Triadomania. Thought of the Day 117.0


Peirce’s famous ‘triadomania’ lets most of his decisive distinctions appear in threes, following the tripartition of his list of categories, the famous triad of First, Second, and Third, or Quality, Reaction, Representation, or Possibility, Actuality, Reality.

Firstness is the mode of being of that which is such as it is, positively and without reference to anything else.

Secondness is the mode of being of that which is such as it is, with respect to a second but regardless of any third.

Thirdness is the mode of being of that which is such as it is, in bringing a second and third into relation to each other.

Firstness constitutes the quality of experience: in order for something to appear at all, it must do so due to a certain constellation of qualitative properties. Peirce often uses sensory qualities as examples, but it is important for the understanding of his thought that the examples may refer to phenomena very far from our standard conception of ‘sensory data’, e.g. forms or the ‘feeling’ of a whole melody or of a whole mathematical proof, not to be taken in a subjective sense but as a concept for the continuity of melody or proof as a whole, apart from the analytical steps and sequences in which it may be, subsequently, subdivided. In short, all sorts of simple and complex Gestalt qualities also qualify as Firstnesses. Firstness tend to form continua of possibilities such as the continua of shape, color, tone, etc. These qualities, however, are, taken in themselves, pure possibilities and must necessarily be incarnated in phenomena in order to appear. Secondness is the phenomenological category of ‘incarnation’ which makes this possible: it is the insistency, then, with which the individuated, actualized, existent phenomenon appears. Thus, Secondness necessarily forms discontinuous breaks in Firstness, allowing for particular qualities to enter into existence. The mind may imagine anything whatever in all sorts of quality combinations, but something appears with an irrefutable insisting power, reacting, actively, yielding resistance. Peirce’s favorite example is the resistance of the closed door – which might be imagined reduced to the quality of resistance feeling and thus degenerate to pure Firstness so that his theory imploded into a Hume-like solipsism – but to Peirce this resistance, surprise, event, this thisness, ‘haecceity’ as he calls it with a Scotist term, remains irreducible in the description of the phenomenon (a Kantian idea, at bottom: existence is no predicate). About Thirdness, Peirce may directly state that continuity represents it perfectly: ‘continuity and generality are two names of the same absence of distinction of individuals’. As against Secondness, Thirdness is general; it mediates between First and Second. The events of Secondness are never completely unique, such an event would be inexperiencable, but relates (3) to other events (2) due to certain features (1) in them; Thirdness is thus what facilitates understanding as well as pragmatic action, due to its continuous generality. With a famous example: if you dream about an apple pie, then the very qualities of that dream (taste, smell, warmth, crustiness, etc.) are pure Firstnesses, while the act of baking is composed of a series of actual Secondnesses. But their coordination is governed by a Thirdness: the recipe, being general, can never specify all properties in the individual apple pie, it has a schematic frame-character and subsumes an indefinite series – a whole continuum – of possible apple pies. Thirdness is thus necessarily general and vague. Of course, the recipe may be more or less precise, but no recipe exists which is able to determine each and every property in the cake, including date, hour, place, which tree the apples stem from, etc. – any recipe is necessarily general. In this case, the recipe (3) mediates between dream (1) and fulfilment (2) – its generality, symbolicity, relationality and future orientation are all characteristic for Thirdness. An important aspect of Peirce’s realism is that continuous generality may be experienced directly in perceptual judgments: ‘Generality, Thirdness, pours in upon us in our very perceptual judgments’.

All these determinations remain purely phenomenological, even if the later semiotic and metaphysical interpretations clearly shine through. In a more general, non-Peircean terminology, his phenomenology can be seen as the description of minimum aspects inherent in any imaginable possible world – for this reason it is imaginability which is the main argument, and this might point in the direction that Peirce could be open to critique for subjectivism, so often aimed at Husserl’s project, in some respects analogous. The concept of consciousness is invoked as the basis of imaginability: phenomenology is the study of invariant properties in any phenomenon appearing for a mind. Peirce’s answer would here be, on the one hand, the research community which according to him defines reality – an argument which structurally corresponds to Husserl’s reference to intersubjectivity as a necessary ingredient in objectivity (an object is a phenomenon which is intersubjectively accessible). Peirce, however, has a further argument here, namely his consequent refusal to delimit his concept of mind exclusively to human subjects (a category the use of which he obviously tries to minimize), mind-like processes may take place in nature without any subject being responsible. Peirce will, for continuity reasons, never accept any hard distinction between subject and object and remains extremely parsimonious in the employment of such terms.

From Peirce’s New Elements of Mathematics (The New Elements of Mathematics Vol. 4),

But just as the qualities, which as they are for themselves, are equally unrelated to one other, each being mere nothing for any other, yet form a continuum in which and because of their situation in which they acquire more or less resemblance and contrast with one another; and then this continuum is amplified in the continuum of possible feelings of quality, so the accidents of reaction, which are waking consciousnesses of pairs of qualities, may be expected to join themselves into a continuum. 

Since, then an accidental reaction is a combination or bringing into special connection of two qualities, and since further it is accidental and antigeneral or discontinuous, such an accidental reaction ought to be regarded as an adventitious singularity of the continuum of possible quality, just as two points of a sheet of paper might come into contact.

But although singularities are discontinuous, they may be continuous to a certain extent. Thus the sheet instead of touching itself in the union of two points may cut itself all along a line. Here there is a continuous line of singularity. In like manner, accidental reactions though they are breaches of generality may come to be generalized to a certain extent.

Secondness is now taken to actualize these quality possibilities based on an idea that any actual event involves a clash of qualities – in the ensuing argumentation Peirce underlines that the qualities involved in actualization need not be restrained to two but may be many, if they may only be ‘dissolved’ into pairs and hence do not break into the domain of Thirdness. This appearance of actuality, hence, has the property of singularities, spontaneously popping up in the space of possibilities and actualizing pairs of points in it. This transition from First to Second is conceived of along Aristotelian lines: as an actualization of a possibility – and this is expressed in the picture of a discontinuous singularity in the quality continuum. The topological fact that singularities must in general be defined with respect to the neighborhood of the manifold in which they appear, now becomes the argument for the fact that Secondness can never be completely discontinuous but still ‘inherits’ a certain small measure of continuity from the continuum of Firstness. Singularities, being discontinuous along certain dimensions, may be continuous in others, which provides the condition of possibility for Thirdness to exist as a tendency for Secondness to conform to a general law or regularity. As is evident, a completely pure Secondness is impossible in this continuous metaphysics – it remains a conceivable but unrealizable limit case, because a completely discon- tinuous event would amount to nothing. Thirdness already lies as a germ in the non-discontinuous aspects of the singularity. The occurrences of Secondness seem to be infinitesimal, then, rather than completely extensionless points.

Ricci-flow as an “intrinsic-Ricci-flat” Space-time.

A Ricci flow solution {(Mm, g(t)), t ∈ I ⊂ R} is a smooth family of metrics satisfying the evolution equation

∂/∂t g = −2Rc —– (1)

where Mm is a complete manifold of dimension m. We assume that supM |Rm|g(t) < ∞ for each time t ∈ I. This condition holds automatically if M is a closed manifold. It is very often to put an extra term on the right hand side of (1) to obtain the following rescaled Ricci flow

∂/∂t g = −2 {Rc + λ(t)g} —– (2)

where λ(t) is a function depending only on time. Typically, λ(t) is chosen as the average of the scalar curvature, i.e. , 1/m ∱Rdv or some fixed constant independent of time. In the case that M is closed and λ(t) = 1/m ∱Rdv, the flow is called the normalized Ricci flow. Starting from a positive Ricci curvature metric on a 3-manifold, Richard Hamilton showed that the normalized Ricci flow exists forever and converges to a space form metric. Hamilton developed the maximum principle for tensors to study the Ricci flow initiated from some metric with positive curvature conditions. For metrics without positive curvature condition, the study of Ricci flow was profoundly affected by the celebrated work of Grisha Perelman. He introduced new tools, i.e., the entropy functionals μ, ν, the reduced distance and the reduced volume, to investigate the behavior of the Ricci flow. Perelman’s new input enabled him to revive Hamilton’s program of Ricci flow with surgery, leading to solutions of the Poincaré conjecture and Thurston’s geometrization conjecture.

In the general theory of the Ricci flow developed by Perelman in, the entropy functionals μ and ν are of essential importance. Perelman discovered the monotonicity of such functionals and applied them to prove the no-local-collapsing theorem, which removes the stumbling block for Hamilton’s program of Ricci flow with surgery. By delicately using such monotonicity, he further proved the pseudo-locality theorem, which claims that the Ricci flow can not quickly turn an almost Euclidean region into a very curved one, no matter what happens far away. Besides the functionals, Perelman also introduced the reduced distance and reduced volume. In terms of them, the Ricci flow space-time admits a remarkable comparison geometry picture, which is the foundation of his “local”-version of the no-local-collapsing theorem. Each of the tools has its own advantages and shortcomings. The functionals μ and ν have the advantage that their definitions only require the information for each time slice (M, g(t)) of the flow. However, they are global invariants of the underlying manifold (M, g(t)). It is not convenient to apply them to study the local behavior around a given point x. Correspondingly, the reduced volume and the reduced distance reflect the natural comparison geometry picture of the space-time. Around a base point (x, t), the reduced volume and the reduced distance are closely related to the “local” geometry of (x, t). Unfortunately, it is the space-time “local”, rather than the Riemannian geometry “local” that is concerned by the reduced volume and reduced geodesic. In order to apply them, some extra conditions of the space-time neighborhood of (x, t) are usually required. However, such strong requirement of space-time is hard to fulfill. Therefore, it is desirable to have some new tools to balance the advantages of the reduced volume, the reduced distance and the entropy functionals.

Let (Mm, g) be a complete Ricci-flat manifold, x0 is a point on M such that d(x0, x) < A. Suppose the ball B(x0, r0) is A−1−non-collapsed, i.e., r−m0|B(x0, r0)| ≥ A−1, can we obtain uniform non-collapsing for the ball B(x, r), whenever 0 < r < r0 and d(x, x0) < Ar0? This question can be answered easily by applying triangle inequalities and Bishop-Gromov volume comparison theorems. In particular, there exists a κ = κ(m, A) ≥ 3−mA−m−1 such that B(x, r) is κ-non-collapsed, i.e., r−m|B(x, r)| ≥ κ. Consequently, there is an estimate of propagation speed of non-collapsing constant on the manifold M. This is illustrated by Figure


We now regard (M, g) as a trivial space-time {(M, g(t)), −∞ < t < ∞} such that g(t) ≡ g. Clearly, g(t) is a static Ricci flow solution by the Ricci-flatness of g. Then the above estimate can be explained as the propagation of volume non-collapsing constant on the space-time.


However, in a more intrinsic way, it can also be interpreted as the propagation of non-collapsing constant of Perelman’s reduced volume. On the Ricci flat space-time, Perelman’s reduced volume has a special formula

V((x, t)r2) = (4π)-m/2 r-m ∫M e-d2(y, x)/4r2 dvy —– (3)

which is almost the volume ratio of Bg(t)(x, r). On a general Ricci flow solution, the reduced volume is also well-defined and has monotonicity with respect to the parameter r2, if one replace d2(y, x)/4r2 in the above formula by the reduced distance l((x, t), (y, t − r2)). Therefore, via the comparison geometry of Bishop-Gromov type, one can regard a Ricci-flow as an “intrinsic-Ricci-flat” space-time. However, the disadvantage of the reduced volume explanation is also clear: it requires the curvature estimate in a whole space-time neighborhood around the point (x, t), rather than the scalar curvature estimate of a single time slice t.

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.