A Sheaf of Modules is a Geometric Generalization of a Module over a Ring – A Case Derivative of Abelian Closure


A coherent sheaf is a generalization of, on the one hand, a module over a ring, and on the other hand, a vector bundle over a manifold. Indeed, the category of coherent sheaves is the “abelian closure” of the category of vector bundles on a variety.

Given a field which we always take to be the field of complex numbers C, an affine algebraic variety X is the vanishing locus

X = 􏰐(x1,…, xn) : fi(x1,…, xn) = 0􏰑 ⊂ An

of a set of polynomials fi(x1,…, xn) in affine space An with coordinates x1,…, xn. Associated to an affine variety is the ring A = C[X] of its regular functions, which is simply the ring C[x1,…, xn] modulo the ideal ⟨fi⟩ of the defining polynomials. Closed subvarieties Z of X are defined by the vanishing of further polynomials and open subvarieties U = X \ Z are the complements of closed ones; this defines the Zariski topology on X. The Zariski topology is not to be confused with the complex topology, which comes from the classical (Euclidean) topology of Cn defined using complex balls; every Zariski open set is also open in the complex topology, but the converse is very far from being true. For example, the complex topology of A1 is simply that of C, whereas in the Zariski topology, the only closed sets are A1 itself and finite point sets.

Projective varieties X ⊂ Pn are defined similarly. Projective space Pn is the set of lines in An+1 through the origin; an explicit coordinatization is by (n + 1)-tuples

(x0,…, xn) ∈ Cn+1 \ {0,…,0}

identified under the equivalence relation

(x0,…, xn) ∼ (λx0,…, λxn) for λ ∈ C

Projective space can be decomposed into a union of (n + 1) affine pieces (An)i = 􏰐[x0,…, xn] : xi ≠ 0􏰑 with n affine coordinates yj = xj/xi. A projective variety X is the locus of common zeros of a set {fi(x1,…, xn)} of homogeneous polynomials. The Zariski topology is again defined by choosing for closed sets the loci of vanishing of further homogeneous polynomials in the coordinates {xi}. The variety X is covered by the standard open sets Xi = X ∩ (An)i ⊂ X, which are themselves affine varieties. A variety􏰭 X is understood as a topological space with a finite open covering X = ∪i Ui, where every open piece Ui ⊂ An is an affine variety with ring of global functions Ai = C[Ui]; further, the pieces Ui are glued together by regular functions defined on open subsets. The topology on X is still referred to as the Zariski topology. X also carries the complex topology, which again has many more open sets.

Given affine varieties X ⊂ An, Y ⊂ Am, a morphism f : X → Y is given by an m-tuple of polynomials {f1(x1, . . . , xn), . . . , fm(x1, . . . , xn)} satisfying the defining relations of Y. Morphisms on projective varieties are defined similarly, using homogeneous polynomials of the same degree. Morphisms on general varieties are defined as morphisms on their affine pieces, which glue together in a compatible way.

If X is a variety, points P ∈ X are either singular or nonsingular. This is a local notion, and hence, it suffices to define a nonsingular point on an affine piece Ui ⊂ An. A point P ∈ Ui is nonsingular if, locally in the complex topology, a neighbourhood of P ∈ Ui is a complex submanifold of Cn.

The motivating example of a coherent sheaf of modules on an algebraic variety X is the structure sheaf or sheaf of regular functions OX. This is a gadget with the following properties:

  1. On every open set U ⊂ X, we are given an abelian group (or even a commutative ring) denoted OX(U), also written Γ(U, OX), the ring of regular functions on U.
  2. Restriction: if V ⊂ U is an open subset, a restriction map resUV : OX(U) → OX(V) is defined, which simply associates to every regular function f defined over U, the restriction of this function to V. If W ⊂ V ⊂ U are open sets, then the restriction maps clearly satisfy resUW = resVW ◦ resUV.
  3. Sheaf Property: suppose that an open subset U ⊂ X is covered by a collection of open subsets {Ui}, and suppose that a set of regular functions fi ∈ OX(Ui) is given such that whenever Ui and Uj intersect, then the restrictions of fi and fj to Ui ∩ Uj agree. Then there is a unique function f ∈ OX(U) whose restriction to Ui is fi.

In other words, the sheaf of regular functions consists of the collection of regular functions on open sets, together with the obvious restriction maps for open subsets; moreover, this data satisfies the Sheaf Property, which says that local functions, agreeing on overlaps, glue in a unique way to a global function on U.

A sheaf F on the algebraic variety X is a gadget satisfying the same formal properties; namely, it is defined by a collection {F(U)} of abelian groups on open sets, called sections of F over U, together with a compatible system of restriction maps on sections resUV : F(U) → F(V) for V ⊂ U, so that the Sheaf Property is satisfied: sections are locally defined just as regular functions are. But, what of sheaves of OX-modules? The extra requirement is that the sections F(U) over an open set U form a module over the ring of regular functions OX(U), and all restriction maps are compatible with the module structures. In other words, we multiply local sections by local functions, so that multiplication respects restriction. A sheaf of OX-modules is defined by the data of an A-module for every open subset U ⊂ X with ring of functions A = OX(U), so that these modules are glued together compatibly with the way the open sets glue. Hence, a sheaf of modules is indeed a geometric generalization of a module over a ring.

Weyl and Automorphism of Nature. Drunken Risibility.


In classical geometry and physics, physical automorphisms could be based on the material operations used for defining the elementary equivalence concept of congruence (“equality and similitude”). But Weyl started even more generally, with Leibniz’ explanation of the similarity of two objects, two things are similar if they are indiscernible when each is considered by itself. Here, like at other places, Weyl endorsed this Leibnzian argument from the point of view of “modern physics”, while adding that for Leibniz this spoke in favour of the unsubstantiality and phenomenality of space and time. On the other hand, for “real substances” the Leibnizian monads, indiscernability implied identity. In this way Weyl indicated, prior to any more technical consideration, that similarity in the Leibnizian sense was the same as objective equality. He did not enter deeper into the metaphysical discussion but insisted that the issue “is of philosophical significance far beyond its purely geometric aspect”.

Weyl did not claim that this idea solves the epistemological problem of objectivity once and for all, but at least it offers an adequate mathematical instrument for the formulation of it. He illustrated the idea in a first step by explaining the automorphisms of Euclidean geometry as the structure preserving bijective mappings of the point set underlying a structure satisfying the axioms of “Hilbert’s classical book on the Foundations of Geometry”. He concluded that for Euclidean geometry these are the similarities, not the congruences as one might expect at a first glance. In the mathematical sense, we then “come to interpret objectivity as the invariance under the group of automorphisms”. But Weyl warned to identify mathematical objectivity with that of natural science, because once we deal with real space “neither the axioms nor the basic relations are given”. As the latter are extremely difficult to discern, Weyl proposed to turn the tables and to take the group Γ of automorphisms, rather than the ‘basic relations’ and the corresponding relata, as the epistemic starting point.

Hence we come much nearer to the actual state of affairs if we start with the group Γ of automorphisms and refrain from making the artificial logical distinction between basic and derived relations. Once the group is known, we know what it means to say of a relation that it is objective, namely invariant with respect to Γ.

By such a well chosen constitutive stipulation it becomes clear what objective statements are, although this can be achieved only at the price that “…we start, as Dante starts in his Divina Comedia, in mezzo del camin”. A phrase characteristic for Weyl’s later view follows:

It is the common fate of man and his science that we do not begin at the beginning; we find ourselves somewhere on a road the origin and end of which are shrouded in fog.

Weyl’s juxtaposition of the mathematical and the physical concept of objectivity is worthwhile to reflect upon. The mathematical objectivity considered by him is relatively easy to obtain by combining the axiomatic characterization of a mathematical theory with the epistemic postulate of invariance under a group of automorphisms. Both are constituted in a series of acts characterized by Weyl as symbolic construction, which is free in several regards. For example, the group of automorphisms of Euclidean geometry may be expanded by “the mathematician” in rather wide ways (affine, projective, or even “any group of transformations”). In each case a specific realm of mathematical objectivity is constituted. With the example of the automorphism group Γ of (plane) Euclidean geometry in mind Weyl explained how, through the use of Cartesian coordinates, the automorphisms of Euclidean geometry can be represented by linear transformations “in terms of reproducible numerical symbols”.

For natural science the situation is quite different; here the freedom of the constitutive act is severely restricted. Weyl described the constraint for the choice of Γ at the outset in very general terms: The physicist will question Nature to reveal him her true group of automorphisms. Different to what a philosopher might expect, Weyl did not mention, the subtle influences induced by theoretical evaluations of empirical insights on the constitutive choice of the group of automorphisms for a physical theory. He even did not restrict the consideration to the range of a physical theory but aimed at Nature as a whole. Still basing on his his own views and radical changes in the fundamental views of theoretical physics, Weyl hoped for an insight into the true group of automorphisms of Nature without any further specifications.

Revisiting Twistors

In twistor theory, α-planes are the building blocks of classical field theory in complexified compactified Minkowski space-time. The α-planes are totally null two-surfaces S in that, if p is any point on S, and if v and w are any two null tangent vectors at p ∈ S, the complexified Minkowski metric η satisfies the identity η(v,w) = vawa = 0. By definition, their null tangent vectors have the two-component spinor form λAπA, where λA is varying and πA is fixed. Therefore, the induced metric vanishes identically since η(v,w) = λAπA μAπA = 0 = η(v, v) = λAπA λAπA . One thus obtains a conformally invariant characterization of flat space-times. This definition can be generalized to complex or real Riemannian space-times with non-vanishing curvature, provided the Weyl curvature is anti-self-dual. One then finds that the curved metric g is such that g(v,w) = 0 on S, and the spinor field πA is covariantly constant on S. The corresponding holomorphic two-surfaces are called α-surfaces, and they form a three-complex-dimensional family. Twistor space is the space of all α-surfaces, and depends only on the conformal structure of complex space-time.

Projective twistor space PT is isomorphic to complex projective space CP3. The correspondence between flat space-time and twistor space shows that complex α-planes correspond to points in PT, and real null geodesics to points in PN, i.e. the space of null twistors. Moreover, a complex space-time point corresponds to a sphere in PT, and a real space-time point to a sphere in PN. Remarkably, the points x and y are null-separated iff the corresponding spheres in PT intersect. This is the twistor description of the light-cone structure of Minkowski space-time.

A conformally invariant isomorphism exists between the complex vector space of holomorphic solutions of  ◻φ = 0 on the forward tube of flat space-time, and the complex vector space of arbitrary complex-analytic functions of three variables, not subject to any differential equation. Moreover, when curvature is non-vanishing, there is a one-to-one correspondence between complex space-times with anti-self-dual Weyl curvature and scalar curvature R = 24Λ, and sufficiently small deformations of flat projective twistor space PT which preserve a one-form τ homogeneous of degree 2 and a three-form ρ homogeneous of degree 4, with τ ∧ dτ = 2Λρ. Thus, to solve the anti-self-dual Einstein equations, one has to study a geometric problem, i.e. finding the holomorphic curves in deformed projective twistor space.