obstructions


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