Is There a Philosophy of Bundles and Fields? Drunken Risibility.

The bundle formulation of field theory is not at all motivated by just seeking a full mathematical generality; on the contrary it is just an empirical consequence of physical situations that concretely happen in Nature. One among the simplest of these situations may be that of a particle constrained to move on a sphere, denoted by S2; the physical state of such a dynamical system is described by providing both the position of the particle and its momentum, which is a tangent vector to the sphere. In other words, the state of this system is described by a point of the so-called tangent bundle TS2 of the sphere, which is non-trivial, i.e. it has a global topology which differs from the (trivial) product topology of S2 x R2. When one seeks for solutions of the relevant equations of motion some local coordinates have to be chosen on the sphere, e.g. stereographic coordinates covering the whole sphere but a point (let us say the north pole). On such a coordinate neighbourhood (which is contractible to a point being a diffeomorphic copy of R2) there exists a trivialization of the corresponding portion of the tangent bundle of the sphere, so that the relevant equations of motion can be locally written in R2 x R2. At the global level, however, together with the equations, one should give some boundary conditions which will ensure regularity in the north pole. As is well known, different inequivalent choices are possible; these boundary conditions may be considered as what is left in the local theory out of the non-triviality of the configuration bundle TS2.

Moreover, much before modem gauge theories or even more complicated new field theories, the theory of General Relativity is the ultimate proof of the need of a bundle framework to describe physical situations. Among other things, in fact, General Relativity assumes that spacetime is not the “simple” Minkowski space introduced for Special Relativity, which has the topology of R4. In general it is a Lorentzian four-dimensional manifold possibly endowed with a complicated global topology. On such a manifold, the choice of a trivial bundle M x F as the configuration bundle for a field theory is mathematically unjustified as well as physically wrong in general. In fact, as long as spacetime is a contractible manifold, as Minkowski space is, all bundles on it are forced to be trivial; however, if spacetime is allowed to be topologically non-trivial, then trivial bundles on it are just a small subclass of all possible bundles among which the configuration bundle can be chosen. Again, given the base M and the fiber F, the non-unique choice of the topology of the configuration bundle corresponds to different global requirements.

A simple purely geometrical example can be considered to sustain this claim. Let us consider M = S1 and F = (-1, 1), an interval of the real line R; then ∃ (at least) countably many “inequivalent” bundles other than the trivial one Mö0 = S1 X F , i.e. the cylinder, as shown


Furthermore the word “inequivalent” can be endowed with different meanings. The bundles shown in the figure are all inequivalent as embedded bundles (i.e. there is no diffeomorphism of the ambient space transforming one into the other) but the even ones (as well as the odd ones) are all equivalent among each other as abstract (i.e. not embedded) bundles (since they have the same transition functions).

The bundles Mön (n being any positive integer) can be obtained from the trivial bundle Mö0 by cutting it along a fiber, twisting n-times and then glueing again together. The bundle Mö1 is called the Moebius band (or strip). All bundles Mön are canonically fibered on S1, but just Mö0 is trivial. Differences among such bundles are global properties, which for example imply that the even ones Mö2k allow never-vanishing sections (i.e. field configurations) while the odd ones Mö2k+1 do not.

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