A Universal Operator Growth Hypothesis


We present a hypothesis for the universal properties of operators evolving under Hamiltonian dynamics in many-body systems. The hypothesis states that successive Lanczos coefficients in the continued fraction expansion of the Green's functions grow linearly with rate α\alpha in generic systems, with an extra logarithmic correction in 1d. The rate α\alpha --- an experimental observable --- governs the exponential growth of operator complexity in a sense we make precise. This exponential growth even prevails beyond semiclassical or large-NN limits. Moreover, α\alpha upper bounds a large class of operator complexity measures, including the out-of-time-order correlator. As a result, we obtain a sharp bound on Lyapunov exponents λL2α\lambda_L \leq 2 \alpha, which complements and improves the known universal low-temperature bound λL2πT\lambda_L \leq 2 \pi T. We illustrate our results in paradigmatic examples such as non-integrable spin chains, the Sachdev-Ye-Kitaev model, and classical models. Finally we use the hypothesis in conjunction with the recursion method to develop a technique for computing diffusion constants.Comment: 18+9 pages, 10 figures, 1 table; accepted versio

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