August 19, 2017
Simplicial Sets vs. Simplicial Complexes
Posted by John Baez
I’m looking for a reference. Homotopy theorists love simplicial sets; certain other topologists love simplicial complexes; they are related in various ways, and I’m interested in one such relation.
Let me explain…
August 11, 2017
Magnitude Homology in Sapporo
Posted by Tom Leinster
John and I are currently enjoying Applied Algebraic Topology 2017 in the city of Sapporo, on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.
I spoke about magnitude homology of metric spaces. A central concept in applied topology is persistent homology, which is also a homology theory of metric spaces. But magnitude homology is different.
It was brought into being one year ago on this very blog, principally by Mike Shulman, though Richard Hepworth and Simon Willerton had worked out a special case before. You can read a long post of mine about it from a year ago, which in turn refers back to a very long comments thread of an earlier post.
But for a short account, try my talk slides. They introduce both magnitude itself (including some exciting new developments) and magnitude homology. Both are defined in the wide generality of enriched categories, but I concentrated on the case of metric spaces.
Of course, John’s favourite slide was the one shown.
A Graphical Calculus for Proarrow Equipments
Posted by John Baez
guest post by David Myers
Proarrow equipments (which also go by the names “fibrant double categories” and “framed bicategories”) are wonderful and fundamental category-like objects. If categories are the abstract algebras of functions, then equipments are the abstract algebras of functions and relations. They are a fantastic setting to do formal category theory, which you can learn about in Mike’s post about them on this blog!
For my undergraduate thesis, I came up with a graphical calculus for working with equipments. I wasn’t the first to come up with it (if you’re familiar with both string diagrams and equipments, it’s basically the only sort of thing that you’d try), but I did prove it sound using a proof similar to Joyal and Street’s proof of the soundness of the graphical calculus for monoidal categories. You can see the full paper on the arXiv, or see the slides from a talk I gave about it at CT2017 here. Below the fold, I’ll show you the diagrams and a bit of what you can do with them.
August 5, 2017
Instantaneous Dimension of Finite Metric Spaces via Magnitude and Spread
Posted by Simon Willerton
In June I went to the following conference.
This was held at the Będlewo Conference Centre which is run by the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Mathematics. Like Oberwolfach it is kind of in the middle of nowhere, being about half an hour’s bus ride from Poznan. (As our excursion guide told us, Poznan is 300km from anywhere: 300 km from Warsaw, 300 km from Berlin, 300 km from the sea and 300 km from the mountains.) You get to eat and drink in the palace pictured below; the seminar rooms and accommodation are in a somewhat less grand building out of shot of the photo.
I gave a 20-minute long, magnitude-related talk. You can download the slides below. Do try the BuzzFeed-like quiz at the end. How many of the ten spaces can just identify just from their dimension profile?
To watch the animation I think that you will have to use acrobat reader. If you don’t want to use that then there’s a movie-free version.
The Rise and Spread of Algebraic Topology
Posted by John Baez
People have been using algebraic topology in data analysis these days, so we’re starting to see conferences like this:
- Applied Algebraic Topology 2017, August 8-12, 2017, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan.
I’m giving the first talk at this one. I’ve done a lot of work on applied category theory, but only a bit on on applied algebraic topology. It was tempting to smuggle in some categories, operads and props under the guise of algebraic topology. But I decided it would be more useful, as a kind of prelude to the conference, to say a bit about the overall history of algebraic topology, and its inner logic: how it was inevitably driven to categories, and then 2-categories, and then $\infty$-categories.
This may be the least ‘applied’ of all the talks at this conference, but I’m hoping it will at least trigger some interesting thoughts. We don’t want the ‘applied’ folks to forget the grand view that algebraic topology has to offer!
July 31, 2017
A Compositional Framework for Reaction Networks
Posted by John Baez
For a long time Blake Pollard and I have been working on ‘open’ chemical reaction networks: that is, networks of chemical reactions where some chemicals can flow in from an outside source, or flow out. The picture to keep in mind is something like this:
where the yellow circles are different kinds of chemicals and the aqua boxes are different reactions. The purple dots in the sets X and Y are ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’, where certain kinds of chemicals can flow in or out.
Our paper on this stuff just got accepted, and it should appear soon:
- John Baez and Blake Pollard, A compositional framework for reaction networks, to appear in Reviews in Mathematical Physics.
But thanks to the arXiv, you don’t have to wait: beat the rush, click and download now!
Or at least read the rest of this blog post….
July 19, 2017
What is the Comprehension Construction?
Posted by Emily Riehl
Dominic Verity and I have just posted a paper on the arXiv entitled “The comprehension construction.” This post is meant to explain what we mean by the name.
The comprehension construction is somehow analogous to both the straightening and the unstraightening constructions introduced by Lurie in his development of the theory of quasi-categories. Most people use the term $\infty$-categories as a rough synonym for quasi-categories, but we reserve this term for something more general: the objects in any $\infty$-cosmos. There is an $\infty$-cosmos whose objects are quasi-categories and another whose objects are complete Segal spaces. But there are also more exotic $\infty$-cosmoi whose objects model $(\infty,n)$-categories or fibered $(\infty,1)$-categories, and our comprehension construction applies to any of these contexts.
The input to the comprehension construction is any cocartesian fibration between $\infty$-categories together with a third $\infty$-category $A$. The output is then a particular homotopy coherent diagram that we refer to as the comprehension functor. In the case $A=1$, the comprehension functor defines a “straightening” of the cocartesian fibration. In the case where the cocartesian fibration is the universal one over the quasi-category of small $\infty$-categories, the comprehension functor converts a homotopy coherent diagram of shape $A$ into its “unstraightening,” a cocartesian fibration over $A$.
The fact that the comprehension construction can be applied in any $\infty$-cosmos has an immediate benefit. The codomain projection functor associated to an $\infty$-category $A$ defines a cocartesian fibration in the slice $\infty$-cosmos over $A$, in which case the comprehension functor specializes to define the Yoneda embedding.
July 14, 2017
Laws of Mathematics “Commendable”
Posted by Tom Leinster
Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, today:
The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.
The context: Turnbull wants Australia to undermine encryption by compelling backdoors by law. The argument is that governments should have the right to read all their citizens’ communications.
Technologists have explained over and over again why this won’t work, but politicians like Turnbull know better. The recent, enormous, Petya and WannaCry malware attacks (hitting British hospitals, for instance) show what can happen when intelligence agencies such as the NSA treat vulnerabilities in software as opportunities to be exploited rather than problems to be fixed.
Thanks to David Roberts for sending me the link.
July 8, 2017
A Bicategory of Decorated Cospans
Posted by John Baez
My students are trying to piece together general theory of networks, inspired by many examples. A good general theory should clarify and unify these examples. What some people call network theory, I’d just call ‘applied graph invariant theory’: they come up with a way to calculate numbers from graphs, they calculate these numbers for graphs that show up in nature, and then they try to draw conclusions about this. That’s fine as far as it goes, but there’s a lot more to network theory!
July 2, 2017
The Geometric McKay Correspondence (Part 2)
Posted by John Baez
Last time I sketched how the $E_8$ Dynkin diagram arises from the icosahedron. This time I’m fill in some details. I won’t fill in all the details, because I don’t know how! Working them out is the goal of this series, and I’d like to enlist your help.
As Kennedy said: ask not what your n-Café can do for you. Ask what you can do for your n-Café!
June 19, 2017
The Geometric McKay Correspondence (Part 1)
Posted by John Baez
The ‘geometric McKay correspondence’, actually discovered by Patrick du Val in 1934, is a wonderful relation between the Platonic solids and the ADE Dynkin diagrams. In particular, it sets up a connection between two of my favorite things, the icosahedron:
and the $\mathrm{E}_8$ Dynkin diagram:
When I recently gave a talk on this topic, I realized I didn’t understand it as well as I’d like. Since then I’ve been making progress with the help of this book:
- Alexander Kirillov Jr., Quiver Representations and Quiver Varieties, AMS, Providence, Rhode Island, 2016.
I now think I glimpse a way forward to a very concrete and vivid understanding of the relation between the icosahedron and E_{8}. It’s really just a matter of taking the ideas in this book and working them out concretely in this case. But it takes some thought, at least for me. I’d like to enlist your help.
June 10, 2017
Eliminating Binders for Easier Operational Semantics
Posted by John Baez
guest post by Mike Stay
Last year, my son’s math teacher introduced the kids to the concept of a function. One of the major points of confusion in the class was the idea that it didn’t matter whether he wrote $f(x) = x^2$ or $f(y) = y^2$, but it did matter whether he wrote $f(x) = x y$ or $f(x) = x z$. The function declaration binds some of the variables appearing on the right to the ones appearing on the left; the ones that don’t appear on the left are “free”. In a few years when he takes calculus, my son will learn about the quantifiers “for all” and “there exists” in the “epsilon-delta” definition of limit; quantifiers also bind variables in expressions.
Reasoning formally about languages with binders is hard:
“The problem of representing and reasoning about inductively-defined structures with binders is central to the PoplMark challenges. Representing binders has been recognized as crucial by the theorem proving community, and many different solutions to this problem have been proposed. In our (still limited) experience, none emerge as clear winners.” – Aydemir, Bohannon, Fairbairn, Foster, Pierce, Sewell, Vytiniotis, Washburn, Weirich, and Zdancewic, Mechanized metatheory for the masses: The PoplMark challenge. (2005)
The paper quoted above reviews around a dozen approaches in section 2.3, and takes pains to point out that their review is incomplete. However, recently Andrew Pitts and his students (particularly Murdoch Gabbay) developed the notion of a nominal set (introductory slides, book) that has largely solved this problem. Bengston and Barrow use a nominal datatype package in Isabell/HOL to formalize $\pi$-calculus, and Clouston defined nominal Lawvere theories. It’s my impression that pretty much everyone now agrees that using nominal sets to formally model binders is the way forward.
Sometimes, though, it’s useful to look backwards; old techniques can lead to new ways of looking at a problem. The earliest approach to the problem of formally modeling bound variables was to eliminate them.
June 7, 2017
Enriched Lawvere Theories for Operational Semantics
Posted by John Baez
guest post by Mike Stay
Programs are an expression of programmer intent. We want the computer to do something for us, so we need to tell it what to do. We make mistakes, though, so we want to be able to check somehow that the program will do what we want. The idea of semantics for a programming language is that we assign some meaning to programs in such a way that we can reason about the behavior of a program. There are two main approaches to this: denotational semantics and operational semantics. I’ll discuss both below, but the post will focus for the most part on operational semantics.
There’s a long history of using 2-categories and related structures for term rewriting and operational semantics, but Greg Meredith and I are particularly fond of an approach using multisorted Lawvere theories enriched over the category of reflexive directed graphs, which we call Gph. Such enriched Lawvere theories are equal in power to, for instance, Sassone and Sobociński’s reactive systems, but in my opinion they have a cleaner categorical presentation. We wrote a paper on them:
Here I’ll just sketch the basic ideas.
May 24, 2017
A Type Theory for Synthetic ∞-Categories
Posted by Emily Riehl
One of the observations that launched homotopy type theory is that the rule of identity-elimination in Martin-Löf’s identity types automatically generates the structure of an $\infty$-groupoid. In this way, homotopy type theory can be viewed as a “synthetic theory of $\infty$-groupoids.”
It is natural to ask whether there is a similar directed type theory that describes a “synthetic theory of $(\infty,1)$-categories” (or even higher categories). Interpreting types directly as (higher) categories runs into various problems, such as the fact that not all maps between categories are exponentiable (so that not all $\prod$-types exist), and that there are numerous different kinds of “fibrations” given the various possible functorialities and dimensions of categories appearing as fibers. The 2-dimensional directed type theory of Licata and Harper has semantics in 1-categories, with a syntax that distinguishes between co- and contra-variant dependencies; but since the 1-categorical structure is “put in by hand”, it’s not especially synthetic and doesn’t generalize well to higher categories.
An alternative approach was independently suggested by Mike and by Joyal, motivated by the model of homotopy type theory in the category of Reedy fibrant simplicial spaces, which contains as a full subcategory the $\infty$-cosmos of complete Segal spaces, which we call Rezk spaces. It is not possible to model ordinary homotopy type theory directly in the Rezk model structure, which is not right proper, but we can model it in the Reedy model structure and then identify internally some “types with composition,” which correspond to Segal spaces, and “types with composition and univalence,” which correspond to the Rezk spaces.
Almost five years later, we are finally developing this approach in more detail. In a new paper now available on the arXiv, Mike and I give definitions of Segal and Rezk types motivated by these semantics, and demonstrate that these simple definitions suffice to develop the synthetic theory of $(\infty,1)$-categories. So far this includes functors, natural transformations, co- and contravariant type families with discrete fibers ($\infty$-groupoids), the Yoneda lemma (including a “dependent” Yoneda lemma that looks like “directed identity-elimination”), and the theory of coherent adjunctions.
May 12, 2017
Unboxing Algebraic Theories of Generalised Arities
Posted by Emily Riehl
Guest post by José Siqueira
We began our journey in the second Kan Extension Seminar with a discussion of the classical concept of Lawvere theory , facilitated by Evangelia. Together with the concept of a model, this technology allows one to encapsulate the behaviour of algebraic structures defined by collections of $n$-ary operations subject to axioms (such as the ever-popular groups and rings) in a functorial setting, with the added flexibility of easily transferring such structures to arbitrary underlying categories $\mathcal{C}$ with finite products (rather than sticking with $\mathbf{Set}$), naturally leading to important notions such as that of a Lie group.
Throughout the seminar, many features of Lawvere theories and connections to other concepts were unearthed and natural questions were addressed — notably for today’s post, we have established a correspondence between Lawvere theories and finitary monads in $\mathbf{Set}$ and discussed the notion of operad, how things go in the enriched context and what changes if you tweak the definitions to allow for more general kinds of limit. We now conclude this iteration of the seminar by bringing to the table “Monads with arities and their associated theories”, by Clemens Berger, Paul-André Melliès and Mark Weber, which answers the (perhaps last) definitional “what-if”: what goes on if you allow for operations of more general arities.
At this point I would like to thank Alexander Campbell, Brendan Fong and Emily Riehl for the amazing organization and support of this seminar, as well as my fellow colleagues, whose posts, presentations and comments drafted a more user-friendly map to traverse this subject.