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September 21, 2018

A Pattern That Eventually Fails

Posted by John Baez

Sometimes you check just a few examples and decide something is always true. But sometimes even 1.5×10 431.5 \times 10^{43} examples is not enough.

Posted at 5:05 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (3)

September 20, 2018

Cartesian Double Categories

Posted by Mike Shulman

In general, there are two kinds of bicategories: those like CatCat and those like SpanSpan. In the CatCat-like ones, the morphisms are “categorified functions”, which generally means some kind of “functor” between some kind of “category”, consisting of functions mapping objects and arrows from domain to codomain. But in the SpanSpan-like ones (which includes ModMod and ProfProf), the morphisms are not “functors” but rather some kind of “generalized relations” (including spans, modules, profunctors, and so on) which do not map from domain to codomain but rather relate the domain and codomain in some way.

In SpanSpan-like bicategories there is usually a subclass of the morphisms that do behave like categorified functions, and these play an important role. Usually the morphisms in this subclass all have right adjoints; sometimes they are exactly the morphisms with right adjoints; and often one can get away with talking about “morphisms with right adjoints” rather than making this subclass explicit. However, it’s also often conceptually and technically helpful to give the subclass as extra data, and arguably the most perspicuous way to do this is to work with a double category instead. This was the point of my first published paper, though others had certainly made the same point before, and I think more and more people are coming to recognize it.

Today a new installment in this story appeared on the arXiv: Cartesian Double Categories with an Emphasis on Characterizing Spans, by Evangelia Aleiferi. This is a project that I’ve wished for a while someone would do, so I’m excited that at last someone has!

Posted at 7:22 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (7)

September 19, 2018

p-Local Group Theory

Posted by John Baez

I’ve been trying to learn a bit of the theory of finite groups. As you may know, Sylow’s theorems say that if you have a finite group GG, and p kp^k is the largest power of a prime pp that divides the order of GG, then GG has a subgroup of order p kp^k, which is unique up to conjugation. This is called a Sylow pp-subgroup of GG.

Sylow’s theorems also say a lot about how many Sylow pp-subgroups GG has. They also say that any subgroup of GG whose order is a power of pp is contained in a Sylow pp-subgroup.

I didn’t like these theorems as an undergrad. The course I took whizzed through them in a desultory way. And I didn’t go after them myself: I was into group theory for its applications to physics, and the detailed structure of finite groups doesn’t look important when you’re first learning physics: what stands out are continuous symmetries, so I was busy studying Lie groups.

Since I didn’t really master Sylow’s theorems, and had no strong motive to do so, I didn’t like them — the usual sad story of youthful mathematical distastes.

But now I’m thinking about Sylow’s theorems again, especially pleased by Robert A. Wilson’s one-paragraph proof of all three of these theorems in his book The Finite Simple Groups. And I started wondering if the importance of groups of prime power order — which we see highlighted in Sylow’s theorems and many other results — is all related to localization in algebraic topology, which is a technique to focus attention on a particular prime.

Posted at 3:52 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (22)

September 18, 2018

What is Applied Category Theory?

Posted by John Baez

Tai-Danae Bradley has a new free “booklet” on applied category theory. It grew out of the workshop Applied Category Theory 2018, and I think it makes a great complement to Fong and Spivak’s book Seven Sketches and my online course based on that book:

Abstract. This is a collection of introductory, expository notes on applied category theory, inspired by the 2018 Applied Category Theory Workshop, and in these notes we take a leisurely stroll through two themes (functorial semantics and compositionality), two constructions (monoidal categories and decorated cospans) and two examples (chemical reaction networks and natural language processing) within the field.

Check it out!

Posted at 7:44 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (1)

September 5, 2018

A Categorical Look at Random Variables

Posted by Tom Leinster

guest post by Mark Meckes

For the past several years I’ve been thinking on and off about whether there’s a fruitful category-theoretic perspective on probability theory, or at least a perspective with a category-theoretic flavor.

(You can see this MathOverflow question by Pete Clark for some background, though I started thinking about this question somewhat earlier. The fact that I’m writing this post should tell you something about my attitude toward my own answer there. On the other hand, that answer indicates something of the perspective I’m coming from.)

I’m a long way from finding such a perspective I’m happy with, but I have some observations I’d like to share with other n-Category Café patrons on the subject, in hopes of stirring up some interesting discussion. The main idea here was pointed out to me by Tom, who I pester about this subject on an approximately annual basis.

Posted at 10:24 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (35)

August 27, 2018

Exceptional Quantum Geometry and Particle Physics

Posted by John Baez

It would be great if we could make sense of the Standard Model: the 3 generations of quarks and leptons, the 3 colors of quarks vs. colorless leptons, the way only the weak force notices the difference between left and right, the curious gauge group SU(3)×SU(2)×U(1)\mathrm{SU}(3) \times \mathrm{SU}(2)\times \mathrm{U}(1), the role of the Higgs boson, and so on. I can’t help but hope that all these facts are clues that we have not yet managed to interpret.

These papers may not be on the right track, but I feel a duty to explain them:

After all, the math is probably right. And they use the exceptional Jordan algebra, which I’ve already wasted a lot of time thinking about — so I’m in a better position than most to summarize what they’ve done.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not claiming this paper is important for physics! I really have no idea. But it’s making progress on a quirky, quixotic line of thought that has fascinated me for years.

Here’s the main result. The exceptional Jordan algebra contains a lot of copies of 4-dimensional Minkowski spacetime. The symmetries of the exceptional Jordan algebra that preserve any one of these copies form a group…. which happens to be exactly the gauge group of the Standard Model!

Posted at 5:26 AM UTC | Permalink | Followups (24)

August 24, 2018

Compositionality: Now Open For Submissions

Posted by John Baez

Our new journal Compositionality is now open for submissions!

It’s an open-access journal for research using compositional ideas, most notably of a category-theoretic origin, in any discipline. Topics may concern foundational structures, an organizing principle, or a powerful tool. Example areas include but are not limited to: computation, logic, physics, chemistry, engineering, linguistics, and cognition.

Compositionality is free of cost for both readers and authors.

Posted at 3:35 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (1)

August 22, 2018


Posted by John Baez

Jake Bian works on the topology and geometry of neural networks. But now he’s created a new add-on—okay, let’s say it, an extension—for Firefox, designed to make nLab entries look more like textbook chapters:

Posted at 11:42 AM UTC | Permalink | Post a Comment

August 10, 2018

The Philosophy and Physics of Noether’s Theorems

Posted by David Corfield

Nicholas Teh tells me that there is to be a conference held in London, UK, on October 5-6, 2018, celebrating the centenary of Emmy Noether’s work in mathematical physics.

2018 brings with it the centenary of a major milestone in mathematical physics: the publication of Amalie (“Emmy”) Noether’s theorems relating symmetry and physical quantities, which continue to be a font of inspiration for “symmetry arguments” in physics, and for the interpretation of symmetry within philosophy.

In order to celebrate Noether’s legacy, the University of Notre Dame and the LSE Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Sciences are co-organizing a conference that will bring together leading mathematicians, physicists, and philosophers of physics in order to discuss the enduring impact of Noether’s work.

Speakers include our very own John Baez.

Posted at 10:05 AM UTC | Permalink | Followups (5)

July 18, 2018

The Duties of a Mathematician

Posted by John Baez

What are the ethical responsibilities of a mathematician? I can think of many, some of which I even try to fulfill, but this document raises one that I have mixed feelings about:


The ethical responsibility of mathematicians includes a certain duty, never precisely stated in any formal way, but of course felt by and known to serious researchers: to dedicate an appropriate amount of time to study each new groundbreaking theory or proof in one’s general area. Truly groundbreaking theories are rare, and this duty is not too cumbersome. This duty is especially applicable to researchers who are in the most active research period of their mathematical life and have already senior academic positions. In real life this informal duty can be taken to mean that a reasonable number of mathematicians in each major mathematical country studies such groundbreaking theories.

Posted at 9:59 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (17)

Compositionality: the Editorial Board

Posted by John Baez

An editorial board has now been chosen for the journal Compositionality, and they’re waiting for people to submit papers.

Posted at 6:31 AM UTC | Permalink | Followups (3)

July 7, 2018

Beyond Classical Bayesian Networks

Posted by John Baez

guest post by Pablo Andres-Martinez and Sophie Raynor

In the final installment of the Applied Category Theory seminar, we discussed the 2014 paper “Theory-independent limits on correlations from generalized Bayesian networks” by Henson, Lal and Pusey.

In this post, we’ll give a short introduction to Bayesian networks, explain why quantum mechanics means that one may want to generalise them, and present the main results of the paper. That’s a lot to cover, and there won’t be a huge amount of category theory, but we hope to give the reader some intuition about the issues involved, and another example of monoidal categories used in causal theory.

Posted at 11:11 AM UTC | Permalink | Post a Comment

July 4, 2018

Symposium on Compositional Structures

Posted by John Baez

There’s a new conference series, whose acronym is pronounced “psycho”. It’s part of the new trend toward the study of “compositionality” in many branches of thought, often but not always using category theory:

  • First Symposium on Compositional Structures (SYCO1), School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham, 20-21 September, 2018. Organized by Ross Duncan, Chris Heunen, Aleks Kissinger, Samuel Mimram, Simona Paoli, Mehrnoosh Sadrzadeh, Pawel Sobocinski and Jamie Vicary.

The Symposium on Compositional Structures is a new interdisciplinary series of meetings aiming to support the growing community of researchers interested in the phenomenon of compositionality, from both applied and abstract perspectives, and in particular where category theory serves as a unifying common language. We welcome submissions from researchers across computer science, mathematics, physics, philosophy, and beyond, with the aim of fostering friendly discussion, disseminating new ideas, and spreading knowledge between fields. Submission is encouraged for both mature research and work in progress, and by both established academics and junior researchers, including students.

More details below! Our very own David Corfield is one of the invited speakers.

Posted at 6:40 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (1)

June 27, 2018

Elmendorf’s Theorem

Posted by John Huerta

I want to tell you about Elmendorf’s theorem on equivariant homotopy theory. This theorem played a key role in a recent preprint I wrote with Hisham Sati and Urs Schreiber:

We figured out how to apply this theorem in mathematical physics. But Elmendorf’s theorem by itself is a gem of homotopy theory and deserves to be better known. Here’s what it says, roughly: given any GG-space XX, the equivariant homotopy type of XX is determined by the ordinary homotopy types of the fixed point subspaces X HX^H, where HH runs over all subgroups of GG. I don’t know how to intuitively motivate this fact; I would like to know, and if any of you have ideas, please comment. Below the fold, I will spell out the precise theorem, and show you how it gives us a way to define a GG-equivariant version of any homotopy theory.

Posted at 7:03 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (23)

June 15, 2018

∞-Atomic Geometric Morphisms

Posted by Mike Shulman

Today’s installment in the ongoing project to sketch the \infty-elephant: atomic geometric morphisms.

Chapter C3 of Sketches of an Elephant studies various classes of geometric morphisms between toposes. Pretty much all of this chapter has been categorified, except for section C3.5 about atomic geometric morphisms. To briefly summarize the picture:

  • Sections C3.1 (open geometric morphisms) and C3.3 (locally connected geometric morphisms) are steps n=1n=-1 and n=0n=0 on an infinite ladder of locally n-connected geometric morphisms, for 1n-1 \le n \le \infty. A geometric morphism between (n+1,1)(n+1,1)-toposes is locally nn-connected if its inverse image functor is locally cartesian closed and has a left adjoint. More generally, a geometric morphism between (m,1)(m,1)-toposes is locally nn-connected, for n<mn\lt m, if it is “locally” locally nn-connected on nn-truncated maps.

  • Sections C3.2 (proper geometric morphisms) and C3.4 (tidy geometric morphisms) are likewise steps n=1n=-1 and n=0n=0 on an infinite ladder of n-proper geometric morphisms.

  • Section C3.6 (local geometric morphisms) is also step n=0n=0 on an infinite ladder: a geometric morphism between (n+1,1)(n+1,1)-toposes is nn-local if its direct image functor has an indexed right adjoint. Cohesive toposes, which have attracted a lot of attention around here, are both locally \infty-connected and \infty-local. (Curiously, the n=1n=-1 case of locality doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the 1-Elephant; has anyone seen it before?)

So what about C3.5? An atomic geometric morphism between elementary 1-toposes is usually defined as one whose inverse image functor is logical. This is an intriguing prospect to categorify, because it appears to mix the “elementary” and “Grothendieck” aspects of topos theory: a geometric morphisms are arguably the natural morphisms between Grothendieck toposes, while logical functors are more natural for the elementary sort (where “natural” means “preserves all the structure in the definition”). So now that we’re starting to see some progress on elementary higher toposes (my post last year has now been followed by a preprint by Rasekh), we might hope be able to make some progress on it.

Posted at 4:16 PM UTC | Permalink | Followups (31)