In the theory of dynamical systems, it is of interest to have invariants to tell us when two dynamical systems are qualitatively “different.” Today, I want to talk about one particularly important one: topological entropy.

We will be in the setting of discrete dynamical systems: here a discrete dynamical system is just a pair for a compact metric space and a continuous map.

Recall that two such pairs are called **topologically conjugate** if there is a homeomorphism such that . This is a natural enough definition, and it is clearly an equivalence relation. For instance, it follows that there is a one-to-one correspondence between the orbits of and those of . In particular, if has a fixed point, so does . Admittedly this necessary criterion for determining whether are topologically conjugate is rather trivial.

Note incidentally that topological conjugacy needs to be considered even when one is studying smooth dynamical systems—in many cases, one can construct a homeomorphism as above but **not** a diffeomorphism. This is the case in the Hartman-Grobman theorem, which states that if is a smooth map with a fixed point where the derivative is a hyperbolic endomorphism of the tangent space, then it is locally conjugate to the derivative (that is, the corresponding linear map).

**1. Definition of topological entropy **

Anyway, we need new invariants. One extremely important one is topological entropy, which measures in some sense the “complexity” of . Consider the following problem. For a natural number , consider segments for all . How many of them are there?

Clearly, the answer will be infinite in general. But we can count how many we need to get a dense packing in the space of all such segments. To be precise, for , define the number to be the minimal natural number such that there exist points such that for every , there is some such that

Here is the metric on . The **topological entropy** is defined as

This is a rather complex definition, so it will be useful to pause to think again about it. Another way to do this is to introduce a new metric on .

Namely, we define the metric via . Then, in any metric space , we can call a subset **-dense** if every point of is of distance from some point of . The selection of points as above was made so that is an -dense set—indeed, the smallest such—in endowed with the metric . This provides some motivation for the definition.

There is a variation on the idea of -dense: namely, **-separated.** This means that any two distinct points in the given subset (which we call -separated) have distance . The problem of finding a maximal -separated set (“to pack the points such that they are far away from each other”) is related to the problem of finding a minimal -dense set. Namely, one can check that a minimal -dense set is -separated, and similarly a maximal -separated set is -dense.

This provides another way of thinking of topological entropy. Let denote a maximal -separated subset of . Then

**2. A more natural definition **

I personally find this definition a little strange. For one thing, it appears superficially to depend on the metric , while we supposedly just care about the topological structure. In addition, the formula is rather complicated. We have yet to show that it is invariant under topological conjugacy, in fact.

The original definition of Adler, Konheim, and McAndrew is simpler and seems more natural to me; it is defined very explicitly in terms of coverings. It does not even use the metric structure of . So, fix a compact space , and let be a continuous map, as before. Now an open covering will be denoted . The **refinement** of two open coverings is just the covering . We define the **size** of the cover to be the cardinality of the minimal subcover; obviously .

Given an open cover , we define the inverse image via ; it is clear that . The following theorem gives another definition of topological entropy (which is how Walters introduces it)

Theorem 1The topological entropy is the supremum of

over all open covers .

This result actually follows rather easily from the definitions. Note that the limit actually exists, because if , then the properties of mentioned imply that , from which it is a straightforward exercise in analysis that equals and is the infimum.

Indeed, suppose is the cover by all -balls. Take the metric as above. Any set for has -diameter at most . Then if is the size of a minimal -spanning set with respect to the metric as above, clearly

because taking one point from each set in the covering gives an -spanning set for , and this spanning set is minimal if and only if the cover is minimal. It follows that

In particular, the topological entropy is less than or equal to

and is equal to the limit as of that quantity for the cover by -balls.

Now, if is any cover, I claim that the limit exists and is at most . This will prove the theorem. This is because there is a Lebesgue number for , and the limit is at most that of the limit with replaced by the cover of -balls. So we can reduce to this case, which was already handled above.

Incidentally, it clearly suffices to take finite (because shrinking only increases the limit). This equation is evidently invariant under topological conjugacy, so the theorem implies:

Corollary 2Topological entropy is invariant under topological conjugacy.

Next time, we’re going to compute some explicit examples of what this actually means, as well as proving a few more elementary properties.

July 15, 2010 at 5:51 pm

[…] Topological entropy II July 15, 2010 tags: dynamical systems, periodic points, topological entropy by Akhil Mathew We continue the discussion of topological entropy started yesterday. […]

July 17, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Hi, I am not quite sure about the proof of theorem 1, when we take to be all the balls. I can only see

In order to get another direction need some more careful analysis, I think.

July 17, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Well, suppose we have points such that they -span with respect to . This means that if , there is such that are -close for all .

Then consider the sets . This family covers by definition. It is also a family of open sets in .

It was a bit more subtle than I initially thought though.

July 17, 2010 at 6:42 pm

yeah, I get it, thanks.