Is there an elegant proof of the existence of Majorana spinors?

Almost all standard sources on the existence of Majorana spinors (e.g. Appendix B.1 to Polchinski's "String Theory", Vol. 2) do so in a way I consider inherently ugly:

A priori, we are dealing with an irreducible complex representation $(V,\rho)$ of the Clifford algebra of signature $(p,q)$, i.e. generalized Dirac spinors. That Majorana spinors exist means abstractly that there is a real form on $V$, i.e. a conjugate-linear map $\phi : V\to V$ with $\phi^2 = \mathrm{id}_V$ that commutes at least with the $\mathfrak{so}(p,q)$ action.

Every single source I can find for Majorana spinors uses operations like the transpose, complex conjugation and Hermitian adjoint on the $\Gamma$-matrices to obtain matrices acting on the same space. This is abstractly wrong, the transpose acts on the dual, the complex conjugation on the conjugate, and the Hermitian adjoint needs an inner product we have no reason for choosing. Of course, since $V$ is finite-dimensional, one can pick a basis and define the uncanonical isomorphisms to its dual and its conjugate, but I find this inelegant, particularly since the standard derivations require us to make a particular such choice with respect to the signs the $\Gamma$-matrices have under e.g. ${}^\dagger$. Finally, the Majorana spinors are usually defined by some equation involving an unnatural and arbitrary-looking product of $\Gamma$-matrices, which varies from source to source according to different sign conventions and sign choices made in the course of the derivation.

It's inelegant because the rest of the theory of spinors can be developed without making such uncanonical choices. Both the uniqueness of the dimension of the irreducible Dirac representations (there are two of them in odd dimensions) and the existence of the Weyl spinors in even dimensions can be derived purely from the abstract properties of the Clifford algebra, no choices made, no transpose, adjoint or conjugate occuring. The (admittedly slightly subjective question) is: Is there a way to show in which dimensions Majorana spinors exist that neither requires an uncanonical choice of basis nor arbitrary choices of signs?

Some partial results:

• In even dimensions, the Dirac representation is necessarily self-conjugate since it is the only irreducible representation of the Clifford algebra, so all that is left to show is that a conjugate-linear $\mathfrak{so}$-equivariant map on it squares to $\mathrm{id}_V$ and not to $-\mathrm{id}_V$. However, I can't seem to exhibit any particular equivariant map on it that one could simply check for its square.

• In odd dimensions, one first needs to figure out whether the two inequivalent Dirac representations are conjugate to each other or self-conjugate.

As further motivation that a clear proof using only canonical properties of the Clifford algebra itself is required, consider the confusing and contradictory claims in the literature:

• Polchinski, "String Theory", Vol. 2, p.434: $\mathrm{SO}(d-1,1)$ has Majoranas for $d = 0,1,2,3,4 \mod 8$, corresponding to a special case of $p-q = d-1-1 = 6,7,0,1,2 \mod 8$.

• Fecko, "Differential Geometry and Lie Groups for Physicists", pp. 651: $\mathrm{Cliff}(p,q)$ has Majoranas for $p-q = 0,2\mod 8$. This clearly conflicts with Polchinski's claims e.g. for $d=3$.

• Figueroa-O'Farrill, "Majorana spinors", pp. 18: We have Majoranas for $p-q = 0,6,7\mod 8$ and "symplectic Majoranas" for $p-q = 2,3,4\mod 8$.

Note that these results conflict simply by the number of possible $p-q$ regardless of whether I've correctly taken care of the differing conventions of whether $p$ or $q$ denotes timelike dimensions.

To answer the confusion between the three sources you list:

Using the signature convention of Figueroa O'Farrill, we have Majorana pinor representations for $p - q \pmod 8 = 0,6,7$ and Majorana spinor representations for $p - q \pmod 8 = 1$. Pinor representations induce spinor representations (that will be reducible in even dimension) and so we get Majorana spinor representations for $p - q \pmod 8 = 0,1,6,7$.

Although $\mathcal{Cl}(p,q)$ is not isomorphic to $\mathcal{Cl}(q,p)$, their even subalgebras are isomorphic and so can be embedded in either signature. This means that Majorana pinor representations in $\mathcal{Cl}(q,p)$ also induce spinor representations in the even subalgebra of $\mathcal{Cl}(p,q)$ and so we also get an induced Majorana spinor representation for $p - q \pmod 8 = 2$ (from $q - p \pmod 8 = 6$; this is often called the pseudo-Majorana representation).

Fecko has his signature convention swapped compared to Figueroa O'Farrill, and so swapping back we see that his $0,2 \pmod 8$ gives us $0,6 \pmod 8$. One can also see from his table (22.1.8) that on the page you reference he was listing signatures with Clifford algebra isomorphisms to a single copy of the real matrix algebra, but his table also gives us $p - q \pmod 8 = 1$, converting signature convention to $p - q \pmod 8 = 7$ which is the isomorphism to two copies of the real matrix algebra and so also yields Majorana pinor representations. He doesn't talk about Majorana (or pseudo-Majorana) spinor representations here and so doesn't list $p - q \pmod 8 = 1,2$.

As for Polchinski, he includes pseudo-Majorana representations (or is signature convention agnostic) and so lists all of $p - q \pmod 8 = 0,1,2,6,7$.

To answer the question of in which dimensions Majorana spinors (including pseudo-Majorana) exist:

For a signature $(p,q)$ they exist whenever any of $\mathcal{Cl}(p,q)$, $\mathcal{Cl}(q,p)$ or the even subalgebra of $\mathcal{Cl}(p,q)$ are isomorphic to either one or a direct sum of two copies of the real matrix algebra. This means $p - q \pmod 8 = 0,1,2,6,7$. If one discounts pseudo-Majorana spinors, then one removes $\mathcal{Cl}(q,p)$ from the previous statement and this means $p - q \pmod 8 = 0,1,6,7$.

Of course, this does not talk about the naturally quaternionic symplectic and pseudo-symplectic Majorana representations.

One can take the algebra isomorphisms of low-dimensional Clifford algebras ($\mathcal{Cl}(1,0) \cong \mathbb{C}$, $\mathcal{Cl}(0,1) \cong \mathbb{R} \oplus \mathbb{R}$ etc.) and use the isomorphisms between Clifford algebras of different signatures ($\mathcal{Cl}(p+1,q+1) \cong \mathcal{Cl}(p,q) \otimes \mathcal{Cl}(1,1)$ etc.) to bootstrap the equivalent matrix algebra isomorphisms of Clifford algebras (and similarly for their even subalgebras) of arbitrary signature and from there one can see when real forms exist.

Is there an elegant proof of the existence of Majorana spinors?

No. Because they don't exist. The neutrino is not a Majorana spinor. It's a Weyl spinor. See Dirac, Majorana and Weyl fermions by Palash Pal. He said “the neutrinos had to be uncharged because of conservation of electric charge, and they seemed to have vanishing mass from the analysis of beta decay data. It was therefore conjectured that the neutrinos are massless. Naturally, it was assumed that the neutrinos are therefore Weyl fermions”. There is no evidence that neutrinos travel at anything other than c. Ergo the scientific evidence says they're massless. A missing-neutrino neutrino-oscillation hypothesis featuring mass eigenstates should not distract you from this.

Almost all standard sources on the existence of Majorana spinors (e.g. Appendix B.1 to Polchinski's "String Theory", Vol. 2) do so in a way I consider inherently ugly.

This is online here. IMHO what's more important than ugliness or elegance or mathematical proof, is scientific evidence.

...That Majorana spinors exist means abstractly that there is a real form on $V$, i.e. a conjugate-linear map $\phi : V\to V$ with $\phi^2 = \mathrm{id}_V$ that commutes at least with the $\mathfrak{so}(p,q)$ action.

All well and good. But never forget the distinction between mathematical abstraction and real things. Do not elevate the former above the latter.

Every single source I can find for Majorana spinors uses operations like the transpose, complex conjugation and Hermitian adjoint on the $\Gamma$-matrices to obtain matrices acting on the same space. This is abstractly wrong, the transpose acts on the dual, the complex conjugation on the conjugate, and the Hermitian adjoint needs an inner product we have no reason for choosing. Of course, since $V$ is finite-dimensional, one can pick a basis and define the uncanonical isomorphisms to its dual and its conjugate, but I find this inelegant

So much is. I find the mathematical description of the electron to be "inelegant". And the qualitative description too. Ditto for the photon and the neutrino.

It's inelegant because the rest of the theory of spinors can be developed without making such uncanonical choices. Both the uniqueness of the dimension of the irreducible Dirac representations (there are two of them in odd dimensions) and the existence of the Weyl spinors in even dimensions can be derived purely from the abstract properties of the Clifford algebra, no choices made, no transpose, adjoint or conjugate occurring.

Because Clifford knew what he was dealing with. See his 1870 space theory of matter on Wikipedia:

"I hold in fact: (1) That small portions of space are in fact of a nature analogous to little hills on a surface which is on the average flat; namely, that the ordinary laws of geometry are not valid in them. (2) That this property of being curved or distorted is continually being passed on from one portion of space to another after the manner of a wave. (3) That this variation of the curvature of space is what really happens in that phenomenon which we call the motion of matter, whether ponderable or etherial. (4) That in the physical world nothing else takes place but this variation, subject (possibly) to the law of continuity”.

Nothing else take place. Space waves.

The (admittedly slightly subjective question) is: Is there a way to show in which dimensions Majorana spinors exist that neither requires an uncanonical choice of basis nor arbitrary choices of signs?

No. We have no evidence that those extra dimensions exist. Ditto for the Majorana spinors. And I'm afraid you can't "show" that they exist using mathematics. You have to use physics for that.

...Consider the confusing and contradictory claims in the literature...

They're just claims. Don't forget that there's no actual supporting evidence for string theory, even though it's been around for fifty years. See this article giving some history. It says "String theory was discovered in the 1960's by theorists working to understand the plethora of hadronic and mesonic particles which had been found around that time". They didn't really discover it, not like experimentalists discovered the electron and the proton and the neutron and the neutrino and other particles. I would venture to suggest that they didn't get to understand the plethora of hadronic and mesonic particles either. I would also venture to suggest that Polchinkski doesn't understand what a fermion such as an electron really is. What Fecko said sounded reasonable enough. I can't say it's all right, but it's a straight maths book. He's not selling you anything, it looks OK: As for Figueroa-O'Farrill, he starts by saying "These notes arose as an attempt to conceptualise the 'symplectic Majorana-Weyl condition' in 5+1 dimensions". As far as we know we live in a world of 3+1 dimensions. We have no evidence for any other dimensions.