I have three related questions about conventions for defining Clifford algebras.

1) Let $(V, q)$ be a quadratic vector space. Should the Clifford algebra $\text{Cliff}(V, q)$ have defining relations $v^2 = q(v)$ or $v^2 = -q(v)$?

2) Should $\text{Cliff}(n)$ denote the Clifford algebra generated by $n$ anticommuting square roots of $1$ or by $n$ anticommuting square roots of $-1$? That is, after you pick an answer to 1), should $\text{Cliff}(n)$ be $\text{Cliff}(\mathbb{R}^n, \| \cdot \|)$ or $\text{Cliff}(\mathbb{R}^n, - \| \cdot \|)$? More generally, after you pick an answer to 1), should $\text{Cliff}(p, q)$ be the Clifford algebra associated to the quadratic form of signature $(p, q)$ or of signature $(q, p)$?

3) Let $(X, g)$ be a Riemannian manifold with Riemannian metric $g$. After you pick an answer to 1), should the bundle of Clifford algebras $\text{Cliff}(X)$ associated to $X$ be given fiberwise by $\text{Cliff}(T_x(X), \pm g_x)$ or by $\text{Cliff}(T_x^{\ast}(X), \pm g_x^{\ast})$?

For 1), on the one hand, $v^2 = q(v)$ seems very natural, especially if you think of the Clifford algebra functor as a version of the universal enveloping algebra functor, and it is used in Atiyah-Bott-Shapiro. On the other hand, Lawson-Michelson and Berline-Getzler-Vergne use $v^2 = -q(v)$, I think because they want $\text{Cliff}(\mathbb{R}^n, \| \cdot \|)$ to be the Clifford algebra generated by $n$ anticommuting square roots of $-1$. This is, for example, the correct Clifford algebra to write down if you want to write down a square root of the negative of the Laplacian (which is positive definite).

For 2), this choice affects the correct statement of the relationship between $\text{Cliff}(n)$-modules and real $K$-theory, but there is something very confusing going on here, namely that with either convention, $\text{Cliff}(n)$-modules are related to both $KO^n$ and $KO^{-n}$; see Andre Henriques' MO question on this subject.

For 3), whatever the answer to 1) or 2) I think everyone agrees that $\text{Cliff}(X)$ should be given fiberwise by $n$ anticommuting square roots of $-1$, where $n = \dim X$, so once you fix an answer to 1) that fixes the signs. The choice of sign affects the correct statement of the Thom isomorphism in K-theory.

Lawson-Michelson use the tangent bundle but Berline-Getzler-Vergne use the cotangent bundle. The tangent bundle seems natural if you want to think of Clifford multiplication as a deformation of a covariant derivative, and the cotangent bundle seems natural if you want to think of the Clifford bundle as a deformation of exterior forms. I'm not sure how important this choice is.

Anyway, I just want to know whether there are good justifications to sticking to one particular set of conventions so I can pick a consistent one for myself; reconciling the conventions of other authors is exhausting, especially because I haven't decided what conventions I want to use.

non-isomorphicas central extensions. Atiyah-Bott-Shapiro use $\iota^{-}$, Chevalley & Serre use $\iota^+$. Et tu, Qiaochu? $\endgroup$ – user27920 Oct 30 '14 at 6:11