Philosophical Equivariance – Sewing Holonomies Towards Equal Trace Endomorphisms.

In d-dimensional topological field theory one begins with a category S whose objects are oriented (d − 1)-manifolds and whose morphisms are oriented cobordisms. Physicists say that a theory admits a group G as a global symmetry group if G acts on the vector space associated to each (d−1)-manifold, and the linear operator associated to each cobordism is a G-equivariant map. When we have such a “global” symmetry group G we can ask whether the symmetry can be “gauged”, i.e., whether elements of G can be applied “independently” – in some sense – at each point of space-time. Mathematically the process of “gauging” has a very elegant description: it amounts to extending the field theory functor from the category S to the category SG whose objects are (d − 1)-manifolds equipped with a principal G-bundle, and whose morphisms are cobordisms with a G-bundle. We regard S as a subcategory of SG by equipping each (d − 1)-manifold S with the trivial G-bundle S × G. In SG the group of automorphisms of the trivial bundle S × G contains G, and so in a gauged theory G acts on the state space H(S): this should be the original “global” action of G. But the gauged theory has a state space H(S,P) for each G-bundle P on S: if P is non-trivial one calls H(S,P) a “twisted sector” of the theory. In the case d = 2, when S = S1 we have the bundle Pg → S1 obtained by attaching the ends of [0,2π] × G via multiplication by g. Any bundle is isomorphic to one of these, and Pg is isomorphic to Pg iff g′ is conjugate to g. But note that the state space depends on the bundle and not just its isomorphism class, so we have a twisted sector state space Cg = H(S,Pg) labelled by a group element g rather than by a conjugacy class.

We shall call a theory defined on the category SG a G-equivariant Topological Field Theory (TFT). It is important to distinguish the equivariant theory from the corresponding “gauged theory”. In physics, the equivariant theory is obtained by coupling to nondynamical background gauge fields, while the gauged theory is obtained by “summing” over those gauge fields in the path integral.

An alternative and equivalent viewpoint which is especially useful in the two-dimensional case is that SG is the category whose objects are oriented (d − 1)-manifolds S equipped with a map p : S → BG, where BG is the classifying space of G. In this viewpoint we have a bundle over the space Map(S,BG) whose fibre at p is Hp. To say that Hp depends only on the G-bundle pEG on S pulled back from the universal G-bundle EG on BG by p is the same as to say that the bundle on Map(S,BG) is equipped with a flat connection allowing us to identify the fibres at points in the same connected component by parallel transport; for the set of bundle isomorphisms p0EG → p1EG is the same as the set of homotopy classes of paths from p0 to p1. When S = S1 the connected components of the space of maps correspond to the conjugacy classes in G: each bundle Pg corresponds to a specific point pg in the mapping space, and a group element h defines a specific path from pg to phgh−1 .

G-equivariant topological field theories are examples of “homotopy topological field theories”. Using Vladimir Turaev‘s two main results: first, an attractive generalization of the theorem that a two-dimensional TFT “is” a commutative Frobenius algebra, and, secondly, a classification of the ways of gauging a given global G-symmetry of a semisimple TFT.


Definition of the product in the G-equivariant closed theory. The heavy dot is the basepoint on S1. To specify the morphism unambiguously we must indicate consistent holonomies along a set of curves whose complement consists of simply connected pieces. These holonomies are always along paths between points where by definition the fibre is G. This means that the product is not commutative. We need to fix a convention for holonomies of a composition of curves, i.e., whether we are using left or right path-ordering. We will take h(γ1 ◦ γ2) = h(γ1) · h(γ2).

A G-equivariant TFT gives us for each element g ∈ G a vector space Cg, associated to the circle equipped with the bundle pg whose holonomy is g. The usual pair-of-pants cobordism, equipped with the evident G-bundle which restricts to pg1 and pg2 on the two incoming circles, and to pg1g2 on the outgoing circle, induces a product

Cg1 ⊗ Cg2 → Cg1g2 —– (1)


making C := ⊕g∈GCg into a G-graded algebra. Also there is a trace θ: C1  → C defined by the disk diagram with one ingoing circle. The holonomy around the boundary of the disk must be 1. Making the standard assumption that the cylinder corresponds to the unit operator we obtain a non-degenerate pairing

Cg ⊗ Cg−1 → C

A new element in the equivariant theory is that G acts as an automorphism group on C. That is, there is a homomorphism α : G → Aut(C) such that

αh : Cg → Chgh−1 —– (2)

Diagramatically, αh is defined by the surface in the immediately above figure. Now let us note some properties of α. First, if φ ∈ Ch then αh(φ) = φ. The reason for this is diagrammatically in the below figure.


If the holonomy along path P2 is h then the holonomy along path P1 is 1. However, a Dehn twist around the inner circle maps P1 into P2. Therefore, αh(φ) = α1(φ) = φ, if φ ∈ Ch.

Next, while C is not commutative, it is “twisted-commutative” in the following sense. If φ1 ∈ Cg1 and φ2 ∈ Cg2 then

αg212 = φ2φ1 —– (3)

The necessity of this condition is illustrated in the figure below.


The trace of the identity map of Cg is the partition function of the theory on a torus with the bundle with holonomy (g,1). Cutting the torus the other way, we see that this is the trace of αg on C1. Similarly, by considering the torus with a bundle with holonomy (g,h), where g and h are two commuting elements of G, we see that the trace of αg on Ch is the trace of αh on Cg−1. But we need a strengthening of this property. Even when g and h do not commute we can form a bundle with holonomy (g,h) on a torus with one hole, around which the holonomy will be c = hgh−1g−1. We can cut this torus along either of its generating circles to get a cobordism operator from Cc ⊗ Ch to Ch or from Cg−1 ⊗ Cc to Cg−1. If ψ ∈ Chgh−1g−1. Let us introduce two linear transformations Lψ, Rψ associated to left- and right-multiplication by ψ. On the one hand, Lψαg : φ􏰀 ↦ ψαg(φ) is a map Ch → Ch. On the other hand Rψαh : φ ↦ αh(φ)ψ is a map Cg−1 → Cg−1. The last sewing condition states that these two endomorphisms must have equal traces:

TrCh 􏰌Lψαg􏰍 = TrCg−1 􏰌Rψαh􏰍 —– (4)



(4) was taken by Turaev as one of his axioms. It can, however, be reexpressed in a way that we shall find more convenient. Let ∆g ∈ Cg ⊗ Cg−1 be the “duality” element corresponding to the identity cobordism of (S1,Pg) with both ends regarded as outgoing. We have ∆g = ∑ξi ⊗ ξi, where ξi and ξi ru􏰟n through dual bases of Cg and Cg−1. Let us also write

h = ∑ηi ⊗ ηi ∈ Ch ⊗ Ch−1. Then (4) is easily seen to be equivalent to

∑αhii = 􏰟 ∑ηiαgi) —– (5)

in which both sides are elements of Chgh−1g−1.

Superconformal Spin/Field Theories: When Vector Spaces have same Dimensions: Part 1, Note Quote.


A spin structure on a surface means a double covering of its space of non-zero tangent vectors which is non-trivial on each individual tangent space. On an oriented 1-dimensional manifold S it means a double covering of the space of positively-oriented tangent vectors. For purposes of gluing, this is the same thing as a spin structure on a ribbon neighbourhood of S in an orientable surface. Each spin structure has an automorphism which interchanges its sheets, and this will induce an involution T on any vector space which is naturally associated to a 1-manifold with spin structure, giving the vector space a mod 2 grading by its ±1-eigenspaces. A topological-spin theory is a functor from the cobordism category of manifolds with spin structures to the category of super vector spaces with its graded tensor structure. The functor is required to take disjoint unions to super tensor products, and additionally it is required that the automorphism of the spin structure of a 1-manifold induces the grading automorphism T = (−1)degree of the super vector space. This choice of the supersymmetry of the tensor product rather than the naive symmetry which ignores the grading is forced by the geometry of spin structures if the possibility of a semisimple category of boundary conditions is to be allowed. There are two non-isomorphic circles with spin structure: S1ns, with the Möbius or “Neveu-Schwarz” structure, and S1r, with the trivial or “Ramond” structure. A topological-spin theory gives us state spaces Cns and Cr, corresponding respectively to S1ns and S1r.

There are four cobordisms with spin structures which cover the standard annulus. The double covering can be identified with its incoming end times the interval [0,1], but then one has a binary choice when one identifies the outgoing end of the double covering over the annulus with the chosen structure on the outgoing boundary circle. In other words, alongside the cylinders A+ns,r = S1ns,r × [0,1] which induce the identity maps of Cns,r there are also cylinders Ans,r which connect S1ns,r to itself while interchanging the sheets. These cylinders Ans,r induce the grading automorphism on the state spaces. But because Ans ≅ A+ns by an isomorphism which is the identity on the boundary circles – the Dehn twist which “rotates one end of the cylinder by 2π” – the grading on Cns must be purely even. The space Cr can have both even and odd components. The situation is a little more complicated for “U-shaped” cobordisms, i.e., cylinders with two incoming or two outgoing boundary circles. If the boundaries are S1ns there is only one possibility, but if the boundaries are S1r there are two, corresponding to A±r. The complication is that there seems no special reason to prefer either of the spin structures as “positive”. We shall simply choose one – let us call it P – with incoming boundary S1r ⊔ S1r, and use P to define a pairing Cr ⊗ Cr → C. We then choose a preferred cobordism Q in the other direction so that when we sew its right-hand outgoing S1r to the left-hand incoming one of P the resulting S-bend is the “trivial” cylinder A+r. We shall need to know, however, that the closed torus formed by the composition P ◦ Q has an even spin structure. The Frobenius structure θ on C restricts to 0 on Cr.

There is a unique spin structure on the pair-of-pants cobordism in the figure below, which restricts to S1ns on each boundary circle, and it makes Cns into a commutative Frobenius algebra in the usual way.


If one incoming circle is S1ns and the other is S1r then the outgoing circle is S1r, and there are two possible spin structures, but the one obtained by removing a disc from the cylinder A+r is preferred: it makes Cr into a graded module over Cns. The chosen U-shaped cobordism P, with two incoming circles S1r, can be punctured to give us a pair of pants with an outgoing S1ns, and it induces a graded bilinear map Cr × Cr → Cns which, composing with the trace on Cns, gives a non-degenerate inner product on Cr. At this point the choice of symmetry of the tensor product becomes important. Let us consider the diffeomorphism of the pair of pants which shows us in the usual case that the Frobenius algebra is commutative. When we lift it to the spin structure, this diffeomorphism induces the identity on one incoming circle but reverses the sheets over the other incoming circle, and this proves that the cobordism must have the same output when we change the input from S(φ1 ⊗ φ2) to T(φ1) ⊗ φ2, where T is the grading involution and S : Cr ⊗ Cr → Cr ⊗ Cr is the symmetry of the tensor category. If we take S to be the symmetry of the tensor category of vector spaces which ignores the grading, this shows that the product on the graded vector space Cr is graded-symmetric with the usual sign; but if S is the graded symmetry then we see that the product on Cr is symmetric in the naive sense.

There is an analogue for spin theories of the theorem which tells us that a two-dimensional topological field theory “is” a commutative Frobenius algebra. It asserts that a spin-topological theory “is” a Frobenius algebra C = (Cns ⊕ CrC) with the following property. Let {φk} be a basis for Cns, with dual basis {φk} such that θCkφm) = δmk, and let βk and βk be similar dual bases for Cr. Then the Euler elements χns := ∑ φkφk and χr = ∑ βkβk are independent of the choices of bases, and the condition we need on the algebra C is that χns = χr. In particular, this condition implies that the vector spaces Cns and Cr have the same dimension. In fact, the Euler elements can be obtained from cutting a hole out of the torus. There are actually four spin structures on the torus. The output state is necessarily in Cns. The Euler elements for the three even spin structures are equal to χe = χns = χr. The Euler element χo corresponding to the odd spin structure, on the other hand, is given by χo = ∑(−1)degβkβkβk.

A spin theory is very similar to a Z/2-equivariant theory, which is the structure obtained when the surfaces are equipped with principal Z/2-bundles (i.e., double coverings) rather than spin structures.

It seems reasonable to call a spin theory semisimple if the algebra Cns is semisimple, i.e., is the algebra of functions on a finite set X. Then Cr is the space of sections of a vector bundle E on X, and it follows from the condition χns = χr that the fibre at each point must have dimension 1. Thus the whole structure is determined by the Frobenius algebra Cns together with a binary choice at each point x ∈ X of the grading of the fibre Ex of the line bundle E at x.

We can now see that if we had not used the graded symmetry in defining the tensor category we should have forced the grading of Cr to be purely even. For on the odd part the inner product would have had to be skew, and that is impossible on a 1-dimensional space. And if both Cns and Cr are purely even then the theory is in fact completely independent of the spin structures on the surfaces.

A concrete example of a two-dimensional topological-spin theory is given by C = C ⊕ Cη where η2 = 1 and η is odd. The Euler elements are χe = 1 and χo = −1. It follows that the partition function of a closed surface with spin structure is ±1 according as the spin structure is even or odd.

The most common theories defined on surfaces with spin structure are not topological: they are 2-dimensional conformal field theories with N = 1 supersymmetry. It should be noticed that if the theory is not topological then one does not expect the grading on Cns to be purely even: states can change sign on rotation by 2π. If a surface Σ has a conformal structure then a double covering of the non-zero tangent vectors is the complement of the zero-section in a two-dimensional real vector bundle L on Σ which is called the spin bundle. The covering map then extends to a symmetric pairing of vector bundles L ⊗ L → TΣ which, if we regard L and TΣ as complex line bundles in the natural way, induces an isomorphism L ⊗C L ≅ TΣ. An N = 1 superconformal field theory is a conformal-spin theory which assigns a vector space HS,L to the 1-manifold S with the spin bundle L, and is equipped with an additional map

Γ(S,L) ⊗ HS,L → HS,L

(σ,ψ) ↦ Gσψ,

where Γ(S,L) is the space of smooth sections of L, such that Gσ is real-linear in the section σ, and satisfies G2σ = Dσ2, where Dσ2 is the Virasoro action of the vector field σ2 related to σ ⊗ σ by the isomorphism L ⊗C L ≅ TΣ. Furthermore, when we have a cobordism (Σ,L) from (S0,L0) to (S1,L1) and a holomorphic section σ of L which restricts to σi on Si we have the intertwining property

Gσ1 ◦ UΣ,L = UΣ,L ◦ Gσ0