Karim Adiprasito: Flag simplicial complexes and the non-revisiting path conjecture

This post is authored by Karim Adiprasito

The past months have seen some exciting progress on diameter bounds for polytopes and polytopal complexes, both in the negative and in the positive direction.  Jesus de Loera and Steve Klee described simplicial polytopes which are not  weakly vertex decomposable and the existence of non weakly k-vertex decomposable polytopes for k up to about \sqrt{d} was proved  by Hähnle, Klee, and Pilaud in the paper  Obstructions to weak decomposability for simplicial polytopes. In this post I want to outline a generalization of a beautiful result of Billera and Provan in support of the Hirsch conjecture.

I will consider the simplicial version of the Hirsch conjecture, dual to the classic formulation of Hirsch conjecture. Furthermore, I will consider the Hirsch conjecture, and the non-revisiting path conjecture, for general simplicial complexes, as opposed to the classical formulation for polytopes.

Theorem [Billera & Provan `79] The barycentric subdivision of a shellable simplicial complex satisfies the Hirsch Conjecture.

The barycentric subdivision of a shellable complex is vertex decomposable. The Hirsch diameter bound for vertex decomposable complexes, in turn, can be proven easily by induction.

This is particularly interesting since polytopes, the objects for which the Hirsch conjecture was originally formulated, are shellable. So while in general polytopes do not satisfy the Hirsch conjecture, their barycentric subdivisions always do! That was a great news!

Shellability is a strong combinatorial property that enables us to decompose a complex nicely, so it does not come as a surprise that it can be used to give some diameter bounds on complexes. Suprisingly, however, shellability is not needed at all!  And neither is the barycentric subdivision!

A simplicial complex Σ is called flag if it is the clique complex of its 1-skeleton. It is called normal if it is pure and for every face F of Σ of codimension two or more, Lk(F) is connected.

Theorem (Adiprasito and Benedetti):  Any flag and normal simplicial complex Σ satisfies the non-revisiting path conjecture and, in particular, it satisfies the Hirsch conjecture.

This generalizes the Billera–Provan result in three ways:

— The barycentric subdivision of a simplicial complex is flag, but not all flag complexes are obtained by barycentric subdivisions.

— Shellability imposes strong topological and combinatorial restrictions on a complex; A shellable complex is always homotopy equivalent to a wedge of spheres of the same dimension, and even if a pure complex is topologically nice (if, for example, it is a PL ball) it may not be shellable, as classic examples of Goodrick, Lickorish and Rudin show. Being normal still poses a restriction, but include a far wider class of complexes. For example, every triangulation of a (connected) manifold is normal, and so are all homology manifolds.

— Instead of proving the Hirsch conjecture, we can actually obtain the stronger conclusion that the complex satisfies the non-revisiting path conjecture, which for a given complex is stronger than the Hirsch conjecture.

A geometric proof of our theorem appeared in a recent paper “Metric geometry and collapsibility”  with Bruno Benedetti. . I will give here a short combinatorial proof.

Construction of a combinatorial segment

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