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The figure 8 knot complement $M$ is the orientable double cover of the Gieseking manifold, which implies that $M$ has a fixed-point free involution. If we think of $M$ with its hyperbolic metric, this involution is an isometry. Is there some way of visualizing this isometry?

I know how to produce one relatively easy to see isometry of $M$. The fundamental group of $M$ is a two generator group. Lift geodesic representatives of a pair of generators to $\mathbb{H}^3$. These geodesics have a mutual perpendicular, and $180^{\circ}$ rotation about that geodesic descends to an involution of $M$. However, this map has fixed points, and I'd like to "see" one that doesn't.

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If you're interested in the involution only defined on the complement, Igor's answer does a fine job.

But the involution extends to an involution of $S^3$ and perhaps you'd like to see that?

I think the symmetry is a little tricky to traditionally visualize, because as a map of $S^3$, thought of as the unit sphere $S^3 \subset \mathbb C^2$ it's of the form $(z_1,z_2) \longmapsto (\overline{z_1}, -z_2)$. If you stereographically project at one of these fixed points, this becomes the involution of $\mathbb R^3$ given by $(x,y,z) \longmapsto (-x,-y,-z)$. Both the fixed points have to be on the knot, so this means we have to find a "long" embedding of the figure-8 knot in $\mathbb R^3$ which is invariant under the antipodal map. That's easy. Here are two such (approximate) positions:

alt text

enter image description here

In the latter picture the fixed point is easier to see -- the blue straight line intersects the knot in 5 points, one at the "center" and four other points indicated by blue balls.

Looking through the code I used to generate the latter picture, the parametrization I use of the figure-8 knot is:

$$t \longmapsto (5(t^3-3t), 0.25(t^7-42t), t^5-5t^3+4t)$$

which is easy to verify is equivariant with respect to the above involution, as all the terms in the polynomial are odd.

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Nice! What did you use to generate the picture? – auniket Nov 19 '11 at 0:45
The latter image was generated in two steps. The knot and the line were computed in some C++ code that I wrote. Then the 3-dimensional data was output into a PoVRay format, which was then rendered in PoVray: The top image I just grabbed in a Google search. – Ryan Budney Nov 19 '11 at 1:49
Maybe I'm confused; isn't the OP trying to visualize a fixed-point free involution? – j.c. Nov 19 '11 at 6:14
The only fixed points are on the knot -- it's free on the knot complement. – Ryan Budney Nov 19 '11 at 6:24

The figure 8 complement decomposes into 2 regular ideal tetrahedra (see Thurston's notes, here for example.) This gives the involution quite explicitely.

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Small comment: one can arrange that the gluing maps from the 1st tetrahedron to the 2nd are the ones that send the triangle opposite vertex $i$ to the triangle opposite vertex $i+2 \ mod \ 4$. Moreover, on those triangles the gluing map is the one that preserves the order of the vertices (coming from their labelling in the ambient tetrahedron with vertices $\{0,1,2,3\}$). So if you switch the two tetrahedra around (identity on vertices), it descends to an involution of the underlying manifold. One still has to check that there's no fixed points on the interior of the edges or triangles. – Ryan Budney Jan 26 '15 at 16:19

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