I am studying the basics of differential geometry and I am focusing on distrributions.

Studying from the notes of my professor, I have found that the concept of distribution and its integration is linked to the concept of level functions.

So, suppose we have a smooth function $\lambda : \mathbb{R}^{n}\rightarrow \mathbb{R}$. If we have this, we have that exist a set of points that satisfy:

$I_c = \left \{ x\in {\mathbb{R}^{n}} : \lambda (x)=c \right \} $

with $c\in Im(\lambda )$

this define level functions, of dimension $(n-1)$, but why it defines thes level functions? And why of dimension $n-1$?

And , are these foliations?

If I keep studying, I find an example, in which are considered two independent functions $\lambda _1$ and $\lambda _2$, so:

$rank\begin{pmatrix} \frac{d\lambda _1}{dx}\\ \frac{d\lambda _2}{dx} \end{pmatrix} =2$

and so it defines a foliation of dimension $(n-2)$ .

But why the foliation is of dimension $n-2$ and not of dimension $2$?

It ocntinues sayin that if we are considering a distribution of constant rank $k$ and the distribution $\Delta $ is involutive, then there exist $n-k$ indepedent functions such that:

$\frac{d\lambda _1}{dx}(\tau _1(x)...\tau _k(x))=0$

where $\tau _1(x)...\tau _k(x)$ are vector fields.

If it can help better understand the context, I am studying this in order to study the Frobenius theorem.

I am really confused about the topics of differential geometry, since personally I find them hard to grasp. If something is wrong or unclear please tell me and I will try to correct.

Can somebody please help me?

  • $\begingroup$ To me, $I_c = \{ x | f(x)=c\}$ is alevel set of the function $f$. If $f$ is a submersion (i.e if $\mathrm{d}f$ has maximal rank, which is here $1$) on an open subset containing $I_c$, then $I_c$ is a submanifold of codimension $1$. But neither $I_c$ or $f$ is a level function. $\endgroup$
    – Didier
    Jun 18, 2020 at 13:15

1 Answer 1


Your terminology is a little off, the set $I_c$ is not called a "level function" it is called a "level set" or, as you say in your title, a "level surface". The intuition is that it consists of all points at the same "level", where different values of $c$ define different levels.

In general there's not much you can say about the topology of $I_c$ to justify calling it a level surface. However, if $c$ is a regular value of the function then you can apply the submersion theorem, which is basically a version of the implicit function theorem, to prove that $I_c$ is a submanifold of dimension $n-1$. In this case one might say that $I_c$ is a "level manifold" of the function, in the case $n=3$ it would truly be a "level surface", but even in higher dimensions the terminology is abused and $I_c$ is called a "level surface", or you could simply call it a level hypersurface without any abuse of terminology.

If all values of $c$ are regular values, and if $\lambda$ is surjective, then yes, the set of level manifolds forms a foliation, and it is a foliation of dimension $n-1$, where the dimension refers to the dimensions of the individual leaves of the foliation, i.e. the individual level manifolds.

But if some values of $c$ are not regular values, or if $\lambda$ is not surjective, then generally speaking you cannot call the collection of level sets a "foliation" (except in highly special circumstances).

By the way, there are plenty of good books which cover these topics in detail. I like the first volume of Spivak's "Differential Geometry" for these topics in your post.


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