Recently Jean-Pierre Bourguignon recently gave the Inaugural Atiyah Lecture, with the title What is a Spinor? The title was a reference to a 2013 talk by Atiyah at the IHES with the same title. Bourguignon’s lecture is not yet online, but I realized there are lectures explaining what a spinor is that I can highly recommend: my own, in this semester’s course on the mathemematics of quantum mechanics. I’m closely following the textbook I wrote.
Teaching this course this past academic year has made me all too aware of things that are less than ideal about the book, and I unfortunately haven’t had time to get to work on making any significant improvements. Going through the material on spinors though, I’m pretty happy with how that part of the book turned out, think it provides a clear explanation of a beautiful and important story, one that is not readily available elsewhere.
One aspect of this that I emphasize is the remarkable parallel between
- The usual story of canonical quantization, which is based on an antisymmetric bilinear form on phase space, giving an algebra of operators generated by $Q_j,P_j$ acting on the usual quantum state space.
- Replacing antisymmetric by symmetric, you get the Clifford algebra, generated by $\gamma$-matrices, acting on the spinors.
For a table summarizing precisely this parallelism, see chapter 32 of the book.