Quasi-projections and isometries

A typical scenario: given a subset {E} of a metric space {X} and a point {x\in X}, we look for a point {y\in E} that is nearest to {x}: that is, {d(x, y) = \mathrm{dist}\,(x, E)}. Such a point is generally not unique: for example, if {E} is the graph of cosine function and {x = (\pi, \pi/2)}, then both {(\pi/2, 0)} and {(3\pi/2, 0)} qualify as nearest to {x}. This makes the nearest-point projection onto {E} discontinuous: moving {x} slightly to the left or to the right will make its projection onto {E} jump from one point to another. Not good.

proj1
Discontinuous nearest-point projection

Even when the nearest point projection is well-defined and continuous, it may not be the kind of projection we want. For example, in a finite-dimensional normed space with strictly convex norm we have a continuous nearest-point projection onto any linear subspace, but it is in general a nonlinear map.

Let’s say that {P\colon X\to E} is a quasi-projection if {d(x, P(x)) \le C \mathrm{dist}\,(x, E)} for some constant {C} independent of {x}. Such maps are much easier to construct: indeed, every Lipschitz continuous map {P\colon X\to E} such that {P(x)=x} for {x \in E} is a quasi-projection. For example, one quasi-projection onto the graph of cosine is the map {(x, y)\mapsto (x, \cos x)} shown below.

proj2
Continuous quasi-projection

If {X} is a Banach space and {E} is its subspace, then any idempotent operator with range {E} is a quasi-projection onto {E}. Not every subspace admits such an operator but many do (these are complemented subspaces; they include all subspaces of finite dimension or finite codimension). By replacing “nearest” with “close enough” we gain linearity. And even some subspaces that are not linearly complemented admit a continuous quasi-projection.

Here is a neat fact: if {M} and {N} are subspaces of a Euclidean space and {\dim M = \dim N}, then there exists anĀ isometric quasi-projection of {M} onto {N} with constant {C=\sqrt{2}}. This constant is best possible: for example, an isometry from the {y}-axis onto the {x}-axis has to send {(0, 1)} to one of {(\pm 1, 0)}, thus moving it by distance {\sqrt{2}}.

proj3
An isometry must incur sqrt(2) distance cost

Proof. Let {k} be the common dimension of {M} and {N}. Fix some orthonormal bases in {M} and {N}. In these bases, the orthogonal (nearest-point) projection from {M} to {N} is represented by some {k\times k} matrix {P} of norm at most {1}. We need an orthogonal {k\times k} matrix {Q} such that the map {M\to N} that it defines is a {\sqrt{2}}-quasi-projection. What exactly does this condition mean for {Q}?

Let’s say {x\in M}, {y\in N} is the orthogonal projection of {x} onto {N}, and {z\in N} is where we want to send {x} by an isometry. Our goal is {\|x-z\|\le \sqrt{2}\|x-y\|}, in addition to {\|z\|=\|x\|}. Squaring and expanding inner products yields {2\langle x, y\rangle - \langle x, z \rangle \le \|y\|^2}. Since both {y} and {z} are in {N}, we can replace {x} on the left by its projection {y}. So, the goal simplifies to {\|y\|^2 \le \langle y, z\rangle}. Geometrically, this means placing {z} so that its projection onto the line through {y} lies on the continuation of this line beyond {y}.

So far so good, but the disappearance of {x} from the inequality is disturbing. Let’s bring it back by observing that {\|y\|^2 \le \langle y, z\rangle} is equivalent to {4(\|y\|^2 - \langle y, z\rangle) + \|z\|^2 \le \|x\|^2}, which is simply {\|2y-z\| \le \|x\|}. So that’s what we want to do: map {x} so that the distance from its image to {2y} does not exceed {\|x\|}. In terms of matrices and their operator norm, this means {\|2P-Q\|\le 1}.

It remains to show that every square matrix of norm at most {2} (such as {2P} here) is within distance {1} of some orthogonal matrix. Let {2P = U\Sigma V^T} be the singular value decomposition, with {U, V} orthogonal and {\Sigma} a diagonal matrix with the singular values of {2P} on the diagonal. Since the singular values of {2P} are between {0} and {2}, it follows that {\|\Sigma-I\|\le 1}. Hence {\|2P - UV^T\|\le 1}, and taking {Q=UV^T} concludes the proof.

(The proof is based on a Stack Exchange post by user hypernova.)

The shortest circle is a hexagon

Let {\|\cdot\|} be some norm on {{\mathbb R}^2}. The norm induces a metric, and the metric yields a notion of curve length: the supremum of sums of distances over partitions. The unit circle {C=\{x\in \mathbb R^2\colon \|x\|=1\}} is a closed curve; how small can its length be under the norm?

For the Euclidean norm, the length of unit circle is {2\pi\approx 6.28}. But it can be less than that: if {C} is a regular hexagon, its length is exactly {6}. Indeed, each of the sides of {C} is a unit vector with respect to the norm defined by {C}, being a parallel translate of a vector connecting the center to a vertex.

Hexagon as unit disk
Hexagon as unit disk

To show that {6} cannot be beaten, suppose that {C} is the unit circle for some norm. Fix a point {p\in C}. Draw the circle {\{x\colon \|x-p\|=1\}}; it will cross {C} at some point {q}. The points {p,q,q-p, -p, -q, p-q} are vertices of a hexagon inscribed in {C}. Since every side of the hexagon has length {1}, the length of {C} is at least {6}.

It takes more effort to prove that the regular hexagon and its affine images, are the only unit circles of length {6}; a proof can be found in Geometry of Spheres in Normed Spaces by Juan Jorge Schäffer.

Diameter vs radius, part II

A set A in a metric space X has diameter \mathrm{diam}\, A=\sup_{a,b\in A} |a-b| and radius \mathrm{rad}\, A = \inf_{x\in X}\sup_{a\in A} |a-x|. It’s easier to find the radius by expressing it in a different form: the smallest (or infimal) value of r such that the \bigcap_{a\in A} \overline{B}(a,r)\ne\varnothing, where \overline{B}(a,r) is the closed ball of radius r with center a.

Suppose X is a normed linear space and f\colon A\to X is a map that does not increase distances (hence does not increase the diameter of any set). I already said that the radius may increase under f, but my example was incorrect. Here is a correct one: the set A consists of 3 points in red.

Radius increases under a nonexpanding map

The blue hexagon is the unit sphere in this space. The three points in red have distance 2 from one another. So do their images under f, but the radius increases from 1 to 2/\sqrt{3}. The set f(A) consists of three vertices of the regular hexagon (in green) circumscribed about the blue one.

I think this example is as bad as it gets in two dimensions: that is, we should have \mathrm{rad}\, f(A) \le \frac{2}{\sqrt{3}} \mathrm{rad}\, A in any 2-dimensional normed space. Informally, the worst case is when the unit ball is triangular, which it can’t be because of the symmetry requirement. The hexagon is the next worst thing.

In higher dimensions the constant cannot be smaller than \frac{2}{\sqrt{3}}, since the above construction can be implemented in a subspace. I don’t know whether the constant grows with dimension or not (either way it can’t exceed 2, as remarked before).