Category of Super Vector Spaces Becomes a Tensor Category


The theory of manifolds and algebraic geometry are ultimately based on linear algebra. Similarly the theory of supermanifolds needs super linear algebra, which is linear algebra in which vector spaces are replaced by vector spaces with a Z/2Z-grading, namely, super vector spaces.

A super vector space is a Z/2Z-graded vector space

V = V0 ⊕ V1

where the elements of Vare called even and that of Vodd.

The parity of v ∈ V , denoted by p(v) or |v|, is defined only on non-zero homogeneous elements, that is elements of either V0 or V1:

p(v) = |v| = 0 if v ∈ V0

= 1 if v ∈ V1

The superdimension of a super vector space V is the pair (p, q) where dim(V0) = p and dim(V1) = q as ordinary vector spaces. We simply write dim(V) = p|q.

If dim(V) = p|q, then we can find a basis {e1,…., ep} of V0 and a basis {ε1,….., εq} of V1 so that V is canonically isomorphic to the free k-module generated by {e1,…., ep, ε1,….., εq}. We denote this k-module by kp|q and we will call {e1,…., ep, ε1,….., εq} the canonical basis of kp|q. The (ei) form a basis of kp = k0p|q and the (εj) form a basis for kq = k1p|q.

A morphism from a super vector space V to a super vector space W is a linear map from V to W preserving the Z/2Z-grading. Let Hom(V, W) denote the vector space of morphisms V → W. Thus we have formed the category of super vector spaces that we denote by (smod). It is important to note that the category of super vector spaces also admits an “inner Hom”, which we denote by Hom(V, W); for super vector spaces V, W, Hom(V, W) consists of all linear maps from V to W ; it is made into a super vector space itself by:

Hom(V, W)0 = {T : V → W|T preserves parity}  (= Hom(V, W))

Hom(V, W)1 = {T : V → W|T reverses parity}

If V = km|n, W = kp|q we have in the canonical basis (ei, εj):

Hom(V, W)0 = (A 0 0 D) and Hom(V, W)1 = (0 B C 0)

where A, B, C , D are respectively (p x m), (p x n), (q x m), (q x n) – matrices with entries in k.

In the category of super vector spaces we have the parity reversing functor ∏(V → ∏V) defined by

(∏V)0 = V1, (∏V)1 = V0

The category of super vector spaces admits tensor products: for super vector spaces V, W, V ⊗ W is given the Z/2Z-grading as

(V ⊗ W)0 = (V0 ⊗ W0) ⊕ (V1 ⊗ W1),

(V ⊗ W)1 = (V0 ⊗ W1) ⊕ (V1 ⊗ W0)

The assignment V, W ↦ V ⊗ W is additive and exact in each variable as in the ordinary vector space category. The object k functions as a unit element with respect to tensor multiplication ⊗ and tensor multiplication is associative, i.e., the two products U ⊗ (V ⊗ W) and (U ⊗ V) ⊗ W are naturally isomorphic. Moreover, V ⊗ W ≅ W ⊗ V by the commutative map,

cV,W : V ⊗ W → W ⊗ V


v ⊗ w ↦ (-1)|v||w|w ⊗ v

If we are working with the category of vector spaces, the commutativity isomorphism takes v ⊗ w to w ⊗ v. In super linear algebra we have to add the sign factor in front. This is a special case of the general principle called the “sign rule”. The principle says that in making definitions and proving theorems, the transition from the usual theory to the super theory is often made by just simply following this principle, which introduces a sign factor whenever one reverses the order of two odd elements. The functoriality underlying the constructions makes sure that the definitions are all consistent.

The commutativity isomorphism satisfies the so-called hexagon diagram:


where, if we had not suppressed the arrows of the associativity morphisms, the diagram would have the shape of a hexagon.

The definition of the commutativity isomorphism, also informally referred to as the sign rule, has the following very important consequence. If V1, …, Vn are the super vector spaces and σ and τ are two permutations of n-elements, no matter how we compose associativity and commutativity morphisms, we always obtain the same isomorphism from Vσ(1) ⊗ … ⊗ Vσ(n) to Vτ(1) ⊗ … ⊗ Vτ(n) namely:

Vσ(1) ⊗ … ⊗ Vσ(n) → Vτ(1) ⊗ … ⊗ Vτ(n)

vσ(1) ⊗ … ⊗ vσ(n) ↦ (-1)N vτ(1) ⊗ … ⊗ vτ(n)

where N is the number of pair of indices i, j such that vi and vj are odd and σ-1(i) < σ-1(j) with τ-1(i) > τ-1(j).

The dual V* of V is defined as

V* := Hom (V, k)

If V is even, V = V0, V* is the ordinary dual of V consisting of all even morphisms V → k. If V is odd, V = V1, then V* is also an odd vector space and consists of all odd morphisms V1 → k. This is because any morphism from V1 to k = k1|0 is necessarily odd and sends odd vectors into even ones. The category of super vector spaces thus becomes what is known as a tensor category with inner Hom and dual.



Many important spaces in topology and algebraic geometry have no odd-dimensional homology. For such spaces, functorial spatial homology truncation simplifies considerably. On the theory side, the simplification arises as follows: To define general spatial homology truncation, we used intermediate auxiliary structures, the n-truncation structures. For spaces that lack odd-dimensional homology, these structures can be replaced by a much simpler structure. Again every such space can be embedded in such a structure, which is the analogon of the general theory. On the application side, the crucial simplification is that the truncation functor t<n will not require that in truncating a given continuous map, the map preserve additional structure on the domain and codomain of the map. In general, t<n is defined on the category CWn⊃∂, meaning that a map must preserve chosen subgroups “Y ”. Such a condition is generally necessary on maps, for otherwise no truncation exists. So arbitrary continuous maps between spaces with trivial odd-dimensional homology can be functorially truncated. In particular the compression rigidity obstructions arising in the general theory will not arise for maps between such spaces.

Let ICW be the full subcategory of CW whose objects are simply connected CW-complexes K with finitely generated even-dimensional homology and vanishing odd-dimensional homology for any coefficient group. We call ICW the interleaf category.

For example, the space K = S22 e3 is simply connected and has vanishing integral homology in odd dimensions. However, H3(K;Z/2) = Z/2 ≠ 0.

Let X be a space whose odd-dimensional homology vanishes for any coefficient group. Then the even-dimensional integral homology of X is torsion-free.

Taking the coefficient group Q/Z, we have

Tor(H2k(X),Q/Z) = H2k+1(X) ⊗ Q/Z ⊕ Tor(H2k(X),Q/Z) = H2k+1(X;Q/Z) = 0.

Thus H2k(X) is torsion-free, since the group Tor(H2k(X),Q/Z) is isomorphic to the torsion subgroup of H2k(X).

Any simply connected closed 4-manifold is in ICW. Indeed, such a manifold is homotopy equivalent to a CW-complex of the form


where the homotopy class of the attaching map ƒ : S3 → Vi=1k Si2 may be viewed as a symmetric k × k matrix with integer entries, as π3(Vi=1kSi2) ≅ M(k), with M(k) the additive group of such matrices.

Any simply connected closed 6-manifold with vanishing integral middle homology group is in ICW. If G is any coefficient group, then H1(M;G) ≅ H1(M) ⊗ G ⊕ Tor(H0M,G) = 0, since H0(M) = Z. By Poincaré duality,

0 = H3(M) ≅ H3(M) ≅ Hom(H3M,Z) ⊕ Ext(H2M,Z),

so that H2(M) is free. This implies that Tor(H2M,G) = 0 and hence H3(M;G) ≅ H3(M) ⊗ G ⊕ Tor(H2M,G) = 0. Finally, by G-coefficient Poincaré duality,

H5(M;G) ≅ H1(M;G) ≅ Hom(H1M,G) ⊕ Ext(H0M,G) = Ext(Z,G) = 0

Any smooth, compact toric variety X is in ICW: Danilov’s Theorem implies that H(X;Z) is torsion-free and the map A(X) → H(X;Z) given by composing the canonical map from Chow groups to homology, Ak(X) = An−k(X) → H2n−2k(X;Z), where n is the complex dimension of X, with Poincaré duality H2n−2k(X;Z) ≅ H2k(X;Z), is an isomorphism. Since the odd-dimensional cohomology of X is not in the image of this map, this asserts in particular that Hodd(X;Z) = 0. By Poincaré duality, Heven(X;Z) is free and Hodd(X;Z) = 0. These two statements allow us to deduce from the universal coefficient theorem that Hodd(X;G) = 0 for any coefficient group G. If we only wanted to establish Hodd(X;Z) = 0, then it would of course have been enough to know that the canonical, degree-doubling map A(X) → H(X;Z) is onto. One may then immediately reduce to the case of projective toric varieties because every complete fan Δ has a projective subdivision Δ, the corresponding proper birational morphism X(Δ) → X(Δ) induces a surjection H(X(Δ);Z) → H(X(Δ);Z) and the diagram



Let G be a complex, simply connected, semisimple Lie group and P ⊂ G a connected parabolic subgroup. Then the homogeneous space G/P is in ICW. It is simply connected, since the fibration P → G → G/P induces an exact sequence

1 = π1(G) → π1(G/P) → π0(P) → π0(G) = 0,

which shows that π1(G/P) → π0(P) is a bijection. Accordingly, ∃ elements sw(P) ∈ H2l(w)(G/P;Z) (“Schubert classes,” given geometrically by Schubert cells), indexed by w ranging over a certain subset of the Weyl group of G, that form a basis for H(G/P;Z). (For w in the Weyl group, l(w) denotes the length of w when written as a reduced word in certain specified generators of the Weyl group.) In particular Heven(G/P;Z) is free and Hodd(G/P;Z) = 0. Thus Hodd(G/P;G) = 0 for any coefficient group G.

The linear groups SL(n, C), n ≥ 2, and the subgroups S p(2n, C) ⊂ SL(2n, C) of transformations preserving the alternating bilinear form

x1yn+1 +···+ xny2n −xn+1y1 −···−x2nyn

on C2n × C2n are examples of complex, simply connected, semisimple Lie groups. A parabolic subgroup is a closed subgroup that contains a Borel group B. For G = SL(n,C), B is the group of all upper-triangular matrices in SL(n,C). In this case, G/B is the complete flag manifold

G/B = {0 ⊂ V1 ⊂···⊂ Vn−1 ⊂ Cn}

of flags of subspaces Vi with dimVi = i. For G = Sp(2n,C), the Borel subgroups B are the subgroups preserving a half-flag of isotropic subspaces and the quotient G/B is the variety of all such flags. Any parabolic subgroup P may be described as the subgroup that preserves some partial flag. Thus (partial) flag manifolds are in ICW. A special case is that of a maximal parabolic subgroup, preserving a single subspace V. The corresponding quotient SL(n, C)/P is a Grassmannian G(k, n) of k-dimensional subspaces of Cn. For G = Sp(2n,C), one obtains Lagrangian Grassmannians of isotropic k-dimensional subspaces, 1 ≤ k ≤ n. So Grassmannians are objects in ICW. The interleaf category is closed under forming fibrations.



During his attempt to axiomatize the category of all categories, Lawvere says

Our intuition tells us that whenever two categories exist in our world, then so does the corresponding category of all natural transformations between the functors from the first category to the second (The Category of Categories as a Foundation).

However, if one tries to reduce categorial constructions to set theory, one faces some serious problems in the case of a category of functors. Lawvere (who, according to his aim of axiomatization, is not concerned by such a reduction) relies here on “intuition” to stress that those working with categorial concepts despite these problems have the feeling that the envisaged construction is clear, meaningful and legitimate. Not the reducibility to set theory, but an “intuition” to be specified answers for clarity, meaningfulness and legitimacy of a construction emerging in a mathematical working situation. In particular, Lawvere relies on a collective intuition, a common sense – for he explicitly says “our intuition”. Further, one obviously has to deal here with common sense on a technical level, for the “we” can only extend to a community used to the work with the concepts concerned.

In the tradition of philosophy, “intuition” means immediate, i.e., not conceptually mediated cognition. The use of the term in the context of validity (immediate insight in the truth of a proposition) is to be thoroughly distinguished from its use in the sensual context (the German Anschauung). Now, language is a manner of representation, too, but contrary to language, in the context of images the concept of validity is meaningless.

Obviously, the aspect of cognition guiding is touched on here. Especially the sensual intuition can take the guiding (or heuristic) function. There have been many working situations in history of mathematics in which making the objects of investigation accessible to a sensual intuition (by providing a Veranschaulichung) yielded considerable progress in the development of the knowledge concerning these objects. As an example, take the following account by Emil Artin of Emmy Noether’s contribution to the theory of algebras:

Emmy Noether introduced the concept of representation space – a vector space upon which the elements of the algebra operate as linear transformations, the composition of the linear transformation reflecting the multiplication in the algebra. By doing so she enables us to use our geometric intuition.

Similarly, Fréchet thinks to have really “powered” research in the theory of functions and functionals by the introduction of a “geometrical” terminology:

One can [ …] consider the numbers of the sequence [of coefficients of a Taylor series] as coordinates of a point in a space [ …] of infinitely many dimensions. There are several advantages to proceeding thus, for instance the advantage which is always present when geometrical language is employed, since this language is so appropriate to intuition due to the analogies it gives birth to.

Mathematical terminology often stems from a current language usage whose (intuitive, sensual) connotation is welcomed and serves to give the user an “intuition” of what is intended. While Category Theory is often classified as a highly abstract matter quite remote from intuition, in reality it yields, together with its applications, a multitude of examples for the role of current language in mathematical conceptualization.

This notwithstanding, there is naturally also a tendency in contemporary mathematics to eliminate as much as possible commitments to (sensual) intuition in the erection of a theory. It seems that algebraic geometry fulfills only in the language of schemes that essential requirement of all contemporary mathematics: to state its definitions and theorems in their natural abstract and formal setting in which they can be considered independent of geometric intuition (Mumford D., Fogarty J. Geometric Invariant Theory).

In the pragmatist approach, intuition is seen as a relation. This means: one uses a piece of language in an intuitive manner (or not); intuitive use depends on the situation of utterance, and it can be learned and transformed. The reason for this relational point of view, consists in the pragmatist conviction that each cognition of an object depends on the means of cognition employed – this means that for pragmatism there is no intuitive (in the sense of “immediate”) cognition; the term “intuitive” has to be given a new meaning.

What does it mean to use something intuitively? Heinzmann makes the following proposal: one uses language intuitively if one does not even have the idea to question validity. Hence, the term intuition in the Heinzmannian reading of pragmatism takes a different meaning, no longer signifies an immediate grasp. However, it is yet to be explained what it means for objects in general (and not only for propositions) to “question the validity of a use”. One uses an object intuitively, if one is not concerned with how the rules of constitution of the object have been arrived at, if one does not focus the materialization of these rules but only the benefits of an application of the object in the present context. “In principle”, the cognition of an object is determined by another cognition, and this determination finds its expression in the “rules of constitution”; one uses it intuitively (one does not bother about the being determined of its cognition), if one does not question the rules of constitution (does not focus the cognition which determines it). This is precisely what one does when using an object as a tool – because in doing so, one does not (yet) ask which cognition determines the object. When something is used as a tool, this constitutes an intuitive use, whereas the use of something as an object does not (this defines tool and object). Here, each concept in principle can play both roles; among two concepts, one may happen to be used intuitively before and the other after the progress of insight. Note that with respect to a given cognition, Peirce when saying “the cognition which determines it” always thinks of a previous cognition because he thinks of a determination of a cognition in our thought by previous thoughts. In conceptual history of mathematics, however, one most often introduced an object first as a tool and only after having done so did it come to one’s mind to ask for “the cognition which determines the cognition of this object” (that means, to ask how the use of this object can be legitimized).

The idea that it could depend on the situation whether validity is questioned or not has formerly been overlooked, perhaps because one always looked for a reductionist epistemology where the capacity called intuition is used exclusively at the last level of regression; in a pragmatist epistemology, to the contrary, intuition is used at every level in form of the not thematized tools. In classical systems, intuition was not simply conceived as a capacity; it was actually conceived as a capacity common to all human beings. “But the power of intuitively distinguishing intuitions from other cognitions has not prevented men from disputing very warmly as to which cognitions are intuitive”. Moreover, Peirce criticises strongly cartesian individualism (which has it that the individual has the capacity to find the truth). We could sum up this philosophy thus: we cannot reach definite truth, only provisional; significant progress is not made individually but only collectively; one cannot pretend that the history of thought did not take place and start from scratch, but every cognition is determined by a previous cognition (maybe by other individuals); one cannot uncover the ultimate foundation of our cognitions; rather, the fact that we sometimes reach a new level of insight, “deeper” than those thought of as fundamental before, merely indicates that there is no “deepest” level. The feeling that something is “intuitive” indicates a prejudice which can be philosophically criticised (even if this does not occur to us at the beginning).

In our approach, intuitive use is collectively determined: it depends on the particular usage of the community of users whether validity criteria are or are not questioned in a given situation of language use. However, it is acknowledged that for example scientific communities develop usages making them communities of language users on their own. Hence, situations of language use are not only partitioned into those where it comes to the users’ mind to question validity criteria and those where it does not, but moreover this partition is specific to a particular community (actually, the community of language users is established partly through a peculiar partition; this is a definition of the term “community of language users”). The existence of different communities with different common senses can lead to the following situation: something is used intuitively by one group, not intuitively by another. In this case, discussions inside the discipline occur; one has to cope with competing common senses (which are therefore not really “common”). This constitutes a task for the historian.

Badiou Contra Grothendieck Functorally. Note Quote.

What makes categories historically remarkable and, in particular, what demonstrates that the categorical change is genuine? On the one hand, Badiou fails to show that category theory is not genuine. But, on the other, it is another thing to say that mathematics itself does change, and that the ‘Platonic’ a priori in Badiou’s endeavour is insufficient, which could be demonstrated empirically.

Yet the empirical does not need to stand only in a way opposed to mathematics. Rather, it relates to results that stemmed from and would have been impossible to comprehend without the use of categories. It is only through experience that we are taught the meaning and use of categories. An experience obviously absent from Badiou’s habituation in mathematics.

To contrast, Grothendieck opened up a new regime of algebraic geometry by generalising the notion of a space first scheme-theoretically (with sheaves) and then in terms of groupoids and higher categories. Topos theory became synonymous to the study of categories that would satisfy the so called Giraud’s axioms based on Grothendieck’s geometric machinery. By utilising such tools, Pierre Deligne was able to prove the so called Weil conjectures, mod-p analogues of the famous Riemann hypothesis.

These conjectures – anticipated already by Gauss – concern the so called local ζ-functions that derive from counting the number of points of an algebraic variety over a finite field, an algebraic structure similar to that of for example rational Q or real numbers R but with only a finite number of elements. By representing algebraic varieties in polynomial terms, it is possible to analyse geometric structures analogous to Riemann hypothesis but over finite fields Z/pZ (the whole numbers modulo p). Such ‘discrete’ varieties had previously been excluded from topological and geometric inquiry, while it now occurred that geometry was no longer overshadowed by a need to decide between ‘discrete’ and ‘continuous’ modalities of the subject (that Badiou still separates).

Along with the continuous ones, also discrete variates could then be studied based on Betti numbers, and similarly as what Cohen’s argument made manifest in set-theory, there seemed to occur ‘deeper’, topological precursors that had remained invisible under the classical formalism. In particular, the so called étale-cohomology allowed topological concepts (e.g., neighbourhood) to be studied in the context of algebraic geometry whose classical, Zariski-description was too rigid to allow a meaningful interpretation. Introducing such concepts on the basis of Jean-Pierre Serre’s suggestion, Alexander Grothendieck did revolutionarize the field of geometry, and Pierre Deligne’s proof of the Weil-conjenctures, not to mention Wiles’ work on Fermat’s last theorem that subsequentely followed.

Grothendieck’s crucial insight drew on his observation that if morphisms of varieties were considered by their ‘adjoint’ field of functions, it was possible to consider geometric morphisms as equivalent to algebraic ones. The algebraic category was restrictive, however, because field-morphisms are always monomorphisms which makes geometric morphisms: to generalize the notion of a neighbourhood to algebraic category he needed to embed algebraic fields into a larger category of rings. While a traditional Kuratowski covering space is locally ‘split’ – as mathematicians call it – the same was not true for the dual category of fields. In other words, the category of fields did not have an operator analogous to pull-backs (fibre products) unless considered as being embedded within rings from which pull-backs have a co-dual expressed by the tensor operator ⊗. Grothendieck thus realized he could replace ‘incorporeal’ or contained neighborhoods U ֒→ X by a more relational description: as maps U → X that are not necessarily monic, but which correspond to ring-morphisms instead.

Topos theory applies similar insight but not in the context of only specific varieties but for the entire theory of sets instead. Ultimately, Lawvere and Tierney realized the importance of these ideas to the concept of classification and truth in general. Classification of elements between two sets comes down to a question: does this element belong to a given set or not? In category of S ets this question calls for a binary answer: true or false. But not in a general topos in which the composition of the subobject-classifier is more geometric.

Indeed, Lawvere and Tierney then considered this characteristc map ‘either/or’ as a categorical relationship instead without referring to its ‘contents’. It was the structural form of this morphism (which they called ‘true’) and as contrasted with other relationships that marked the beginning of geometric logic. They thus rephrased the binary complete Heyting algebra of classical truth with the categorical version Ω defined as an object, which satisfies a specific pull-back condition. The crux of topos theory was then the so called Freyd–Mitchell embedding theorem which effectively guaranteed the explicit set of elementary axioms so as to formalize topos theory. The Freyd–Mitchell embedding theorem says that every abelian category is a full subcategory of a category of modules over some ring R and that the embedding is an exact functor. It is easy to see that not every abelian category is equivalent to RMod for some ring R. The reason is that RMod has all small limits and colimits. But for instance the category of finitely generated R-modules is an abelian category but lacks these properties.

But to understand its significance as a link between geometry and language, it is useful to see how the characteristic map (either/or) behaves in set theory. In particular, by expressing truth in this way, it became possible to reduce Axiom of Comprehension, which states that any suitable formal condition λ gives rise to a peculiar set {x ∈ λ}, to a rather elementary statement regarding adjoint functors.

At the same time, many mathematical structures became expressible not only as general topoi but in terms of a more specific class of Grothendieck-topoi. There, too, the ‘way of doing mathematics’ is different in the sense that the object-classifier is categorically defined and there is no empty set (initial object) but mathematics starts from the terminal object 1 instead. However, there is a material way to express the ‘difference’ such topoi make in terms of set theory: for every such a topos there is a sheaf-form enabling it to be expressed as a category of sheaves S etsC for a category C with a specific Grothendieck-topology.