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Groups III. Symmetries. Group Actions.

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science, Albert Einstein.


Proposition. Suppose G is a group. If ∀a, b ∈ G (ab)2 = a2b2, then ab = ba.


a(ab)b = a2b2 = [By assumption] (ab)2 = (ab)(ab) = [Associative] a(ba)b

a(ab)b = a(ba)b ⇒ [Cancellation laws ↭ multiplying both sides by a-1, and then, by b-1] ab = ba∎

Proposition. If every non-identity element of G has order 2, then G is Abelian.


G is Abelian ↭ ∀a, b ∈ G, ab = ba.

∀a, b ∈ G ⇒ [G group, it is closed under the group operation] ab ∈ G ⇒ [∀a ∈ G, a2 = e, notice that e2= e, too] (ab)2 = e ⇒ ab = (ab)-1 = [Shoes and socks principle] b-1a-1 = [Every element is its own inverse] ba∎

Cayley Tables

A Cayley table describes the structure of a finite group by arranging all the possible products of all the group’s elements in a square table.

Let G = {a1, a2, ···, an}. The group operation (e.g., +, x, *, ·, ∘) is placed in the upper left corner of the table. Next, we place the elements of the set in the head row and the head column. The i, j entry, that is, the intersection of row i and column j corresponds to the group element ai · aj. For example, let’s say the group G ({1, -1, i, -i}, x), -1·-1 = 1, -1·i = -i, -1·-i = i, etc.


Let’s take into consideration the Cayley table for G ({1, -1, i, -i}, x).

  1. The first row and first column are trivial; since e does nothing, the first row matches the head row, and the first column matches the head column.
  2. Every row and every column contains the identity element (1) because every element in a group has an inverse.
  3. There is no duplicate elements in any row or column. Let’s suppose there’s a row with duplicate elements a∘x = a∘y, x ≠ y ⇒ a-1∘(a∘x) = a-1∘(a∘y) ⇒ (a-1∘a)∘x = (a-1∘a)∘y ⇒ x = y ⊥.
  4. A binary operation is commutative if and only if the entries in the table are symmetric with respect to the principal diagonal that starts at the upper left corner of the table (1 x 1 = 1) and ends at the lower right corner (-i x -i = -1).

Finite Groups

  1. |G| = 0 ⊥ It is simply not possible, a minimal set that might give rise to a group needs to contain, at the very least, the identity by definition.
  2. |G| = 1. It is easily defined by e∘e = e. This “small” group is called the trivial group (Figure 1.b).
  3. |G| = 2. Observe that every row and column must contain all the group elements (no duplicates), and therefore a ∘ a = e. Besides, a must have an inverse. There’s only one group of order 2, and this group is isomorphic to ℤ2 = {0, 1} under addition modulo 2. Both Cayley’s tables are structurally the same, just replace e by 0, and a by 1, (Figure 1.a).
  4. |G| = 3. Let the set be {e, a, b}. It can be easily demonstrated that the table must be filled in as shown in 1.b. if each row and column are to contain each element exactly once (Figure 1.b. Observe that a·a = b and the rest follows immediately).
  5. There are exactly 2 groups of order 4, up to isomorphism: ℤ4, the cyclic group of order 4 and K4, the Klein 4-group.






Indeed group theory is the mathematical language of symmetry. We can think groups as symmetries (a transformation that preserves both distances and the object itself). Futhermore, symmetries of an object (a plane figure -square-, a solid figure -tetrahedron- or a real number line ℝ) do form a group (💡Source: Mathemaniac YouTube’s channel, Essence of Group Theory).

  1. X = {1, 2, 3} vertices, σ: G x X → X, σ rotation with respect to the 1 vertex (rotations acting on vertices), σ * 1 = 1, σ * 2 = 3, σ * 3 = 4, σ * 4 = 2.
  2. X = {(1, 2), (1, 3), (1, 4), (2, 3), (3, 4), (4, 2)} edges (rotations acting on edges), σ * (1, 2) = (1, 3), σ * (1, 3) = (1, 4), σ * (1, 4) = (1, 2), σ * (2, 3) = (3, 4), σ * (3, 4) = (4, 2), σ * (4, 2) = (2, 3)
  3. X = {1, 2, 3} faces (rotations acting on faces), σ: G x X → X, σ * 1 = 2, σ * 2 = 3, σ * 3 = 1, σ * 4 = 4.

Group Actions

Definition. A group action of a group G on a set A, written as g·a or simply ga (g acts on a), is a map or function from G x A to A such that the following two conditions hold:

  1. g1·(g2·a) = (g1g2)·a, ∀g1, g2 ∈ G, a ∈ A.
  2. e·a = a, ∀a ∈ A.

Proposition. Let the group G act on a set A. For each fixed element of G, say g ∈ G, we get a permutation σg: A → A defined by σg(a) = g·a. Besides, the map from Φ: G → SA defined by g → σg is a homomorphism. It is called the permutation representation associated to the given action.

Proof. We know that the map f: A → B is a bijection if and only if there exists g: B → A, the inverse of f, such that f∘g is the identity map on B and g∘f is the identity map on A.

∀g ∈ G, ∃g-1, we claim that σg-1 is the inverse of σ.

g-1∘σg)(a) = [By definition of function composition] σg-1g(a)) = σg-1(g·a) = g-1·(g·a) = [By property 1 of a group action] (g-1g)·a = e·a = [By property 2 of a group action] a

Since g was chosen arbitrary, we may interchange the roles of g and g-1σg is a permutation of A.

is the map Φ: G → SA a homomorphism? We have already proved that σg ∈ SA.

Φ(g1g2) = Φ(g1)∘Φ(g2)?

∀a ∈ A, Φ(g1g2)(a) = σg1g2(a) = (g1g2)·a = [By property 1 of an action] g1·(g2·a) = σg1g2(a)) = (Φ(g1)∘Φ(g2))(a)

Basically, a group action just means that every element g in G acts as a permutation on A in a way that is consistent with the group operation in G. Let Φ: G → SA be any homomorphism from a group G to the symmetric group on a set, then the map from G x A to A defined by ∀g ∈ G, a ∈ A, g·a = Φ(g)(a) is a group action of G on A, and therefore actions on a group and homomorphisms from this group into the symmetric group SA are basically the same construct or, more formally, in bijective correspondence.


Definition. If G acts on a set A and distinct elements of G induce distinct permutations of A, that is, when g1 ≠ g2 in G, there is an a ∈ A such that g1·a ≠ g2·a, the action is called faithful. The kernel of the action of G on A is {g ∈ G | ga = a ∀a ∈ A}


This content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This post relies heavily on the following resources, specially on NPTEL-NOC IITM, Introduction to Galois Theory, Michael Penn, and Contemporary Abstract Algebra, Joseph, A. Gallian.
  1. NPTEL-NOC IITM, Introduction to Galois Theory.
  2. Algebra, Second Edition, by Michael Artin.
  3. LibreTexts, Calculus. Abstract and Geometric Algebra, Abstract Algebra: Theory and Applications (Judson).
  4. Field and Galois Theory, by Patrick Morandi. Springer.
  5. Michael Penn, Andrew Misseldine, and MathMajor, YouTube’s channels.
  6. Contemporary Abstract Algebra, Joseph, A. Gallian.
  7. MIT OpenCourseWare, 18.01 Single Variable Calculus, Fall 2007 and 18.02 Multivariable Calculus, Fall 2007, YouTube.
  8. Calculus Early Transcendentals: Differential & Multi-Variable Calculus for Social Sciences.
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