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Let $T:L^2(\mu)\to L^2(\mu)$ be a linear and continuous operator, where $L^2(\mu)$ is the (real) $L^2$-space to some $\sigma$-finite measure space $(\Omega,\Sigma,\mu)$.

$T$ is assumed to be sign-preserving in the sense that $$ v(x) \cdot (Tv)(x) \ge0 $$ for $\mu$-almost all $x\in \Omega$ and all $v\in L^2(\mu)$.

Does this imply that $T$ is a multiplication? That is, does there exist $\phi\in L^\infty(\mu)$ such that $Tv = u\cdot v$?

I could show the following property: $$ \chi_{A^c} \cdot (T\chi_A) = 0 $$ $\mu$-almost everywhere for all characteristic functions $\chi_A$ of $A\in\Sigma$. This would prove the question for $\mathbb R^n$ or $l^2(\mathbb N)$. I was not able to prove the question in the general case.

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  • $\begingroup$ So you are able to prove it for $\sigma$-finite spaces right? $\endgroup$ – Mizar Jul 29 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Mizar I am able to prove this property regarding characteristic functions. I do not see, hot this implies that $T$ is a multiplication operator. $\endgroup$ – daw Jul 29 at 9:12
  • $\begingroup$ OK, I added the proof in that case to my answer! $\endgroup$ – Mizar Jul 29 at 10:04
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First, if $uv=0$ then $uTv=0$ a.e.: indeed, applying the hypothesis with the function $\epsilon u+\epsilon^{-1}v$ and evaluating on $\{u\neq 0\}$, we get $$0\le \epsilon^2uTu+\epsilon^{-2}vTv+uTv+vTu=\epsilon^2 uTu+uTv$$ a.e. and deduce the claim (sending $\epsilon\to 0$). This gives the property $(*)$ that you showed.

If the space is $\sigma$-finite, using $(*)$ we can easily reduce to the case that the measure is finite. Now take $v:=T1$. We claim that $Tu=uv$ (a.e.) when $u$ is simple: since $T$ is linear, it suffices to show this when $u=1_A$ is a characteristic function. But $$v=T1=T1_A+T1_{A^c}$$ and $T1_{A^c}$ vanishes (a.e.) on $A$, hence $T1_A=v$ (a.e.) on $A$. Since $T1_A$ vanishes (a.e.) on $A^c$, the claim follows. Taking $A:=\{|v|>\|T\|\}$, if $\mu(A)>0$ we see that $\|T1_A\|_{L^2}>\|T\|\|1_A\|_{L^2}$, contradiction. So $v\in L^\infty$. The statement now follows since simple functions are dense.


It seems false to me without assuming the space to be $\sigma$-finite: take $\Omega:=[0,1]^2$, with $\mu:=\mathcal{H}^1$ (1-dimensional Hausdorff measure) and the $\sigma$-algebra $\mathcal A$ generated by horizontal and vertical slices ($\{s\}\times[0,1]$ and $[0,1]\times\{t\}$).

Now with little work you can show that all elements of $\mathcal A$, up to adding and removing negligible sets, are of the form $$\bigcup\Big(\{s_i\}\times[0,1]\Big)\cup\bigcup\Big([0,1]\times\{t_j\}\Big),$$ where both unions are (at most) countable. Hence, $L^2(\mu)$ splits as a direct sum $V\oplus W$, where $V$ consists of functions of the form $f=\sum_i a_i 1_{\{s_i\}\times[0,1]}$ and $W$ of similar "vertical" functions.

Now declare $T$ to act by multiplication by $0$ on $V$ and multiplication by $1$ on $W$. It's easy to see that there is no consistent choice of $v$.

If you don't want atoms in the counterexample, take instead the $\sigma$-algebra generated by sets of the form $\{s\}\times E'$ and $E\times\{t\}$, where $s,t$ range in $[0,1]$ and $E,E'$ vary among Borel subsets of $[0,1]$. In this case, measurable sets have the form $$\bigcup(\{s_i\}\times E_i')\cup\bigcup(E_j\times\{t_j\})\cup (E\times E')\cup N,$$ where $E_j,E$ are Borel subsets of $[0,1]\setminus\bigcup\{s_i\}$, $E_i',E'$ are Borel subsets of $[0,1]\setminus\bigcup\{t_j\}$, and finally $N$ is any subset of $\Big(\bigcup\{s_i\}\Big)\times\Big(\bigcup\{t_j\}\Big)$. Once you have this, you can argue as before.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the nice answer! I was missing the trick $Tu = u\cdot T1$. $\endgroup$ – daw Jul 29 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ How would one define $v$ in the non-finite case? Then $1\not\in L^2$. $\endgroup$ – daw Jul 29 at 10:59
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    $\begingroup$ Interestingly, the assumption on $T$ already implies $T1\in L^\infty(\mu)$. $\endgroup$ – daw Jul 29 at 11:00
  • $\begingroup$ Ah yes, $T1$ is not bounded a priori, but you discover it along the proof. I will edit my answer slightly. To deduce the $\sigma$-finite case, say $\Omega=\bigsqcup E_i$ (disjoint union) with $\mu(E_i)<\infty$ and declare $v$ to be $T1_{E_i}$ on $E_i$ (tell me if you have trouble seeing how to conclude from here). $\endgroup$ – Mizar Jul 29 at 11:08

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