At first glance this action looks well motivated. The Riemann tensor is a fundamental tensor for gravitation, and the scalar quantity can be constructed by just squaring it. Furthermore, it is a theory for which Bianchi identities hold, as the equations of motion have both sides covariantly conserved. However, in the equations of motion, there are terms proportional to together with its symmetric partner (). This forces us to give in general at a particular slice of spacetime, together with the metric elements , their first, second, and third derivatives. Hence the theory has many more degrees of freedom with respect to GR.
In addition to the Kretschmann scalar there is another scalar which is quadratic in the Riemann tensor . One can avoid the appearance of terms proportional to for the scalar quantity,[572, 67]. If one uses this invariant in the action of dimensions, as , as
In order to see the contribution of the GB term to the equations of motion one way is to couple it with a scalar field , i.e., , where is a function of . More explicitly the action of such theories is in general given by[275, 273], due to the presence of dilaton-graviton mixing terms.
There is another class of general GB theories with a self-coupling of the form ,[188, 189]. This theory possesses more degrees of freedom than GR, but the extra information appears only in a scalar quantity and its derivative. Hence it has less degrees of freedom compared to Kretschmann gravity, and in particular these extra degrees of freedom are not tensor-like. This property comes from the fact that the GB term is a Lovelock scalar. Theories with the more general Lagrangian density have been studied by many people in connection to the dark energy problem [142, 110, 521, 420, 585, 64, 166, 543, 180]. These theories are plagued by the appearance of spurious spin-2 ghosts, unless the Gauss–Bonnet (GB) combination is chosen as in the action (12.7) [465, 153, 447] (see also [110, 181, 109]).
Let us go back to discuss the Lovelock scalars. How many are they? The answer is infinite (each of them consists of linear combinations of equal powers of the Riemann tensor). However, because of topological reasons, the only non-zero Lovelock scalars in four dimensions are the Ricci scalar and the GB term . Therefore, for the same reasons as for the GB term, a general function of f (R) will only introduce terms in the equations of motion of the form , where . Once more, the new extra degrees of freedom introduced into the theory comes from a scalar quantity, .
In summary, the Lovelock scalars in the Lagrangian prevent the equations of motion from getting extra tensor degrees of freedom. A more detailed analysis of perturbations on maximally symmetric spacetimes shows that, if non-Lovelock scalars are used in the action, then new extra tensor-like degrees of freedom begin to propagate [572, 67, 302, 465, 153, 303, 99]. Effectively these theories, such as Kretschmann gravity, introduce two gravitons, which have kinetic operators with opposite sign. Hence one of the two gravitons is a ghost. In order to get rid of this ghost we need to use the Lovelock scalars. Therefore, in four dimensions, one can in principle study the following action
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