Cauchy principal value


Integration theory

Functional analysis



The Cauchy principal value of a function which is integrable on the complement of one point is, if it exists, the limit of the integrals of the function over subsets in the complement of this point as these integration domains tend to that point symmetrically from all sides.

One also subsumes the case that the “point” is “at infinity”, hence that the function is integrable over every bounded domain. In this case the Cauchy principal value is the limit, if it exists, of the integrals of the function over bounded domains, as their bounds tend symmetrically to infinity.

The operation of sending a compactly supported smooth function (bump function) to Cauchy principal value of its pointwise product with a function ff that may be singular at the origin defines a distribution, usually denoted PV(f)PV(f).

When the Cauchy principal value exists but the full integral does not (hence when the full integral “diverges”) one may think of the Cauchy principal value as “exracting a finite value from a diverging quantity”. This is similar to the intuition of the early days of renormalization in perturbative quantum field theory (Schwinger-Tomonaga-Feynman-Dyson), but one has to be careful not to carry this analogy too far.

One point where the Cauchy principal value really does play a key role in perturbative quantum field theory is in the computation of Green functions (propagators) for the Klein-Gordon operator and the Dirac operator. See remark 1 below and see at Feynman propagator for more on this.


As an integral


(Cauchy principal value of an integral over the real line)

Let f:f \colon \mathbb{R} \to \mathbb{R} be a function on the real line such that for every positive real number ϵ\epsilon its restriction to (ϵ,ϵ)\mathbb{R}\setminus (-\epsilon, \epsilon) is integrable. Then the Cauchy principal value of ff is, if it exists, the limit

PV(f)limϵ0(ϵ,ϵ)f(x)dx. PV(f) \coloneqq \underset{\epsilon \to 0}{\lim} \underset{\mathbb{R} \setminus (-\epsilon, \epsilon)}{\int} f(x) \, d x \,.

As a distribution


(Cauchy principal value as distribution on the real line)

Let f:f \colon \mathbb{R} \to \mathbb{R} be a function on the real line such that for all bump functions bC cp ()b \in C^\infty_{cp}(\mathbb{R}) the Cauchy principal value of the pointwise product function fbf b exists, in the sense of def. 1. Then this assignment

PV(f):bPV(fb) PV(f) \;\colon\; b \mapsto PV(f b)

defines a distribution PV(f)𝒟()PV(f) \in \mathcal{D}'(\mathbb{R}).


The principal value of 1/x1/x


Let f:f \colon \mathbb{R} \to \mathbb{R} be an integrable function which is symmetric, in that f(x)=f(x)f(-x) = f(x) for all xx \in \mathbb{R}. Then the principal value integral (def. 1) of xf(x)xx \mapsto \frac{f(x)}{x} exists and is zero:

limϵ0(ϵ,ϵ)f(x)xdx=0 \underset{\epsilon \to 0}{\lim} \underset{\mathbb{R}\setminus (-\epsilon, \epsilon)}{\int} \frac{f(x)}{x} d x \; = \; 0

This is because, by the symmetry of ff and the skew-symmetry of x1/xx \mapsto 1/x, the the two contributions to the integral are equal up to a sign:

ϵf(x)xdx= ϵ f(x)xdx. \int_{-\infty}^{-\epsilon} \frac{f(x)}{x} d x \;=\; - \int_{\epsilon}^\infty \frac{f(x)}{x} d x \,.

The principal value distribution PV(1x)PV\left( \frac{1}{x}\right) (def. 2) solves the distributional equation

(1)xPV(1x)=1AAA𝒟( 1). x PV\left(\frac{1}{x}\right) = 1 \phantom{AAA} \in \mathcal{D}'(\mathbb{R}^1) \,.

Since the delta distribution δ𝒟( 1)\delta \in \mathcal{D}'(\mathbb{R}^1) solves the equation

xδ(x)=0AAA𝒟(𝕣 1) x \delta(x) = 0 \phantom{AAA} \in \mathcal{D}'(\mathbb{r}^1)

we have that more generally every linear combination of the form

(2)F(x)PV(1/x)+cδ(x)AAA𝒟( 1) F(x) \coloneqq PV(1/x) + c \delta(x) \phantom{AAA} \in \mathcal{D}'(\mathbb{R}^1)

for cc \in \mathbb{C}, is a distributional solution to xF(x)=1x F(x) = 1.


This is immediate from the definition: For bC c ( 1)b \in C^\infty_c(\mathbb{R}^1) any bump function we have that

xPV(1x),b limϵ0 1(ϵ,ϵ)xxb(x)dx =b(x)dx =1,b \begin{aligned} \left\langle x PV\left(\frac{1}{x}\right), b \right\rangle & \coloneqq \underset{\epsilon \to 0}{\lim} \underset{\mathbb{R}^1 \setminus (-\epsilon, \epsilon)}{\int} \frac{x}{x}b(x) \, d x \\ & = \int b(x) d x \\ & = \langle 1,b\rangle \end{aligned}

In fact (2) is the most general distributional solution to (1).

This follows by the characterization of extension of distributions to a point, see there at this prop. (Hörmander 90, thm. 3.2.4)


(integration against inverse variable with imaginary offset)


1x+i0 ±𝒟() \tfrac{1}{x + i0^\pm} \;\in\; \mathcal{D}'(\mathbb{R})

for the distribution which is the limit in 𝒟()\mathcal{D}'(\mathbb{R}) of the non-singular distributions which are given by the smooth functions x1x±iϵx \mapsto \tfrac{1}{x \pm i \epsilon} as the positive real number ϵ\epsilon tends to zero:

1x+i0 ±limϵ(0,)ϵ01x±iϵ \frac{1}{ x + i 0^\pm } \;\coloneqq\; \underset{ { \epsilon \in (0,\infty) } \atop { \epsilon \to 0 } }{\lim} \tfrac{1}{x \pm i \epsilon}

hence the distribution which sends bC ( 1)b \in C^\infty(\mathbb{R}^1) to

bb(x)x±iϵdx. b \mapsto \underset{\mathbb{R}}{\int} \frac{b(x)}{x \pm i \epsilon} \, d x \,.

(Cauchy principal value equals integration with imaginary offset plus delta distribution)

The Cauchy principal value distribution PV(1x)𝒟()PV\left( \tfrac{1}{x}\right) \in \mathcal{D}'(\mathbb{R}) (def. 2) is equal to the sum of the integration over 1/x1/x with imaginary offset (def. 3) and a delta distribution.

PV(1x)=1x+i0 ±±iπδ. PV\left(\frac{1}{x}\right) \;=\; \frac{1}{x + i 0^\pm} \pm i \pi \delta \,.

In particular, by prop. 2 this means that 1x+i0 ±\tfrac{1}{x + i 0^\pm} solves the distributional equation

x1x+i0 ±=1AA𝒟( 1). x \frac{1}{x + i 0^\pm} \;=\; 1 \phantom{AA} \in \mathcal{D}'(\mathbb{R}^1) \,.

Using that

1x±iϵ =xiϵ(x+iϵ)(xiϵ) =xiϵ(x 2+ϵ 2) \begin{aligned} \frac{1}{x \pm i \epsilon} & = \frac{ x \mp i \epsilon }{ (x + i \epsilon)(x - i \epsilon) } \\ & = \frac{ x \mp i \epsilon }{(x^2 + \epsilon^2)} \end{aligned}

we have for every bump function bC cp ( 1)b \in C^\infty_{cp}(\mathbb{R}^1)

limϵ0 1b(x)x±iϵdx =limϵ0 1x 2x 2+ϵ 2b(x)xdx(A)iπlimϵ0 11πϵx 2+ϵ 2b(x)dx(B) \begin{aligned} \underset{\epsilon \to 0}{\lim} \underset{\mathbb{R}^1}{\int} \frac{b(x)}{x \pm i \epsilon} d x & \;=\; \underset{ (A) }{ \underbrace{ \underset{\epsilon \to 0}{\lim} \underset{\mathbb{R}^1}{\int} \frac{x^2}{x^2 + \epsilon^2} \frac{b(x)}{x} d x } } \mp i \pi \underset{(B)}{ \underbrace{ \underset{\epsilon \to 0}{\lim} \underset{\mathbb{R}^1}{\int} \frac{1}{\pi} \frac{\epsilon}{x^2 + \epsilon^2} b(x) \, d x }} \end{aligned}


x 2x 2+ϵ 2 |x|<ϵϵ0 |x|>ϵϵ0 0 1 \array{ && \frac{x^2}{x^2 + \epsilon^2} \\ & {}^{\mathllap{ { {\vert x \vert} \lt \epsilon } \atop { \epsilon \to 0 } }}\swarrow && \searrow^{\mathrlap{ {{\vert x\vert} \gt \epsilon} \atop { \epsilon \to 0 } }} \\ 0 && && 1 }

it follows (…) that (A)=PV(b(x)x)(A) = PV\left( \frac{b(x)}{x} \right).

Similarly (B)=b(0)(B) = b(0). (…)


(Fourier integral formula for step function)

The Heaviside distribution Θ𝒟()\Theta \in \mathcal{D}'(\mathbb{R}) is equivalently the following Cauchy principal value:

Θ(x) =12πi e iωxωi0 + limϵ0 +12πi e iωxωiϵdω, \begin{aligned} \Theta(x) & = \frac{1}{2\pi i} \int_{-\infty}^\infty \frac{e^{i \omega x}}{\omega - i 0^+} \\ & \coloneqq \underset{ \epsilon \to 0^+}{\lim} \frac{1}{2 \pi i} \int_{-\infty}^\infty \frac{e^{i \omega x}}{\omega - i \epsilon} d\omega \,, \end{aligned}

where the limit is taken over sequences of positive real numbers ϵ(,0)\epsilon \in (-\infty,0) tending to zero.


We may think of the integrand e iωxωiϵ\frac{e^{i \omega x}}{\omega - i \epsilon} uniquely extended to a holomorphic function on the complex plane and consider computing the given real line integral for fixed ϵ\epsilon as a contour integral in the complex plane.

If x(0,)x \in (0,\infty) is positive, then the exponent

iωx=Im(ω)x+iRe(ω)x i \omega x = - Im(\omega) x + i Re(\omega) x

has negative real part for positive imaginary part of ω\omega. This means that the line integral equals the complex contour integral over a contour C +C_+ \subset \mathbb{C} closing in the upper half plane. Since iϵi \epsilon has positive imaginary part by construction, this contour does encircle the pole of the integrand e iωxωiϵ\frac{e^{i \omega x}}{\omega - i \epsilon} at ω=iϵ\omega = i \epsilon. Hence by the Cauchy integral formula in the case x>0x \gt 0 one gets

limϵ0 +12πi e iωxωiϵdω =limϵ0 +12πi C +e iωxωiϵdω =limϵ0 +(e iωx| ω=iϵ) =limϵ0 +e ϵx =e 0=1. \begin{aligned} \underset{\epsilon \to 0^+}{\lim} \frac{1}{2 \pi i} \int_{-\infty}^\infty \frac{e^{i \omega x}}{\omega - i \epsilon} d\omega & = \underset{\epsilon \to 0^+}{\lim} \frac{1}{2 \pi i} \oint_{C_+} \frac{e^{i \omega x}}{\omega - i \epsilon} d \omega \\ & = \underset{\epsilon \to 0^+}{\lim} \left(e^{i \omega x}\vert_{\omega = i \epsilon}\right) \\ & = \underset{\epsilon \to 0^+}{\lim} e^{- \epsilon x} \\ & = e^0 = 1 \end{aligned} \,.

Conversely, for x<0x \lt 0 the real part of the integrand decays as the negative imaginary part increases, and hence in this case the given line integral equals the contour integral for a contour C C_- \subset \mathbb{C} closing in the lower half plane. Since the integrand has no pole in the lower half plane, in this case the Cauchy integral formula says that this integral is zero.


(Feynman propagator)

The Fourier form of the step function in prop. \ref{FourierIntegralFormula} gives rise to the standard expression for the advanced propagator, retarded propagator and Feynman propagator used in perturbative quantum field theory. See at Feynman propagator for more.


Named after Augustin Cauchy

  • Ram Kanwal, section 8.3 of Linear Integral Equations Birkhäuser 1997

References on homogeneous distributions

  • Lars Hörmander, The Analysis of Linear Partial Differential Operators I (Springer, 1990, 2nd ed.)

See also

Revised on November 20, 2017 10:22:25 by Urs Schreiber (