Grothendieckian Construction of K-Theory with a Bundle that is Topologically Trivial and Class that is Torsion.


All relativistic quantum theories contain “antiparticles,” and allow the process of particle-antiparticle annihilation. This inspires a physical version of the Grothendieck construction of K-theory. Physics uses topological K-theory of manifolds, whose motivation is to organize vector bundles over a space into an algebraic invariant, that turns out to be useful. Algebraic K-theory started from Ki defined for i, with relations to classical constructions in algebra and number theory, followed by Quillen’s homotopy-theoretic definition ∀ i. The connections to algebra and number theory often persist for larger values of i, but in ways that are subtle and conjectural, such as special values of zeta- and L-functions.

One could also use the conserved charges of a configuration which can be measured at asymptotic infinity. By definition, these are left invariant by any physical process. Furthermore, they satisfy quantization conditions, of which the prototype is the Dirac condition on allowed electric and magnetic charges in Maxwell theory.

There is an elementary construction which, given a physical theory T, produces an abelian group of conserved charges K(T). Rather than considering the microscopic dynamics of the theory, all that is needed to be known is a set S of “particles” described by T, and a set of “bound state formation/decay processes” by which the particles combine or split to form other particles. These are called “binding processes.” Two sets of particles are “physically equivalent” if some sequence of binding processes convert the one to the other. We then define the group K(T) as the abelian group ZS of formal linear combinations of particles, quotiented by this equivalence relation.

Suppose T contains the particles S = {A,B,C}.

If these are completely stable, we could clearly define three integral conserved charges, their individual numbers, so K(T) ≅ Z3.

Introducing a binding process

A + B ↔ C —– (1)

with the bidirectional arrow to remind us that the process can go in either direction. Clearly K(T) ≅ Z2 in this case.

One might criticize this proposal on the grounds that we have assumed that configurations with a negative number of particles can exist. However, in all physical theories which satisfy the constraints of special relativity, charged particles in physical theories come with “antiparticles,” with the same mass but opposite charge. A particle and antiparticle can annihilate (combine) into a set of zero charge particles. While first discovered as a prediction of the Dirac equation, this follows from general axioms of quantum field theory, which also hold in string theory.

Thus, there are binding processes

B + B̄ ↔ Z1 + Z2 + · · · .

where B̄ is the antiparticle to a particle B, and Zi are zero charge particles, which must appear by energy conservation. To define the K-theory, we identify any such set of zero charge particles with the identity, so that

B + B̄ ↔ 0

Thus the antiparticles provide the negative elements of K(T).

Granting the existence of antiparticles, this construction of K-theory can be more simply rephrased as the Grothendieck construction. We can define K(T) as the group of pairs (E, F) ∈ (ZS, ZS), subject to the relations (E, F) ≅ (E+B, F +B) ≅ (E+L, F +R) ≅ (E+R, F +L), where (L, R) are the left and right hand side of a binding process (1).

Thinking of these as particles, each brane B must have an antibrane, which we denote by B̄. If B wraps a submanifold L, one expects that B̄ is a brane which wraps a submanifold L of opposite orientation. A potential problem is that it is not a priori obvious that the orientation of L actually matters physically, especially in degenerate cases such as L a point.

Now, let us take X as a Calabi-Yau threefold for definiteness. A physical A-brane, which are branes of the A-model topological string and thereby a TQFT shadow of the D-branes of the superstring, is specified by a pair (L, E) of a special Lagrangian submanifold L with a flat bundle E. The obvious question could be: When are (L1, E1) and (L2, E2) related by a binding process? A simple heuristic answer to this question is given by the Feynman path integral. Two configurations are connected, if they are connected by a continuous path through the configuration space; any such path (or a small deformation of it) will appear in the functional integral with some non-zero weight. Thus, the question is essentially topological. Ignoring the flat bundles for a moment, this tells us that the K-theory group for A-branes is H3(Y, Z), and the class of a brane is simply (rank E)·[L] ∈ H3(Y, Z). This is also clear if the moduli space of flat connections on L is connected.

But suppose it is not, say π1(L) is torsion. In this case, we need deeper physical arguments to decide whether the K-theory of these D-branes is H3(Y, Z), or some larger group. But a natural conjecture is that it will be K1(Y), which classifies bundles on odd-dimensional submanifolds. Two branes which differ only in the choice of flat connection are in fact connected in string theory, consistent with the K-group being H3(Y, Z). For Y a simply connected Calabi-Yau threefold, K1(Y) ≅ H3(Y, Z), so the general conjecture is borne out in this case

There is a natural bilinear form on H3(Y, Z) given by the oriented intersection number

I(L1, L2) = #([L1] ∩ [L2]) —– (2)

It has symmetry (−1)n. In particular, it is symplectic for n = 3. Furthermore, by Poincaré duality, it is unimodular, at least in our topological definition of K-theory.

D-branes, which are extended objects defined by mixed Dirichlet-Neumann boundary conditions in string theory, break half of the supersymmetries of the type II superstring and carry a complete set of electric and magnetic Ramond-Ramond charges. The product of the electric and magnetic charges is a single Dirac unit, and that the quantum of charge takes the value required by string duality. Saying that a D-brane has RR-charge means that it is a source for an “RR potential,” a generalized (p + 1)-form gauge potential in ten-dimensional space-time, which can be verified from its world-volume action that contains a minimal coupling term,

∫C(p + 1) —–(3)

where C(p + 1) denotes the gauge potential, and the integral is taken over the (p+1)-dimensional world-volume of the brane. For p = 0, C(1) is a one-form or “vector” potential (as in Maxwell theory), and thus the D0-brane is an electrically charged particle with respect to this 10d Maxwell theory. Upon further compactification, by which, the ten dimensions are R4 × X, and a Dp-brane which wraps a p-dimensional cycle L; in other words its world-volume is R × L where R is a time-like world-line in R4. Using the Poincaré dual class ωL ∈ H2n−p(X, R) to L in X, to rewrite (3) as an integral

R × X C(p + 1) ∧ ωL —– (4)

We can then do the integral over X to turn this into the integral of a one-form over a world-line in R4, which is the right form for the minimal electric coupling of a particle in four dimensions. Thus, such a wrapped brane carries a particular electric charge which can be detected at asymptotic infinity. Summarizing the RR-charge more formally,

LC = ∫XC ∧ ωL —– (5)

where C ∈ H∗(X, R). In other words, it is a class in Hp(X, R).

In particular, an A-brane (for n = 3) carries a conserved charge in H3(X, R). Of course, this is weaker than [L] ∈ H3(X, Z). To see this physically, we would need to see that some of these “electric” charges are actually “magnetic” charges, and study the Dirac-Schwinger-Zwanziger quantization condition between these charges. This amounts to showing that the angular momentum J of the electromagnetic field satisfies the quantization condition J = ħn/2 for n ∈ Z. Using an expression from electromagnetism, J⃗ = E⃗ × B⃗ , this is precisely the condition that (2) must take an integer value. Thus the physical and mathematical consistency conditions agree. Similar considerations apply for coisotropic A-branes. If X is a genuine Calabi-Yau 3-fold (i.e., with strict SU(3) holonomy), then a coisotropic A-brane which is not a special Lagrangian must be five-dimensional, and the corresponding submanifold L is rationally homologically trivial, since H5(X, Q) = 0. Thus, if the bundle E is topologically trivial, the homology class of L and thus its K-theory class is torsion.

If X is a torus, or a K3 surface, the situation is more complicated. In that case, even rationally the charge of a coisotropic A-brane need not lie in the middle-dimensional cohomology of X. Instead, it takes its value in a certain subspace of ⊕p Hp(X, Q), where the summation is over even or odd p depending on whether the complex dimension of X is even or odd. At the semiclassical level, the subspace is determined by the condition

(L − Λ)α = 0, α ∈ ⊕p Hp(X, Q)

where L and Λ are generators of the Lefschetz SL(2, C) action, i.e., L is the cup product with the cohomology class of the Kähler form, and Λ is its dual.


The Affinity of Mirror Symmetry to Algebraic Geometry: Going Beyond Formalism



Even though formalism of homological mirror symmetry is an established case, what of other explanations of mirror symmetry which lie closer to classical differential and algebraic geometry? One way to tackle this is the so-called Strominger, Yau and Zaslow mirror symmetry or SYZ in short.

The central physical ingredient in this proposal is T-duality. To explain this, let us consider a superconformal sigma model with target space (M, g), and denote it (defined as a geometric functor, or as a set of correlation functions), as

CFT(M, g)

In physics, a duality is an equivalence

CFT(M, g) ≅ CFT(M′, g′)

which holds despite the fact that the underlying geometries (M,g) and (M′, g′) are not classically diffeomorphic.

T-duality is a duality which relates two CFT’s with toroidal target space, M ≅ M′ ≅ Td, but different metrics. In rough terms, the duality relates a “small” target space, with noncontractible cycles of length L < ls, with a “large” target space in which all such cycles have length L > ls.

This sort of relation is generic to dualities and follows from the following logic. If all length scales (lengths of cycles, curvature lengths, etc.) are greater than ls, string theory reduces to conventional geometry. Now, in conventional geometry, we know what it means for (M, g) and (M′, g′) to be non-isomorphic. Any modification to this notion must be associated with a breakdown of conventional geometry, which requires some length scale to be “sub-stringy,” with L < ls. To state T-duality precisely, let us first consider M = M′ = S1. We parameterise this with a coordinate X ∈ R making the identification X ∼ X + 2π. Consider a Euclidean metric gR given by ds2 = R2dX2. The real parameter R is usually called the “radius” from the obvious embedding in R2. This manifold is Ricci-flat and thus the sigma model with this target space is a conformal field theory, the “c = 1 boson.” Let us furthermore set the string scale ls = 1. With this, we attain a complete physical equivalence.

CFT(S1, gR) ≅ CFT(S1, g1/R)

Thus these two target spaces are indistinguishable from the point of view of string theory.

Just to give a physical picture for what this means, suppose for sake of discussion that superstring theory describes our universe, and thus that in some sense there must be six extra spatial dimensions. Suppose further that we had evidence that the extra dimensions factorized topologically and metrically as K5 × S1; then it would make sense to ask: What is the radius R of this S1 in our universe? In principle this could be measured by producing sufficiently energetic particles (so-called “Kaluza-Klein modes”), or perhaps measuring deviations from Newton’s inverse square law of gravity at distances L ∼ R. In string theory, T-duality implies that R ≥ ls, because any theory with R < ls is equivalent to another theory with R > ls. Thus we have a nontrivial relation between two (in principle) observable quantities, R and ls, which one might imagine testing experimentally. Let us now consider the theory CFT(Td, g), where Td is the d-dimensional torus, with coordinates Xi parameterising Rd/2πZd, and a constant metric tensor gij. Then there is a complete physical equivalence

CFT(Td, g) ≅ CFT(Td, g−1)

In fact this is just one element of a discrete group of T-duality symmetries, generated by T-dualities along one-cycles, and large diffeomorphisms (those not continuously connected to the identity). The complete group is isomorphic to SO(d, d; Z).

While very different from conventional geometry, T-duality has a simple intuitive explanation. This starts with the observation that the possible embeddings of a string into X can be classified by the fundamental group π1(X). Strings representing non-trivial homotopy classes are usually referred to as “winding states.” Furthermore, since strings interact by interconnecting at points, the group structure on π1 provided by concatenation of based loops is meaningful and is respected by interactions in the string theory. Now π1(Td) ≅ Zd, as an abelian group, referred to as the group of “winding numbers”.

Of course, there is another Zd we could bring into the discussion, the Pontryagin dual of the U(1)d of which Td is an affinization. An element of this group is referred to physically as a “momentum,” as it is the eigenvalue of a translation operator on Td. Again, this group structure is respected by the interactions. These two group structures, momentum and winding, can be summarized in the statement that the full closed string algebra contains the group algebra C[Zd] ⊕ C[Zd].

In essence, the point of T-duality is that if we quantize the string on a sufficiently small target space, the roles of momentum and winding will be interchanged. But the main point can be seen by bringing in some elementary spectral geometry. Besides the algebra structure, another invariant of a conformal field theory is the spectrum of its Hamiltonian H (technically, the Virasoro operator L0 + L ̄0). This Hamiltonian can be thought of as an analog of the standard Laplacian ∆g on functions on X, and its spectrum on Td with metric g is

Spec ∆= {∑i,j=1d gijpipj; pi ∈ Zd}

On the other hand, the energy of a winding string is (intuitively) a function of its length. On our torus, a geodesic with winding number w ∈ Zd has length squared

L2 = ∑i,j=1d gijwiwj

Now, the only string theory input we need to bring in is that the total Hamiltonian contains both terms,

H = ∆g + L2 + · · ·

where the extra terms … express the energy of excited (or “oscillator”) modes of the string. Then, the inversion g → g−1, combined with the interchange p ↔ w, leaves the spectrum of H invariant. This is T-duality.

There is a simple generalization of the above to the case with a non-zero B-field on the torus satisfying dB = 0. In this case, since B is a constant antisymmetric tensor, we can label CFT’s by the matrix g + B. Now, the basic T-duality relation becomes

CFT(Td, g + B) ≅ CFT(Td, (g + B)−1)

Another generalization, which is considerably more subtle, is to do T-duality in families, or fiberwise T-duality. The same arguments can be made, and would become precise in the limit that the metric on the fibers varies on length scales far greater than ls, and has curvature lengths far greater than ls. This is sometimes called the “adiabatic limit” in physics. While this is a very restrictive assumption, there are more heuristic physical arguments that T-duality should hold more generally, with corrections to the relations proportional to curvatures ls2R and derivatives ls∂ of the fiber metric, both in perturbation theory and from world-sheet instantons.

Categories of Pointwise Convergence Topology: Theory(ies) of Bundles.

Let H be a fixed, separable Hilbert space of dimension ≥ 1. Lets denote the associated projective space of H by P = P(H). It is compact iff H is finite-dimensional. Let PU = PU(H) = U(H)/U(1) be the projective unitary group of H equipped with the compact-open topology. A projective bundle over X is a locally trivial bundle of projective spaces, i.e., a fibre bundle P → X with fibre P(H) and structure group PU(H). An application of the Banach-Steinhaus theorem shows that we may identify projective bundles with principal PU(H)-bundles and the pointwise convergence topology on PU(H).

If G is a topological group, let GX denote the sheaf of germs of continuous functions G → X, i.e., the sheaf associated to the constant presheaf given by U → F(U) = G. Given a projective bundle P → X and a sufficiently fine good open cover {Ui}i∈I of X, the transition functions between trivializations P|Ui can be lifted to bundle isomorphisms gij on double intersections Uij = Ui ∩ Uj which are projectively coherent, i.e., over each of the triple intersections Uijk = Ui ∩ Uj ∩ Uk the composition gki gjk gij is given as multiplication by a U(1)-valued function fijk : Uijk → U(1). The collection {(Uij, fijk)} defines a U(1)-valued two-cocycle called a B-field on X,which represents a class BP in the sheaf cohomology group H2(X, U(1)X). On the other hand, the sheaf cohomology H1(X, PU(H)X) consists of isomorphism classes of principal PU(H)-bundles, and we can consider the isomorphism class [P] ∈ H1(X,PU(H)X).

There is an isomorphism

H1(X, PU(H)X) → H2(X, U(1)X) provided by the

boundary map [P] ↦ BP. There is also an isomorphism

H2(X, U(1)X) → H3(X, ZX) ≅ H3(X, Z)

The image δ(P) ∈ H3(X, Z) of BP is called the Dixmier-Douady invariant of P. When δ(P) = [H] is represented in H3(X, R) by a closed three-form H on X, called the H-flux of the given B-field BP, we will write P = PH. One has δ(P) = 0 iff the projective bundle P comes from a vector bundle E → X, i.e., P = P(E). By Serre’s theorem every torsion element of H3(X,Z) arises from a finite-dimensional bundle P. Explicitly, consider the commutative diagram of exact sequences of groups given by


where we identify the cyclic group Zn with the group of n-th roots of unity. Let P be a projective bundle with structure group PU(n), i.e., with fibres P(Cn). Then the commutative diagram of long exact sequences of sheaf cohomology groups associated to the above commutative diagram of groups implies that the element BP ∈ H2(X, U(1)X) comes from H2(X, (Zn)X), and therefore its order divides n.

One also has δ(P1 ⊗ P2) = δ(P1) + δ(P2) and δ(P) = −δ(P). This follows from the commutative diagram


and the fact that P ⊗ P = P(E) where E is the vector bundle of Hilbert-Schmidt endomorphisms of P . Putting everything together, it follows that the cohomology group H3(X, Z) is isomorphic to the group of stable equivalence classes of principal PU(H)-bundles P → X with the operation of tensor product.

We are now ready to define the twisted K-theory of the manifold X equipped with a projective bundle P → X, such that Px = P(H) ∀ x ∈ X. We will first give a definition in terms of Fredholm operators, and then provide some equivalent, but more geometric definitions. Let H be a Z2-graded Hilbert space. We define Fred0(H) to be the space of self-adjoint degree 1 Fredholm operators T on H such that T2 − 1 ∈ K(H), together with the subspace topology induced by the embedding Fred0(H) ֒→ B(H) × K(H) given by T → (T, T2 − 1) where the algebra of bounded linear operators B(H) is given the compact-open topology and the Banach algebra of compact operators K = K(H) is given the norm topology.

Let P = PH → X be a projective Hilbert bundle. Then we can construct an associated bundle Fred0(P) whose fibres are Fred0(H). We define the twisted K-theory group of the pair (X, P) to be the group of homotopy classes of maps

K0(X, H) = [X, Fred0(PH)]

The group K0(X, H) depends functorially on the pair (X, PH), and an isomorphism of projective bundles ρ : P → P′ induces a group isomorphism ρ∗ : K0(X, H) → K0(X, H′). Addition in K0(X, H) is defined by fibre-wise direct sum, so that the sum of two elements lies in K0(X, H2) with [H2] = δ(P ⊗ P(C2)) = δ(P) = [H]. Under the isomorphism H ⊗ C2 ≅ H, there is a projective bundle isomorphism P → P ⊗ P(C2) for any projective bundle P and so K0(X, H2) is canonically isomorphic to K0(X, H). When [H] is a non-torsion element of H3(X, Z), so that P = PH is an infinite-dimensional bundle of projective spaces, then the index map K0(X, H) → Z is zero, i.e., any section of Fred0(P) takes values in the index zero component of Fred0(H).

Let us now describe some other models for twisted K-theory which will be useful in our physical applications later on. A definition in algebraic K-theory may given as follows. A bundle of projective spaces P yields a bundle End(P) of algebras. However, if H is an infinite-dimensional Hilbert space, then one has natural isomorphisms H ≅ H ⊕ H and

End(H) ≅ Hom(H ⊕ H, H) ≅ End(H) ⊕ End(H)

as left End(H)-modules, and so the algebraic K-theory of the algebra End(H) is trivial. Instead, we will work with the Banach algebra K(H) of compact operators on H with the norm topology. Given that the unitary group U(H) with the compact-open topology acts continuously on K(H) by conjugation, to a given projective bundle PH we can associate a bundle of compact operators EH → X given by


with δ(EH) = [H]. The Banach algebra AH := C0(X, EH) of continuous sections of EH vanishing at infinity is the continuous trace C∗-algebra CT(X, H). Then the twisted K-theory group K(X, H) of X is canonically isomorphic to the algebraic K-theory group K(AH).

We will also need a smooth version of this definition. Let AH be the smooth subalgebra of AH given by the algebra CT(X, H) = C(X, L1PH),

where L1PH = PH ×PUL1. Then the inclusion CT(X, H) → CT(X, H) induces an isomorphism KCT(X, H) → KCT(X, H) of algebraic K-theory groups. Upon choosing a bundle gerbe connection, one has an isomorphism KCT(X, H) ≅ K(X, H) with the twisted K-theory defined in terms of projective Hilbert bundles P = PH over X.

Finally, we propose a general definition based on K-theory with coefficients in a sheaf of rings. It parallels the bundle gerbe approach to twisted K-theory. Let B be a Banach algebra over C. Let E(B, X) be the category of continuous B-bundles over X, and let C(X, B) be the sheaf of continuous maps X → B. The ring structure in B equips C(X, B) with the structure of a sheaf of rings over X. We can therefore consider left (or right) C(X, B)-modules, and in particular the category LF C(X, B) of locally free C(X, B)-modules. Using the functor in the usual way, for X an equivalence of additive categories

E(B, X) ≅ LF (C(X, B))

Since these are both additive categories, we can apply the Grothendieck functor to each of them and obtain the abelian groups K(LF(C(X, B))) and K(E(B, X)). The equivalence of categories ensures that there is a natural isomorphism of groups

K(LF (C(X, B))) ≅ K(E(B, X))

This motivates the following general definition. If A is a sheaf of rings over X, then we define the K-theory of X with coefficients in A to be the abelian group

K(X, A) := K LF(A)

For example, consider the case B = C. Then C(X, C) is just the sheaf of continuous functions X → C, while E(C, X) is the category of complex vector bundles over X. Using the isomorphism of K-theory groups we then have

K(X, C(X,C)) := K(LF (C(X, C))) ≅ K (E(C, X)) = K0(X)

The definition of twisted K-theory uses another special instance of this general construction. For this, we define an Azumaya algebra over X of rank m to be a locally trivial algebra bundle over X with fibre isomorphic to the algebra of m × m complex matrices over C, Mm(C). An example is the algebra End(E) of endomorphisms of a complex vector bundle E → X. We can define an equivalence relation on the set A(X) of Azumaya algebras over X in the following way. Two Azumaya algebras A, A′ are called equivalent if there are vector bundles E, E′ over X such that the algebras A ⊗ End(E), A′ ⊗ End(E′) are isomorphic. Then every Azumaya algebra of the form End(E) is equivalent to the algebra of functions C(X) on X. The set of all equivalence classes is a group under the tensor product of algebras, called the Brauer group of X and denoted Br(X). By Serre’s theorem there is an isomorphism

δ : Br(X) → tor(H3(X, Z))

where tor(H3(X, Z)) is the torsion subgroup of H3(X, Z).

If A is an Azumaya algebra bundle, then the space of continuous sections C(X, A) of X is a ring and we can consider the algebraic K-theory group K(A) := K0(C(X,A)) of equivalence classes of projective C(X, A)-modules, which depends only on the equivalence class of A in the Brauer group. Under the equivalence, we can represent the Brauer group Br(X) as the set of isomorphism classes of sheaves of Azumaya algebras. Let A be a sheaf of Azumaya algebras, and LF(A) the category of locally free A-modules. Then as above there is an isomorphism

K(X, C(X, A)) ≅ K Proj (C(X, A))

where Proj (C(X, A)) is the category of finitely-generated projective C(X, A)-modules. The group on the right-hand side is the group K(A). For given [H] ∈ tor(H3(X, Z)) and A ∈ Br(X) such that δ(A) = [H], this group can be identified as the twisted K-theory group K0(X, H) of X with twisting A. This definition is equivalent to the description in terms of bundle gerbe modules, and from this construction it follows that K0(X, H) is a subgroup of the ordinary K-theory of X. If δ(A) = 0, then A is equivalent to C(X) and we have K(A) := K0(C(X)) = K0(X). The projective C(X, A)-modules over a rank m Azumaya algebra A are vector bundles E → X with fibre Cnm ≅ (Cm)⊕n, which is naturally an Mm(C)-module.


Functoriality in Low Dimensions. Note Quote.

Let CW be the category of CW-complexes and cellular maps, let CW0 be the full subcategory of path connected CW-complexes and let CW1 be the full subcategory of simply connected CW-complexes. Let HoCW denote the category of CW-complexes and homotopy classes of cellular maps. Let HoCWn denote the category of CW-complexes and rel n-skeleton homotopy classes of cellular maps. Dimension n = 1: It is straightforward to define a covariant truncation functor

t<n = t<1 : CW0 → HoCW together with a natural transformation

emb1 : t<1 → t<∞,

where t<∞ : CW0 → HoCW is the natural “inclusion-followed-by-quotient” functor given by t<∞(K) = K for objects K and t<∞(f) = [f] for morphisms f, such that for all objects K, emb1∗ : H0(t<1K) → H0(t<∞K) is an isomorphism and Hr(t<1K) = 0 for r ≥ 1. The details are as follows: For a path connected CW-complex K, set t<1(K) = k0, where k0 is a 0-cell of K. Let emb1(K) : t<1(K) = k0 → t<∞(K) = K be the inclusion of k0 in K. Then emb1∗ is an isomorphism on H0 as K is path connected. Clearly Hr(t<1K) = 0 for r ≥ 1. Let f : K → L be a cellular map between objects of CW0. The morphism t<1(f) : t<1(K) = k0 → l0 = t<1(L) is the homotopy class of the unique map from a point to a point. In particular, t<1(idK) = [idk0] and for a cellular map g : L → P we have t<1(gf) = t<1(g) ◦ t<1(f), so that t<1 is indeed a functor. To show that emb1 is a natural transformation, we need to see that


that is


commutes in HoCW. This is where we need the functor t<1 to have values only in HoCW, not in CW, because the square need certainly not commute in CW. (The points k0 and l0 do not know anything about f, so l0 need not be the image of k0 under f.) Since L is path connected, there is a path ω : I → L from l0 = ω(0) to f (k0) = ω(1). Then H : {k0} × I → L, H(k0, t) = ω(t), defines a homotopy from

k0 → l0 → L to k0 → K →f L.

Dimension n = 2: We will define a covariant truncation functor t<n = t<2 : CW1 → HoCW

together with a natural transformation
emb2 : t<2 → t<∞,

where t<∞ : CW1 → HoCW is as above (only restricted to simply connected spaces), such that for all objects K, emb2∗ : Hr(t<2K) → Hr(t<∞K) is an isomorphism for r = 0, 1, and Hr(t<2K) = 0 for r ≥ 2. For a simply connected CW-complex K, set t<2(K) = k0, where k0 is a 0-cell of K. Let emb2(K) : t<2(K) = k0 → t<∞(K) = K be the inclusion as in the case n = 1. It follows that emb2∗ is an isomorphism both on H0 as K is path connected and on H1 as H1(k0) = 0 = H1(K), while trivially Hr(t<2K) = 0 for r ≥ 2. On a cellular map f, t<2(f) is defined as in the case n = 1. As in the case n = 1, this yields a functor and emb2 is a natural transformation.

Metaphysics of the Semantics of HoTT. Thought of the Day 73.0


Types and tokens are interpreted as concepts (rather than spaces, as in the homotopy interpretation). In particular, a type is interpreted as a general mathematical concept, while a token of a given type is interpreted as a more specific mathematical concept qua instance of the general concept. This accords with the fact that each token belongs to exactly one type. Since ‘concept’ is a pre-mathematical notion, this interpretation is admissible as part of an autonomous foundation for mathematics.

Expressions in the language are the names of types and tokens. Those naming types correspond to propositions. A proposition is ‘true’ just if the corresponding type is inhabited (i.e. there is a token of that type, which we call a ‘certificate’ to the proposition). There is no way in the language of HoTT to express the absence or non-existence of a token. The negation of a proposition P is represented by the type P → 0, where P is the type corresponding to proposition P and 0 is a type that by definition has no token constructors (corresponding to a contradiction). The logic of HoTT is not bivalent, since the inability to construct a token of P does not guarantee that a token of P → 0 can be constructed, and vice versa.

The rules governing the formation of types are understood as ways of composing concepts to form more complex concepts, or as ways of combining propositions to form more complex propositions. They follow from the Curry-Howard correspondence between logical operations and operations on types. However, we depart slightly from the standard presentation of the Curry-Howard correspondence, in that the tokens of types are not to be thought of as ‘proofs’ of the corresponding propositions but rather as certificates to their truth. A proof of a proposition is the construction of a certificate to that proposition by a sequence of applications of the token construction rules. Two different such processes can result in construction of the same token, and so proofs and tokens are not in one-to-one correspondence.

When we work formally in HoTT we construct expressions in the language according to the formal rules. These expressions are taken to be the names of tokens and types of the theory. The rules are chosen such that if a construction process begins with non-contradictory expressions that all name tokens (i.e. none of the expressions are ‘empty names’) then the result will also name a token (i.e. the rules preserve non-emptiness of names).

Since we interpret tokens and types as concepts, the only metaphysical commitment required is to the existence of concepts. That human thought involves concepts is an uncontroversial position, and our interpretation does not require that concepts have any greater metaphysical status than is commonly attributed to them. Just as the existence of a concept such as ‘unicorn’ does not require the existence of actual unicorns, likewise our interpretation of tokens and types as mathematical concepts does not require the existence of mathematical objects. However, it is compatible with such beliefs. Thus a Platonist can take the concept, say, ‘equilateral triangle’ to be the concept corresponding to the abstract equilateral triangle (after filling in some account of how we come to know about these abstract objects in a way that lets us form the corresponding concepts). Even without invoking mathematical objects to be the ‘targets’ of mathematical concepts, one could still maintain that concepts have a mind-independent status, i.e. that the concept ‘triangle’ continues to exist even while no-one is thinking about triangles, and that the concept ‘elliptic curve’ did not come into existence at the moment someone first gave the definition. However, this is not a necessary part of the interpretation, and we could instead take concepts to be mind-dependent, with corresponding implications for the status of mathematics itself.

Grothendieck’s Abstract Homotopy Theory


Let E be a Grothendieck topos (think of E as the category, Sh(X), of set valued sheaves on a space X). Within E, we can pick out a subcategory, C, of locally finite, locally constant objects in E. (If X is a space with E = Sh(X), C corresponds to those sheaves whose espace étale is a finite covering space of X.) Picking a base point in X generalises to picking a ‘fibre functor’ F : C → Setsfin, a functor satisfying various conditions implying that it is pro-representable. (If x0 ∈ X is a base point {x0} → X induces a ‘fibre functor’ Sh(X) → Sh{x0} ≅ Sets, by pullback.)

If F is pro-representable by P, then π1(E, F) is defined to be Aut(P), which is a profinite group. Grothendieck proves there is an equivalence of categories C ≃ π1(E) − Setsfin, the category of finite π1(E)-sets. If X is a locally nicely behaved space such as a CW-complex and E = Sh(X), then π1(E) is the profinite completion of π1(X). This profinite completion occurs only because Grothendieck considers locally finite objects. Without this restriction, a covering space Y of X would correspond to a π1(X) – set, Y′, but if Y is a finite covering of X then the homomorphism from π1(X) to the finite group of transformations of Y factors through the profinite completion of π1(X). This is defined by : if G is a group, Gˆ = lim(G/H : H ◅ G, H of finite index) is its profinite completion. This idea of using covering spaces or their analogue in E raises several important points:

a) These are homotopy theoretic results, but no paths are used. The argument involving sheaf theory, the theory of (pro)representable functors, etc., is of a purely categorical nature. This means it is applicable to spaces where the use of paths, and other homotopies is impossible because of bad (or unknown) local properties. Such spaces have been studied within Shape Theory and Strong Shape Theory, although not by using Grothendieck’s fundamental group, nor using sheaf theory.

b) As no paths are used, these methods can also be applied to non-spaces, e.g. locales and possibly to their non-commutative analogues, quantales. For instance, classically one could consider a field k and an algebraic closure K of k and then choose C to be a category of étale algebras over k, in such a way that π1(E) ≅ Gal(K/k), the Galois group of k. It, in fact, leads to a classification theorem for Grothendieck toposes. From this viewpoint, low dimensional homotopy theory is ssen as being part of Galois theory, or vice versa.

c) This underlines the fact that π1(X) classifies covering spaces – but for i > 1, πi(X) does not seem to classify anything other than maps from Si into X!

This is abstract homotopy theory par excellence.

Obstruction Theory


Obstruction is a concept in homotopy theory where an invariant equals zero if a corresponding problem is solvable and is non-zero otherwise. Let Y be a space, and assume for convenience that Y is n-simple for every n, that is, the action of π1(y) on πn(y) is trivial for every n. Under this hypothesis we can forget about base points for homotopy groups, and any map ƒ: S → Y determines an element of πn(Y).

Let B be a complex and A a subcomplex. Write Xn for A U Bn, where Bn denotes the n-skeleton of B. Let σ be an (n + I)-cell of B which is not in A. Let g = gσ be the attaching map σ. = Sn → Xn ⊂ B.

Given a map ƒ: Xn → Y, denote by c(ƒ) the cochain in Cn+1 (B, A; πn(Y)) given by c(ƒ): σ → [f º gσ]. Then it is clear that ƒ may be extended over Xngσ σ iff f º gσ is null-homotopic, that is, iff c(ƒ)(σ) = 0, and therefore that ƒ can be extended over Xn+1 = A ∪ Bn+1 if the cochain c(ƒ) is the zero cochain. It is a theorem of obstruction theory that c(ƒ) is a cocycle. It is called the obstruction cocycle or “the obstruction to extending ƒ over Bn+1

There are two immediate applications. First, any map of an n-dimensional complex K into an n-connected space X is null-homotopic.

Take (B, A) = (K x I, K x i) and define ƒ:A → X by the given map K → X on one piece and a constant map on the other piece; then ƒ can be extended over B because the obstructions lie in the trivial groups πi(X).

Second, as a particular case, a finite-dimensional complex K is contractible iff πi(K) is trivial for all i < dim K.

Suppose ƒ, g are two maps Xn → Y which agree on Xn-1. Then for each n-cell of B which is not in A, we get a map Sn → Y by taking ƒ and g on the two hemispheres. The resulting cochain of Cn(B, A; πn(Y)) is called the difference cochain of ƒ and g, denoted d(ƒ, g).

Truncation Functors

Let A be an abelian category, and let D = D(A) be the derived category. For any complex A• in A, and n ∈ Z, we let τ≤nA• be the truncated complex

··· → An−2 → An−1 → ker(An → An+1)→ 0 → 0 → ··· , and dually we let τ≥nA be the complex

··· → 0 → 0 → coker(An−1 → An) → An+1 → An+2 → ···

Note that

Hm≤nA•) = Hm(A•) if m ≤ n

= 0 if m > n

and that

Hm≥nA•) = Hm(A•)  if m ≥ n

= 0 if m < n

One checks that τ≥n (respectively τ≤n) extends naturally to an additive functor of complexes which preserves homotopy and takes quasi-isomorphisms to quasi-isomorphisms, and hence induces an additive functor D → D. In fact if D≤n (respectively D≥n) is the full subcategory of D whose objects are the complexes A• such that Hm(A•) = 0 for m > n (respectively m < n) then we have additive functors

τ≤n : D → D≤n ⊂ D

τ≥n : D → D≥n ⊂ D

together with obvious functorial maps

inA : τ≤n A• → A•

jnA : A• → τ≥n A•

The preceding inA , jnA induce functorial isomorphisms

HomD≤n (B•,τ≤nA•) →~ HomD(B•, A•) (B• ∈ D≤n) —– (1)

HomD≥n≥nA•,C•) →~ HomD(A•,C• ) (C• ∈ D≥n) —– (2)

Bijectivity of (1) means that any map φ : B• → A• (in D) with B• ∈ D≤n factors uniquely via iA := inA

Given φ, we have a commutative diagram


and since B• ∈ D≤n, therefore iB is an isomorphism in D, so we can write

φ = i ◦ (τ≤nφ ◦ i−1B),

and thus (1) is surjective.

To prove that (1) is also injective, we assume that iA ◦ τ≤n φ = 0 and deduce that τ≤n φ = 0. The assumption means that there is a commutative diagram in K(A)


where s and s′′ are quasi-isomorphisms, and f/s = τ≤nφ

Applying the (idempotent) functor τ≥n, we get a commutative diagram


Since τ≤ns and τ≤ns′′ are quasi-isomorphisms, we have

τ≤nφ = τ≤n f/τ≤ns = 0/τ≤ns′′ = 0

as desired.

Philosophical Isomorphism of Category Theory. Note Quote.

One philosophical reason for categorification is that it refines our concept of ‘sameness’ by allowing us to distinguish between isomorphism and equality. In a set, two elements are either the same or different. In a category, two objects can be ‘the same in a way’ while still being different. In other words, they can be isomorphic but not equal. Even more importantly, two objects can be the same in more than one way, since there can be different isomorphisms between them. This gives rise to the notion of the ‘symmetry group’ of an object: its group of automorphisms.

Consider, for example, the fundamental groupoid Π1(X) of a topological space X: the category with points of X as objects and homotopy classes of paths with fixed endpoints as morphisms. This category captures all the homotopy-theoretic information about X in dimensions ≤ 1. The group of automorphisms of an object x in this category is just the fundamental group π1(X,x). If we decategorify the fundamental groupoid of X, we forget how points in X are connected by paths, remembering only whether they are, and we obtain the set of components of X. This captures only the homotopy 0-type of X.

This example shows how decategorification eliminates ‘higher-dimensional information’ about a situation. Categorification is an attempt to recover this information. This example also suggests that we can keep track of the homotopy 2-type of X if we categorify further and distinguish between paths that are equal and paths that are merely isomorphic (i.e., homotopic). For this we should work with a ‘2-category’ having points of X as objects, paths as morphisms, and certain equivalence classes of homotopies between paths as 2-morphisms. In a marvelous self-referential twist, the definition of ‘2-category’ is simply the categorification of the definition of ‘category’. Like a category, a 2-category has a class of objects, but now for any pair x,y of objects there is no longer a set hom(x,y); instead, there is a category hom(x,y). Objects of hom(x,y) are called morphisms of C, and morphisms between them are called 2-morphisms of C. Composition is no longer a function, but rather a functor:

◦: hom(x, y) × hom(y, z) → hom(x, z)

For any object x there is an identity 1x ∈ hom(x,x). And now we have a choice. On the one hand, we can impose associativity and the left and right unit laws strictly, as equational laws. If we do this, we obtain the definition of ‘strict 2-category’. On the other hand, we can impose them only up to natural isomorphism, with these natural isomorphisms satisfying the coherence. This is clearly more compatible with the spirit of categorification. If we do this, we obtain the definition of ‘weak 2-category’. (Strict 2-categories are traditionally known as ‘2-categories’, while weak 2-categories are known as ‘bicategories’.)

The classic example of a 2-category is Cat, which has categories as objects, functors as morphisms, and natural transformations as 2-morphisms. The presence of 2-morphisms gives Cat much of its distinctive flavor, which we would miss if we treated it as a mere category. Indeed, Mac Lane has said that categories were originally invented, not to study functors, but to study natural transformations! A good example of two functors that are not equal, but only naturally isomorphic, are the identity functor and the ‘double dual’ functor on the category of finite-dimensional vector spaces. Given a topological space X, we can form a 2-category Π>sub>2(X) called the ‘fundamental 2-groupoid’ of X. The objects of this 2-category are the points of X. Given x, y ∈ X, the morphisms from x to y are the paths f: [0,1] → X starting at x and ending at y. Finally, given f, g ∈ hom(x, y), the 2-morphisms from f to g are the homotopy classes of paths in hom(x, y) starting at f and ending at g. Since the associative law for composition of paths holds only up to homotopy, this 2-category is a weak 2-category. If we decategorify the fundamental 2-groupoid of X, we obtain its fundamental groupoid.

From 2-categories it is a short step to dreaming of n-categories and even ω-categories — but it is not so easy to make these dreams into smoothly functioning mathematical tools. Roughly speaking, an n-category should be some sort of algebraic structure having objects, 1-morphisms between objects, 2-morphisms between 1-morphisms, and so on up to n-morphisms. There should be various ways of composing j-morphisms for 1 ≤ j ≤ n, and these should satisfy various laws. As with 2-categories, we can try to impose these laws either strictly or weakly.


Other approaches to n-categories use j-morphisms with other shapes, such as simplices, or opetopes. We believe that there is basically a single notion of weak n-category lurking behind these different approaches. If this is true, they will eventually be shown to be equivalent, and choosing among them will be merely a matter of convenience. However, the precise meaning of ‘equivalence’ here is itself rather subtle and n-categorical in flavor.

The first challenge to any theory of n-categories is to give an adequate treatment of coherence laws. Composition in an n-category should satisfy equational laws only at the top level, between n-morphisms. Any law concerning j-morphisms for j < n should hold only ‘up to equivalence’. Here a n-morphism is defined to be an ‘equivalence’ if it is invertible, while for j < n a j-morphism is recursively defined to be an equivalence if it is invertible up to equivalence. Equivalence is generally the correct substitute for the notion of equality in n-categorical mathematics. When laws are formulated as equivalences, these equivalences should in turn satisfy coherence laws of their own, but again only up to equivalence, and so on. This becomes ever more complicated and unmanageable with increasing n unless one takes a systematic approach to coherence laws.

The second challenge to any theory of n-categories is to handle certain key examples. First, for any n, there should be an (n + 1)-category nCat, whose objects are (small) n-categories, whose morphisms are suitably weakened functors between these, whose 2-morphisms are suitably weakened natural transformations, and so on. Here by ‘suitably weakened’ we refer to the fact that all laws should hold only up to equivalence. Second, for any topological space X, there should be an n-category Πn(X) whose objects are points of X, whose morphisms are paths, whose 2-morphisms are paths of paths, and so on, where we take homotopy classes only at the top level. Πn(X) should be an ‘n-groupoid’, meaning that all its j-morphisms are equivalences for 0 ≤ j ≤ n. We call Πn(X) the ‘fundamental n-groupoid of X’. Conversely, any n-groupoid should determine a topological space, its ‘geometric realization’.

In fact, these constructions should render the study of n-groupoids equivalent to that of homotopy n-types. A bit of the richness inherent in the concept of n-category becomes apparent when we make the following observation: an (n + 1)-category with only one object can be regarded as special sort of n-category. Suppose that C is an (n+1)-category with one object x. Then we can form the n-category C ̃ by re-indexing: the objects of C ̃ are the morphisms of C, the morphisms of C ̃ are the 2-morphisms of C, and so on. The n-categories we obtain this way have extra structure. In particular, since the objects of C ̃ are really morphisms in C from x to itself, we can ‘multiply’ (that is, compose) them.

The simplest example is this: if C is a category with a single object x, C ̃ is the set of endomorphisms of x. This set is actually a monoid. Conversely, any monoid can be regarded as the monoid of endomorphisms of x for some category with one object x. We summarize this situation by saying that ‘a one-object category is a monoid’. Similarly, a one-object 2-category is a monoidal category. It is natural to expect this pattern to continue in all higher dimensions; in fact, it is probably easiest to cheat and define a monoidal n-category to be an (n + 1)-category with one object.

Things get even more interesting when we iterate this process. Given an (n + k)-category C with only one object, one morphism, and so on up to one (k − 1)-morphism, we can form an n-category whose j-morphisms are the (j + k)-morphisms of C. In doing so we obtain a particular sort of n-category with extra structure and properties, which we call a ‘k-tuply monoidal’ n-category. Table below shows what we expect these to be like for low values of n and k. For example, the Eckmann-Hilton argument shows that a 2-category with one object and one morphism is a commutative monoid. Categorifying this argument, one can show that a 3-category with one object and one morphism is a braided monoidal category. Similarly, we expect that a 4-category with one object, one morphism and one 2-morphism is a symmetric monoidal category, though this has not been worked out in full detail, because of our poor understanding of 4-categories. The fact that both braided and symmetric monoidal categories appear in this table seems to explain why both are natural concepts.


In any reasonable approach to n-categories there should be an n-category nCatk whose objects are k-tuply monoidal weak n-categories. One should also be able to treat nCatk as a full sub-(n + k)-category of (n + k)Cat, though even for low n, k this is perhaps not as well known as it should be. Consider for example n = 0, k = 1. The objects of 0Cat1 are one-object categories, or monoids. The morphisms of 0Cat1 are functors between one-object categories, or monoid homomorphisms. But 0Cat1 also has 2-morphisms corresponding to natural transformations.

• Decategorification: (n, k) → (n − 1, k). Let C be a k-tuply monoidal n-category C. Then there should be a k-tuply monoidal (n − 1)-category DecatC whose j-morphisms are the same as those of C for j < n − 1, but whose (n − 1)-morphisms are isomorphism classes of (n − 1)-morphisms of C.

• Discrete categorification: (n, k) → (n + 1, k). There should be a ‘discrete’ k-tuply monoidal (n + 1)-category DiscC having the j-morphisms of C as its j-morphisms for j ≤ n, and only identity (n + 1)-morphisms. The decategorification of DiscC should be C.

• Delooping: (n, k) → (n + 1, k − 1). There should be a (k − 1)-tuply monoidal (n + 1)-category BC with one object obtained by reindexing, the j-morphisms of BC being the (j + 1)-morphisms of C. We use the notation ‘B’ and call BC the ‘delooping’ of C because of its relation to the classifying space construction in topology.

• Looping: (n, k) → (n − 1, k + 1). Given objects x, y in an n-category, there should be an (n − 1)-category hom(x, y). If x = y this should be a monoidal (n−1)-category, and we denote it as end(x). For k > 0, if 1 denotes the unit object of the k-tuply monoidal n-category C, end(1) should be a (k + 1)-tuply monoidal (n − 1)-category. We call this process ‘looping’, and denote the result as ΩC, because of its relation to loop space construction in topology. For k > 0, looping should extend to an (n + k)-functor Ω: nCatk → (n − 1)Catk+1. The case k = 0 is a bit different: we should be able to loop a ‘pointed’ n-category, one having a distinguished object x, by letting ΩC = end(x). In either case, the j-morphisms of ΩC correspond to certain (j − 1)-morphisms of C.

• Forgetting monoidal structure: (n, k) → (n, k−1). By forgetting the kth level of monoidal structure, we should be able to think of C as a (k−1)-tuply monoidal n-category FC. This should extend to an n-functor F: nCatk → nCatk−1.

• Stabilization: (n, k) → (n, k + 1). Though adjoint n-functors are still poorly understood, there should be a left adjoint to forgetting monoidal structure, which is called ‘stabilization’ and denoted by S: nCatk → nCatk+1.

• Forming the generalized center: (n,k) → (n,k+1). Thinking of C as an object of the (n+k)-category nCatk, there should be a (k+1)-tuply monoidal n-category ZC, the ‘generalized center’ of C, given by Ωk(end(C)). In other words, ZC is the largest sub-(n + k + 1)-category of (n + k)Cat having C as its only object, 1C as its only morphism, 11C as its only 2-morphism, and so on up to dimension k. This construction gets its name from the case n = 0, k = 1, where ZC is the usual center of the monoid C. Categorifying leads to the case n = 1, k = 1, which gives a very important construction of braided monoidal categories from monoidal categories. In particular, when C is the monoidal category of representations of a Hopf algebra H, ZC is the braided monoidal category of representations of the quantum double D(H).

Conjuncted: Of Topos and Torsors


The condition that each stalk Fx be equivalent to a classifying space BG can be summarized by saying that F is a gerbe on X: more precisely, it is a gerbe banded by the constant sheaf G associated to G.

For larger values of n, even the language of stacks is not sufficient to describe the nature of the sheaf F associated to the fibration X~ → X. To address the situation, Grothendieck proposed (in his infamous letter to Quillen; see [35]) that there should be a theory of n-stacks on X, for every integer n ≥ 0. Moreover, for every sheaf of abelian groups G on X, the cohomology group Hn+1sheaf(X;G) should have an interpreation as sheaf classifying a special type of n-stack: namely, the class of n-gerbes banded by G. In the special case where the space X is a point (and where we restrict our attention to n-stacks in groupoids), the theory of n-stacks on X should recover the classical homotopy theory of n-types: that is, CW complexes Z such that the homotopy groups πi(Z, z) vanish for i > n (and every base point z ∈ Z). More generally, we should think of an n-stack (in groupoids) on a general space X as a “sheaf of n-types” on X.

When n = 0, an n-stack on a topological space X simply means a sheaf of sets on X. The collection of all such sheaves can be organized into a category ShvSet(X), and this category is a prototypical example of a Grothendieck topos. The main goal of this book is to obtain an analogous understanding of the situation for n > 0. More precisely, we would like answers to the following questions:

(Q1) Given a topological space X, what should we mean by a “sheaf of n-types” on X?

(Q2)  Let Shv≤n(X) denote the collection of all sheaves of n-types on X. What sort of a mathematical object is Shv≤n(X)?

(Q3)  What special features (if any) does Shv≤n(X) possess?

Our answers to questions (Q2) and (Q3) may be summarized as follows:

(A2)  The collection Shv≤n(X) has the structure of an ∞-category.

(A3)  The ∞-category Shv≤n(X) is an example of an (n+1)-topos: that is, an ∞-category which satisfies higher categorical analogues of Giraud’s axioms for Grothendieck topoi.

Grothendieck’s vision has been realized in various ways, thanks to the work of a number of mathematicians (most notably Jardine), and their work can also be used to provide answers to questions (Q1) and (Q2). Question (Q3) has also been addressed (at least in limiting case n = ∞) by Toën and Vezzosi

To provide more complete versions of the answers (A2) and (A3), we will need to develop the language of higher category theory. This is generally regarded as a technical and forbidding subject. More precisely, we will need a theory of (∞, 1)-categories: higher categories C for which the k-morphisms of C are required to be invertible for k > 1.

Classically, category theory is a useful tool not so much because of the light it sheds on any particular mathematical discipline, but instead because categories are so ubiquitous: mathematical objects in many different settings (sets, groups, smooth manifolds, etc.) can be organized into categories. Moreover, many elementary mathematical concepts can be described in purely categorical terms, and therefore make sense in each of these settings. For example, we can form products of sets, groups, and smooth manifolds: each of these notions can simply be described as a Cartesian product in the relevant category. Cartesian products are a special case of the more general notion of limit, which plays a central role in classical category theory.