Archive for History of Exact Sciences

, Volume 66, Issue 1, pp 71–93

On the history of the isomorphism problem of dynamical systems with special regard to von Neumann’s contribution


DOI: 10.1007/s00407-011-0089-y

Cite this article as:
Rédei, M. & Werndl, C. Arch. Hist. Exact Sci. (2012) 66: 71. doi:10.1007/s00407-011-0089-y


This article reviews some major episodes in the history of the spatial isomorphism problem of dynamical systems theory (ergodic theory). In particular, by analysing, both systematically and in historical context, a hitherto unpublished letter written in 1941 by John von Neumann to Stanislaw Ulam, this article clarifies von Neumann’s contribution to discovering the relationship between spatial isomorphism and spectral isomorphism. The main message of the article is that von Neumann’s argument described in his letter to Ulam is the very first proof that spatial isomorphism and spectral isomorphism are not equivalent because spectral isomorphism is weaker than spatial isomorphism: von Neumann shows that spectrally isomorphic ergodic dynamical systems with mixed spectra need not be spatially isomorphic.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyLogic and Scientific Method, London School of EconomicsLondonUK

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