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.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ At some point, you may want to check out DeWitt's The Global Approach to Quantum Field Theory, chapter 19. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 10:06
  • 15
    $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind You question made me think hard about these issues. My resulting thoughts are too long for a StackEchange answer so I have written them up and uploaded to the arxiv at arxiv.org/abs/2009.00518. Any comments welcome! $\endgroup$
    – mike stone
    Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 12:14
  • $\begingroup$ @mikestone That's...much more effort than I expected anyone to invest, but thank you, I'll definitely read it! If you'd like to post an answer with a high-level summary of your paper and a link to it I think that would be good (and would get you some reputation as opposed to the comment). $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind
    Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind Bits of what are in the paper have appeared as answers by me to other questons on StackExchange already. I'd rather not dupicate. $\endgroup$
    – mike stone
    Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ @AccidentalFourierTransform, what does DeWitt's book help to answer in this case? see also my physics.stackexchange.com/q/636640/42982 ? $\endgroup$ Commented May 16, 2021 at 19:28

1 Answer 1


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.


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