Operator growth hypothesis in open quantum systems

Srivatsa Nagara Srinivasa Prasanna*, Curt von Keyserlingk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The operator growth hypothesis (OGH) is a technical conjecture about the behavior of operators - specifically, the asymptotic growth of their Lanczos coefficients - under repeated action by a Liouvillian. It is expected to hold for a sufficiently generic closed many-body system. When it holds, it yields bounds on the high-frequency behavior of local correlation functions and measures of chaos (like OTOCs). It also gives a route to numerically estimating response functions. Here we investigate the generalization of OGH to open quantum systems, where the Liouvillian is replaced by a Lindbladian. For a quantum system with local Hermitian jump operators, we show that the OGH is modified: we define a generalization of the Lanczos coefficient and show that it initially grows linearly as in the original OGH, but experiences exponentially growing oscillations on scales determined by the dissipation strength. We see this behavior manifested in a semi-analytically solvable model (large-q SYK with dissipation), numerically for an ergodic spin chain, and in a solvable toy model for operator growth in the presence of dissipation (which resembles a non-Hermitian single-particle hopping process). Finally, we show that the modified OGH connects to a fundamental difference between Lindblad and closed systems: At high frequencies, the spectral functions of the former decay algebraically, while in the latter they decay exponentially. This is an experimentally testable statement, which also places limitations on the applicability of Lindbladians to systems in contact with equilibrium environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number125149
JournalPhysical Review B (Condensed Matter and Materials Physics)
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2024


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