There is now a different smearing available that does not require a background metric. Instead of using three-dimensional regions we integrate the connection along one-dimensional curves and exponentiate in a path-ordered manner, resulting in holonomies

with tangent vector to the curve and in terms of Pauli matrices. The path ordered exponentiation needs to be done in order to obtain a covariant object from the non-Abelian connection. The prevalence of holonomies or, in their most simple gauge invariant form as Wilson loops for closed , is the origin of loop quantum gravity and its name [175]. Similarly, densitized vector fields can naturally be integrated over 2-dimensional surfaces, resulting in fluxes with the co-normal to the surface.The Poisson algebra of holonomies and fluxes is now well-defined and one can look for representations on a Hilbert space. We also require diffeomorphism invariance, i.e., there must be a unitary action of the diffeomorphism group on the representation by moving edges and surfaces in space. This is required since the diffeomorphism constraint has to be imposed later. Under this condition, there is even a unique representation that defines the kinematical Hilbert space [179, 180, 164, 183, 113, 146].

We can construct the Hilbert space in the representation where states are functionals of connections. This can easily be done by using holonomies as “creation operators” starting with a “ground state” which does not depend on connections at all. Multiplying with holonomies then generates states that do depend on connections, but only along the edges used in the process. These edges can be collected in a graph appearing as a label of the state. An independent set of states is given by spin network states [178] associated with graphs whose edges are labeled by irreducible representations of the gauge group SU(2), in which to evaluate the edge holonomies, and whose vertices are labeled by matrices specifying how holonomies leaving or entering the vertex are multiplied together. The inner product on this state space is such that these states, with an appropriate definition of independent contraction matrices in vertices, are orthonormal.

Spatial geometry can be obtained from fluxes representing the densitized triad. Since these are now momenta, they are represented by derivative operators with respect to values of connections on the flux surface. States as constructed above depend on the connection only along edges of graphs such that the flux operator is non-zero only if there are intersection points between its surface and the graph in the state it acts on [145]. Moreover, the contribution from each intersection point can be seen to be analogous to an angular momentum operator in quantum mechanics which has a discrete spectrum [20]. Thus, when acting on a given state we obtain a finite sum of discrete contributions and thus a discrete spectrum of flux operators. The spectrum depends on the value of the Barbero-Immirzi parameter, which can accordingly be fixed using implications of the spectrum such as black hole entropy, which gives a value of the order of but smaller than one [11, 12, 108, 155]. Moreover, since angular momentum operators do not commute, flux operators do not commute in general [17]. There is thus no triad representation, which is another reason why using a metric formulation and trying to build its quantization with functionals on a metric space is difficult.

There are important basic properties of this representation, which we will use later on. First, as already noted, flux operators have discrete spectra and, secondly, holonomies of connections are well-defined operators. It is, however, not possible to obtain operators for connection components or their integrations directly but only in the exponentiated form. These are direct consequences of the background independent quantization and translate to particular properties of more complicated operators.

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