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May 19, 2018

Circuits, Bond Graphs, and Signal-Flow Diagrams

Posted by John Baez

My student Brandon Coya finished his thesis, and successfully defended it last Tuesday!

• Brandon Coya, Circuits, Bond Graphs, and Signal-Flow Diagrams: A Categorical Perspective, Ph.D. thesis, U. C. Riverside, 2018.

It’s about networks in engineering. He uses category theory to study the diagrams engineers like to draw, and functors to understand how these diagrams are interpreted.

His thesis raises some really interesting pure mathematical questions about the category of corelations and a ‘weak bimonoid’ that can be found in this category. Weak bimonoids were invented by Pastro and Street in their study of ‘quantum categories’, a generalization of quantum groups. So, it’s fascinating to see a weak bimonoid that plays an important role in electrical engineering!

However, in what follows I’ll stick to less fancy stuff: I’ll just explain the basic idea of Brandon’s thesis, say a bit about circuits and ‘bond graphs’, and outline his main results. What follows is heavily based on the introduction of his thesis, but I’ve baezified it a little.

Posted at 11:07 PM UTC | Permalink | Post a Comment

May 14, 2018

Research Fellowship at the University of Leeds

Posted by Simon Willerton

João Faria Martins and Paul Martin at the University of Leeds are advertising a 2-year research fellowship in geometric topology, topological quantum field theory and applications to quantum computing. This is part of a Leverhulme funded project.

The deadline is Tuesday 29th May. Contact João or Paul with any informal inquiries.

Posted at 10:01 AM UTC | Permalink | Post a Comment

May 6, 2018


Posted by John Baez

A new journal! We’ve been working on it for a long time, but we finished sorting out some details at Applied Category Theory 2018, and now we’re ready to tell the world!

Posted at 5:11 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (20)

May 5, 2018

The Fisher Metric Will Not Be Deformed

Posted by Tom Leinster

The pillars of society are those who cannot be bribed or bought, the upright citizens of integrity, the incorruptibles. Throw at them what you will, they never bend.

In the mathematical world, the Fisher metric is one such upstanding figure.

What I mean is this. The Fisher metric can be derived from the concept of relative entropy. But relative entropy can be deformed in various ways, and you might imagine that when you deform it, the Fisher metric gets deformed too. Nope. Bastion of integrity that it is, it remains unmoved.

You don’t need to know what the Fisher metric is in order to get the point: the Fisher metric is a highly canonical concept.

Posted at 12:00 AM UTC | Permalink | Followups (23)

April 27, 2018

Props in Network Theory

Posted by John Baez

Long before the invention of Feynman diagrams, engineers were using similar diagrams to reason about electrical circuits and more general networks containing mechanical, hydraulic, thermodynamic and chemical components. We can formalize this reasoning using ‘props’: that is, strict symmetric monoidal categories where the objects are natural numbers, with the tensor product of objects given by addition. In this approach, each kind of network corresponds to a prop, and each network of this kind is a morphism in that prop. A network with mm inputs and nn outputs is a morphism from mm to n.n. Putting networks together in series is composition, and setting them side by side is tensoring.

In this paper, we study the props for various kinds of electrical circuits:

We start with circuits made solely of ideal perfectly conductive wires. Then we consider circuits with passive linear components like resistors, capacitors and inductors. Finally we turn on the power and consider circuits that also have voltage and current sources.

And here’s the cool part: each kind of circuit corresponds to a prop that pure mathematicians would eventually invent on their own! So, what’s good for engineers is often mathematically natural too.

We describe the ‘behavior’ of these various kinds of circuits using morphisms between props. In particular, we give a new proof of the black-boxing theorem proved earlier with Brendan Fong. Unlike the original proof, this new one easily generalizes to circuits with nonlinear components. We also use a morphism of props to clarify the relation between circuit diagrams and the signal-flow diagrams in control theory.

Here’s a quick sketch of the main ideas.

Posted at 4:59 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (7)

April 26, 2018

What Is an n-Theory?

Posted by Mike Shulman

A few weeks ago at the homotopy type theory electronic seminar I spoke about my joint work with Dan Licata and Mitchell Riley on a “generic” framework for type theories. I briefly mentioned how this fits into a hierarchy of “nn-theories” for n=0,1,2,3n=0,1,2,3, but I didn’t have the time in the talk to develop that idea in detail. However, since that short remark has generated some good discussion and questions at the nnForum, and also the question of “nn-theories” has a substantial history here at the nn-Category Cafe (e.g. this post from 10 years ago), I thought I would expand on it somewhat here.

Let me clarify at the outset, though, that there may be many possible notions of “nn-theory”. This is just one such notion, which gives a convenient way to describe what I see happening in our general framework for type theories. Notable features of this notion of nn-theory include:

  1. It identifies 2-theories with a certain kind of doctrine, for those who know that word. (If that’s not you, don’t worry: I’ll explain it).
  2. It definitively expects the models of an nn-theory to form an nn-category, and not just an nn-groupoid.
  3. It helps clarify the somewhat confusing question of “what is a type theory?”, by pointing out that the phrase “type theory” (and also “internal language”) is actually used in two distinct ways: sometimes it refers to a 1-theory and sometimes to a 2-theory.
Posted at 9:50 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (29)

April 11, 2018

Torsion: Graph Magnitude Homology Meets Combinatorial Topology

Posted by Simon Willerton

As I explained in my previous post, magnitude homology categorifies the magnitude of graphs. There are two questions that will jump out to seasoned students of homology.

  • Are there two graphs which have the same magnitude but different homology groups?
  • Is there a graph with torsion in its homology groups?

Both of these were stated as open questions by Richard Hepworth and me in our paper as we were unable to answer them, despite thinking about them a fair bit. However, recently both of these have been answered positively!

The first question has been answered positively by Yuzhou Gu in a reply to my post. Well, this is essentially answered, in the sense that he has given two graphs both of which we know (provably) the magnitude of, one of which we know (provably) the magnitude homology groups of and the other of which we can compute the magnitude homology of using mine and James Cranch’s SageMath software. So this just requires verification that the program result is correct! I have no doubt that it is correct though.

The second question on the existence of torsion is what I want to concentrate on in this post. This question has been answered positively by Ryuki Kaneta and Masahiko Yoshinaga in their paper

It is a consequence of what they prove in their paper that the graph below has 22-torsion in its magnitude homology; SageMath has drawn it as a directed graph, but you can ignore the arrows. (Click on it to see a bigger version.)


In their paper they prove that if you have a finite triangulation TT of an mm-dimensional manifold MM then you can construct a graph G((T)G((T) so that the reduced homology groups of MM embed in the magnitude homology groups of G((T)G((T):

H˜ i(M)MH i+2,m+2(G(T))for 0im. \widetilde{\mathrm{H}}_i(M)\hookrightarrow MH_{i+2, m+2}( G(T)) \,\,\,\, \text{for }\,\,0\le i \le m.

Following the suggestion in their paper, I’ve taken a minimal triangulation T 0T_0 of the real projective plane P 2\mathbb{R} P^2 and used that to construct the above graph. As we know H 1(P 2)=/2\mathrm{H}_1(\mathbb{R} P^2)=\mathbb{Z}/2\mathbb{Z}, we know that there is 22-torsion in MH 3,4(G(T 0))MH_{3,4}(G({T_0})).

In the rest of this post I’ll explain the construction of the graph and show explicitly how to give a 22-torsion class in MH 3,4(G(T 0))MH_{3,4}(G({T_0})). I’ll illustrate the theory of Kaneta and Yoshinaga by working through a specific example. Barycentric subdivision plays a key role!

Posted at 4:15 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (2)

April 5, 2018

Magnitude Homology Reading Seminar, II

Posted by Simon Willerton

guest post by Scott Balchin

Following on from Simon’s introductory post, this is the second installment regarding the reading group at Sheffield on magnitude homology, and the first installment which looks at the paper of Leinster and Shulman. In this post, we will be discussing the concept of magnitude for enriched categories.

The idea of magnitude is to capture the essence of size of a (finite) enriched category. By changing the ambient enrichment, this magnitude carries different meanings. For example, when we enrich over the monoidal category [0,][0,\infty ] we capture metric space invariants, while changing the enrichment to {true,false}\{ \text {true},\text {false}\} we capture poset invariants.

We will introduce the concept of magnitude via the use of zeta functions of enriched categories, which depend on the choice of a size function for the underlying enriching category. Then, we describe magnitude in a more general way using the theory of weightings. The latter will have the advantage that it is invariant under equivalence of categories, a highly desirable property.

What is presented here is taken almost verbatim from Section 2 of Leinster and Shulman’s Magnitude homology of enriched categories and metric spaces. It is, however, enhanced using comments from various other papers and, of course, multiple nn-Café posts.

Posted at 10:23 AM UTC | Permalink | Post a Comment

April 2, 2018

Dynamical Systems and Their Steady States

Posted by John Baez

guest post by Maru Sarazola

Now that we know how to use decorated cospans to represent open networks, the Applied Category Theory Seminar has turned its attention to open reaction networks (aka Petri nets) and the dynamical systems associated to them.

In A Compositional Framework for Reaction Networks (summarized in this very blog by John Baez not too long ago), authors John Baez and Blake Pollard put Fong’s results to good use and define cospan categories RxNet\mathbf{RxNet} and Dynam\mathbf{Dynam} of (open) reaction networks and (open) dynamical systems. Once this is done, the main goal of the paper is to show that the mapping that associates to an open reaction network its corresponding dynamical system is compositional, as is the mapping that takes an open dynamical system to the relation that holds between its constituents in steady state. In other words, they show that the study of the whole can be done through the study of the parts.

I would like to place the focus on dynamical systems and the study of their steady states, taking a closer look at this correspondence called “black-boxing”, and comparing it to previous related work done by David Spivak.

Posted at 8:49 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (1)

March 25, 2018

On the Magnitude Function of Domains in Euclidean Space, II

Posted by Simon Willerton

joint post with Heiko Gimperlein and Magnus Goffeng.

In the previous post, On the Magnitude Function of Domains in Euclidean Space, I, Heiko and Magnus explained the main theorem in their paper

(Remember that here a domain XX in R nR^n means a subset equal to the closure of its interior.)

The main theorem involves the asymptoic behaviour of the magnitude function X(R)\mathcal{M}_X(R) as RR\to\infty and also the continuation of the magnitude function to a meromorphic function on the complex numbers.

In this post we have tried to tease out some of the analytical ideas that Heiko and Magnus use in the proof of their main theorem.

Heiko and Magnus build on the work of Mark Meckes, Juan Antonio Barceló and Tony Carbery and give a recipe of calculating the magnitude function of a compact domain X nX\subset \mathbb{R}^n (for n=2m1n=2m-1 an odd integer) by finding a solution to a differential equation subject to boundary conditions which involve certain derivatives of the function at the boundary X\partial X and then integrating over the boundary certain other derivatives of the solution.

In this context, switching from one set of derivatives at the boundary to another set of derivatives involves what analysts call a Dirichlet to Neumann operator. In order to understand the magnitude function it turns out that it suffices to consider this Dirichlet to Neumann operator (which is actually parametrized by the scale factor in the magnitude function). Heavy machinary of semiclassical analysis can then be employed to prove properties of this parameter-dependent operator and hence of the magntiude function.

We hope that some of this is explained below!

Posted at 1:46 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (5)

March 19, 2018

Magnitude Homology Reading Seminar, I

Posted by Simon Willerton

In Sheffield we have started a reading seminar on the recent paper of Tom Leinster and Mike Shulman Magnitude homology of enriched categories and metric spaces. The plan was to write the talks up as blog posts. Various things, including the massive strike that has been going on in universities in the UK, have meant that I’m somewhat behind with putting the first talk up. The strike also means that we haven’t had many seminars yet!

I gave the first talk which is the one here. It is an introductory talk which just describes the idea of categorification and the paper I wrote with Richard Hepworth on categorifying the magnitude of finite graphs, this is the idea which was generalized by Tom and Mike.

Posted at 8:59 AM UTC | Permalink | Followups (13)

March 11, 2018

Stabilization of Derivators

Posted by Mike Shulman

(guest post by Ian Coley)

I recently published a paper to the arXiv which reconstructs an old paper of Alex Heller. Heller’s Stable homotopy theories and stabilization is one of a few proto-derivator papers that are still oft-cited by those of us studying derivators — a subject absent from this website since the two papers of Mike Shulman and Kate Ponto were published in 2014! Therefore before getting into the paper itself, it’s worth recalling what a derivator is supposed to be and do. For those interested in the long version, check out the nLab article or Moritz Groth’s excellent paper.

Posted at 8:18 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (3)

March 10, 2018

Cognition, Convexity, and Category Theory

Posted by John Baez

guest post by Tai-Danae Bradley and Brad Theilman

Recently in the Applied Category Theory Seminar our discussions have returned to modeling natural language, this time via Interacting Conceptual Spaces I by Joe Bolt, Bob Coecke, Fabrizio Genovese, Martha Lewis, Dan Marsden, and Robin Piedeleu. In this paper, convex algebras lie at the heart of a compositional model of cognition based on Peter Gärdenfors’ theory of conceptual spaces. We summarize the ideas in today’s post.

Sincere thanks go to Brendan Fong, Nina Otter, Fabrizio Genovese, Joseph Hirsh, and other participants of the seminar for helpful discussions and feedback.

Posted at 6:51 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (12)

March 4, 2018

Coarse-Graining Open Markov Processes

Posted by John Baez

Kenny Courser and I have been working hard on this paper for months:

It may be almost done. So, it would be great if you folks could take a look and comment on it! It’s a cool mix of probability theory and double categories.

‘Coarse-graining’ is a standard method of extracting a simple Markov process from a more complicated one by identifying states. We extend coarse-graining to open Markov processes. An ‘open’ Markov process is one where probability can flow in or out of certain states called ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’. One can build up an ordinary Markov process from smaller open pieces in two basic ways:

  • composition, where we identify the outputs of one open Markov process with the inputs of another,


  • tensoring, where we set two open Markov processes side by side.

A while back, Brendan Fong, Blake Pollard and I showed that these constructions make open Markov processes into the morphisms of a symmetric monoidal category:

Here Kenny and I go further by constructing a symmetric monoidal double category where the 2-morphisms include ways of coarse-graining open Markov processes. We also extend the previously defined ‘black-boxing’ functor from the category of open Markov processes to this double category.

But before you dive into the paper, let me explain all this stuff a bit more….

Posted at 12:34 AM UTC | Permalink | Followups (11)

March 1, 2018

Univalence From Scratch

Posted by Mike Shulman

Martín Escardó has written “a self-contained, brief and complete formulation of Voevodsky’s Univalence Axiom” in English and Agda:

Posted at 12:15 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (16)