From: baez@math.removethis.ucr.andthis.edu (John Baez)
Subject: This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics (Week 274)
Organization: University of California, Riverside
Sender: baez@math.removethis.ucr.andthis.edu (John Baez)
Newsgroups: sci.physics.research,sci.physics,sci.math
Also available at http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/week274.html
March 12, 2009
This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics (Week 274)
John Baez
Whew! It's been a long time since I wrote my last Week's Finds.
I've been too busy. But luckily, I've been too busy writing papers
about math and physics. So, let me talk about one of those.
First, the astronomy picture of the week:
1) NASA Photojournal, 'Victoria Crater' at Meridiani Planum,
http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA08813
This is the crater that NASA's rover called Opportunity has been
exploring. It's 800 meters across. I like this picture just
because it's beautiful. It was taken by the High Resolution
Imaging Science Experiment on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Now, on to business! I want to talk about this paper, which
took over 2 years to write:
1) John Baez, Aristide Baratin, Laurent Freidel and Derek Wise,
Representations of 2-groups on infinite-dimensional 2-vector spaces,
available as arXiv:0812.4969.
We can dream up the notion of "2-vector space" by pondering this
analogy chart:
numbers vector spaces
addition direct sum
multiplication tensor product
0 the 0-dimensional vector space
1 the 1-dimensional vector space
Just as you can add and multiply numbers, you can add and multiply
vector spaces - but people call these operations "direct sum" and
"tensor product", to make them sound more intimidating. These new
operations satisfy axioms similar to the old ones. However, what
used to be equations like this:
x + y = y + x
now become isomorphisms like this:
X + Y is isomorphic to Y + X.
This means we're "categorifying" the concepts of plus and times.
The unit for addition of vector spaces is the 0-dimensional
vector space, and the unit for multiplication of vector spaces
is the 1-dimensional vector space.
But here's the coolest part. Our chart is like a snake eating its
own tail. The first entry of the first column matches the last entry
of the second column! The set of all "numbers" is the same as "the
1-dimensional vector space". If by "numbers" we mean complex numbers,
these are both just C.
This suggests continuing the chart with a third column, like this:
numbers (C) vector spaces (Vect) 2-vector spaces (2Vect)
addition direct sum direct sum
multiplication tensor product tensor product
0 C^0 Vect^0
1 C^1 Vect^1
Here C^0 is short for the 0-dimensional vector space, while C^1 is
short for the 1-dimensional vector space - in other words the complex
numbers, C. Vect is the category of all vector spaces. So, whatever
a "2-vector space" is, to make the chart nice we'd better have Vect be
the 1-dimensional 2-vector space. We can emphasize this by calling it
Vect^1.
In fact, about 15 years ago Kapranov and Voevodsky invented a
theory of 2-vector spaces that makes all this stuff work:
2) Mikhail Kapranov and Vladimir Voevodsky, 2-categories and
Zamolodchikov tetrahedra equations, in Algebraic Groups and
Their Generalizations: Quantum and Infinite-Dimensional Methods,
Proc. Sympos. Pure Math. 56, Part 2, AMS, Providence,
RI, 1994, pp. 177-259.
They mainly considered *finite-dimensional* 2-vector spaces.
Every finite-dimensional vector space is secretly just C^n, or
at least something isomorphic to that. Similarly, every
finite-dimensional 2-vector space is secretly just Vect^n, or
at least something equivalent to that.
(You see, when we categorify once, equality becomes isomorphism.
When we do it again, isomorphism becomes "equivalence".)
What's Vect^n, you ask? Well, what's C^n? It's the set where
an element is an n-tuple of numbers:
(x_1, ..., x_n)
So, Vect^n is the category where an object is an n-tuple of
vector spaces:
(X_1, ..., X_n)
It's all pathetically straightforward. Of course we also need
to know what's a morphism in Vect^n. What's a morphism from
(X_1, ..., X_n)
to
(Y_1, ..., Y_n)?
It's just the obvious thing: an n-tuple of linear operators
(f_1: X_1 -> Y_1, ..., f_n: X_n -> Y_n)
And we compose these in the obvious way, namely "componentwise".
This may seem like an exercise in abstract nonsense, extending formal
patterns just for the fun of it. But in fact, 2-vector spaces are
all over the place once you start looking. For example, take
the category of representations of a finite group, or the category
of vector bundles over a finite set. These are finite-dimensional
2-vector spaces!
Here I can't resist a more sophisticated digression, just to impress
you. The whole theory of Fourier transforms for finite abelian groups
categorifies nicely, using these examples. Any finite abelian group
G has "Pontryagin dual" G* which is again a finite abelian group.
I explained how this works back in "week273". The Fourier transform
is a map from functions on G to functions on G*. So, it's a map
between vector spaces. But, lurking behind this is a map between
2-vector spaces! It's a map from representations of G to vector
bundles over G*.
You can safely ignore that last paragraph if you like. But if you
want more details, try section 6.1 of this old paper:
3) John Baez, Higher-dimensional algebra II: 2-Hilbert spaces,
Adv. Math. 127 (1997), 125--189. Also available as
arXiv:q-alg/9609018.
As you can see from the title, I was trying to go beyond 2-vector
spaces and think about "2-Hilbert spaces". That's because in quantum
physics, we use Hilbert spaces to describe physical systems. Recent
work on physics suggests that we categorify this idea and study
2-Hilbert spaces, 3-Hilbert spaces and so on - see "week58" for
details. In the above paper I defined and studied finite-dimensional
2-Hilbert spaces. But a lot of the gnarly fun details of Hilbert
space theory show up only for infinite-dimensional Hilbert spaces -
and we should expect the same for 2-Hilbert spaces.
After these old papers on 2-vector spaces and 2-Hilbert spaces,
various people came along and improved the whole story. For example:
4) Martin Neuchl, Representation Theory of Hopf Categories,
Ph.D. dissertation, University of Munich, 1997. Chapter 2:
2-dimensional linear algebra. Available at
http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/neuchl.ps
5) Josep Elgueta, A strict totally coordinatized version of
Kapranov and Voevodsky 2-vector spaces, to appear in Math. Proc.
Cambridge Phil. Soc. Also available as arXiv:math/0406475.
6) Bruce Bartlett, The geometry of unitary 2-representations of finite
groups and their 2-characters, available as arXiv:math/0807.1329.
In the last of these, Bruce worked out how finite-dimensional
2-Hilbert spaces arise naturally in certain topological quantum
field theories!
Just as we can study representations of groups on vector spaces,
we can study representations of "2-groups" on 2-vector spaces:
7) Magnus Forrester-Barker, Representations of crossed modules and
cat^1-groups, Ph.D. thesis, Department of Mathematics, University of
Wales, Bangor, 2004. Available at
http://www.informatics.bangor.ac.uk/public/mathematics/research/ftp/theses/forrester-barker.pdf
8) John W. Barrett and Marco Mackaay, Categorical representations
of categorical groups, Th. Appl. Cat. 16 (2006), 529-557. Also
available as arXiv:math/0407463.
9) Josep Elgueta, Representation theory of 2-groups on finite
dimensional 2-vector spaces, available as math.CT/0408120.
A group is a category with one object, all of whose morphisms
are invertible. Similarly, a 2-group is a 2-category with one
object, all of whose morphisms and 2-morphisms are invertible.
Just as we can define "Lie groups" to be groups where the group
operations are smooth, we can define "Lie 2-groups" to be 2-groups
where all the 2-group operations are smooth. Lie groups are
wonderful things, so we can hope Lie 2-groups will be interesting
too. There are already lots of examples known. You can see a bunch
here:
10) John Baez and Aaron Lauda, Higher-dimensional algebra V: 2-groups,
Theory and Applications of Categories 12 (2004), 423-491. Available
at http://www.tac.mta.ca/tac/volumes/12/14/12-14abs.html and also as
arXiv:math/0307200.
However, Barrett and Mackaay discovered something rather upsetting.
While Lie groups have lots of interesting representations on
finite-dimensional vector spaces, Lie 2-groups don't have many
representations on finite-dimensional 2-vector spaces!
In fact, the problem already shows up for representations of
plain old Lie *groups* on 2-vector spaces. A Lie group can be
seen as a special sort of Lie 2-group, where the only 2-morphisms
are identity morphisms.
The problem is that unlike a vector space, a 2-vector space has
a unique basis - at least up to isomorphism. In C^n there's
an obvious basis consisting of vectors like
(1,0,0,...)
(0,1,0,...)
(0,0,1,...)
and so on, but there are lots of other bases too. But in Vect^n
the only basis goes like this:
(C^1,C^0,C^0,...)
(C^0,C^1,C^0,...)
(C^0,C^0,C^1,...)
Well, I'm exaggerating slightly: we could replace C^1 here by any
other 1-dimensional vector space, and C^0 by any other 0-dimensional
vector space. That would give other bases - but they'd still be
*isomorphic* to the basis shown above.
So, if we have a group acting on a finite-dimensional 2-vector space,
it can't do much more than permute the basis elements. So, any
representation of a group on a finite-dimensional 2-vector space gives
an action of this group as permutations of a finite set!
That's okay for finite groups, since these can act in interesting ways
as permutations of finite sets. But it's no good for Lie groups.
Lie groups are usually infinite: they're manifolds. So, they have
lots of actions on *manifolds*, but not many actions on finite sets.
This suggests that to study representations of Lie groups (or more
general Lie 2-groups) on 2-vector spaces, we should invent some notion
of "infinite-dimensional 2-vector space", where the basis can be
not a finite set but an infinite set - indeed, something more like
a manifold.
Luckily, such a concept was already lurking in the mathematical
literature!
In the categorification game, it's always good when the concepts you
invent shed light on existing issues in mathematics. And it's
especially fun when you categorify a concept and get a concept that
turns out to have been known - or at least partially known - under
some other name. Then you're not just making up new stuff: you're
seeing that existing math already had categorification built into it!
This happens surprisingly often. That's why I take categorification
so seriously.
The concept I'm talking about here is called a "field of Hilbert
spaces". Roughly speaking, the idea is that you pick a set X,
possibly infinite. X could be the real line, for example. Then a
"field of Hilbert spaces" assigns to each point x in X a Hilbert
space H_x.
As I've just described it, a measurable field of Hilbert spaces is an
object in what we might call "Hilb^X" - a hairier, scarier relative of
the tame little Vect^n that I've been talking about.
Let's think about how Hilb^X differs from Vect^n. First, the
the finite number n has been replaced by an infinite set X. That's
why Hilb^X deserves to be thought of as an *infinite-dimensional*
2-vector space.
Second, Vect has been replaced by Hilb - the category of Hilbert
spaces. This suggests that Hilb^X is something more than a mere
infinite-dimensional 2-vector space. It's closer to an
infinite-dimensional *2-Hilbert* space! So, we've departed
somewhat from our original goal of inventing a notion of infinite-
dimensional vector space. But that's okay, especially if we're
interested in applications to quantum physics that involve analysis.
And here I must admit that I've left out some important details.
When studying fields of Hilbert spaces, people usually bring in some
analysis to keep the Hilbert space H_x from jumping around too wildly
as x varies. They restrict attention to "measurable" fields of Hilbert
spaces. To do this, they assume X is a "measurable space": a space
with a sigma-algebra of subsets, like the Borel sets of the real line.
Then they assume H_x depends in a measurable way on x.
The last assumption must be made precise. I won't do that here - you
can see the details in our paper. But, here's an example of what I
mean. Take X and partition it into countably many disjoint measurable
subsets. For each one of these subsets, pick some Hilbert space H and
let H_x = H for points x in that subset. So, the dimension of the
Hilbert space H_x can change as x moves around, but only in a
"measurable way". In fact, every measurable field of Hilbert spaces
is isomorphic to one of this form.
So, a measurable field of Hilbert spaces on X is like a vector bundle
over X, except the fibers are Hilbert spaces and there's no smoothness
or continuity - the dimension of the fiber can "jump" in a measurable
way.
If you've studied algebraic geometry, this should remind you of a
"coherent sheaf". That's another generalization of a vector bundle
that allows the dimension of the fiber to jump - but in an algebraic
way, rather than a measurable way. One reason algebraic geometers
like categories of coherent sheaves is because they need a notion
of infinite-dimensional 2-vector space. Similarly, one reason
analysts like measurable fields of Hilbert spaces is because they
want *their own* notion of infinite-dimensional 2-vector space. Of
course, they don't know this - if you ask, they'll strenuously deny it.
We learned most of what we know about measurable fields of Hilbert
spaces from this classic book:
11) Jacques Dixmier, Von Neumann Algebras, North-Holland, Amsterdam,
1981.
This book was also helpful:
12) William Arveson, An Invitation to C*-Algebra, Chapter 2.2,
Springer, Berlin, 1976.
As you might guess from the titles of these books, measurable fields
of Hilbert spaces show up when we study representations of operator
algebras that arise in quantum theory. For example, any commutative
von Neumann algebra A is isomorphic to the algebra L^infinity(X)
for some measure space X, and every representation of A comes from
a measurable field of Hilbert spaces on X.
The following treatment is less detailed, but it explains how
measurable fields of Hilbert spaces show up in group representation
theory:
13) George W. Mackey, Unitary Group Representations in Physics,
Probability and Number Theory, Benjamin-Cummings, New York, 1978.
I'll say a lot more about this at the very end of this post, but
here's a quick, rough summary. Any sufficiently nice topological
group G has a "dual": a measure space G* whose points are irreducible
representations of G. You can build any representation of G from a
measurable field of Hilbert spaces on G* together with a measure on
G*. You build the representation by taking a "direct integral" of
Hilbert spaces over G*. This is a generalization of writing a
representation as a direct sum of irreducible representation. Direct
integrals generalize direct sums - just as integrals generalize sums!
By the way, Mackey calls measurable fields of Hilbert spaces
"measurable Hilbert space bundles". Those who like vector bundles
will enjoy his outlook.
But let's get back to our main theme: representations of 2-groups
on infinite-dimensional 2-vector spaces.
We don't know the general definition of an infinite-dimensional
2-vector space. However, for any measurable space X, we can
define measurable fields of Hilbert spaces on X. We can also define
maps between them, so we get a category, called Meas(X). Crane and
Yetter call these "measurable categories".
I believe someday we'll see that measurable categories are a
halfway house between infinite-dimensional 2-vector spaces and
infinite-dimensional 2-Hilbert spaces. In fact, when we move
up to n-vector spaces, it seems there could be n+1 different levels
of "Hilbertness".
The conclusions of our paper include a proposed definition of
2-Hilbert space that can handle the infinite-dimensional case.
So, why work with measurable categories? One reason is that they're
they're well understood, thanks in part to the work of Dixmier - but
also thanks to Crane and Yetter:
14) David Yetter, Measurable categories, Appl. Cat. Str. 13 (2005),
469-500. Also available as arXiv:math/0309185.
15) Louis Crane and David N. Yetter, Measurable categories and
2-groups, Appl. Cat. Str. 13 (2005), 501-516. Also available as
arXiv:math/0305176.
The paper by Crane and Yetter studies representations of discrete
2-groups on measurable categories. Our paper pushes forward by
studying representations of *topological* 2-groups, including Lie
2-groups. Topology really matters for infinite-dimensional
representations. For example, it's a hopeless task to classify the
infinite-dimensional unitary representations of even a little group
like the circle, U(1). But it's easy to classify the *continuous*
unitary representations.
A group has a category of representations, but a 2-group has a
2-category of representations! So, as usual, we have representations
and maps between these , which physicists call "intertwining
operators" or "intertwiners" for short. But we also have maps
between intertwining operators, called "2-intertwiners".
This is what's really exciting about 2-group representation theory.
Indeed, intertwiners between 2-group representations resemble group
representations in many ways - a fact noticed by Elgueta. It turns
out one can define direct sums and tensor products not only for 2-group
representations, but also for intertwiners! One can also define
"irreducibility" and "indecomposability", not just for representations,
but also for intertwiners.
Our paper gives nice geometrical descriptions of these notions.
Some of these can be seen as generalizing the following paper
of Crane and Sheppeard:
16) Louis Crane and Marnie D. Sheppeard, 2-categorical Poincare
representations and state sum applications, available as
arXiv:math/0306440.
Crane and Sheppeard studied the 2-category of representations of the
"Poincare 2-group". It turns out that we can get representations of
the Poincare 2-group from discrete subgroups of the Lorentz group.
Since the Lorentz group acts as symmetries of the hyperbolic plane,
these discrete subgroups act as symmetries of patterns like these:
17) Don Hatch, Hyperbolic planar tesselations,
http://www.plunk.org/~hatch/HyperbolicTesselations/
But Crane and Sheppeard weren't just interested in beautiful
geometry. They developed their example as part of an attempt
to build new "spin foam models" in 4 dimensions. I've talked
about such models on and off for many years here. The models
I've discussed were usually based on representations of groups
or quantum groups. Now we can build models using 2-groups, taking
advantage of the fact that we have not just representations and
intertwiners, but also 2-intertwiners. You can think of these
models as discretized path integrals for gauge theories with a
"gauge 2-group". To compute the path integral you take a 4-manifold,
triangulate it, and label the edges by representations, the triangles
by intertwiners, and the tetrahedra by 2-intertwiners. Then you
compute a number for each 4-simplex, multiply all these numbers
together, and sum the result over labellings.
Baratin and Freidel have done a lot of interesting computations
in the Crane-Sheppeard model. I hope they publish their results
sometime soon.
To wrap up, I'd like to make a few technical remarks about group
representation theory and measurable fields of Hilbert spaces. In
"week272" I talked about a class of measurable spaces called
standard Borel spaces. Their definition was frighteningly general:
any measurable space X whose measurable subsets are the Borel
sets for some complete separable metric on X is called a "standard
Borel space". But then I described a theorem saying these are
all either countable or isomorphic to the real line! They are,
in short, the "nice" measurable spaces - the ones we should content
ourselves with studying.
In our work on 2-group representations, we always assume our
measurable spaces are standard Borel spaces. We need this to get
things done. But standard Borel spaces also show up ordinary group
representation theory. Let me explain how!
To keep your eyes from glazing over, I'll write "rep" to mean
a strongly continuous unitary representation of a topological
group on a separable Hilbert space. And, I'll call an irreducible
one of these guys an "irrep".
Mackey wanted to build all the reps of a topological group G
starting from irreps. This will only work if G is nice. Since
Haar measure is a crucial tool, he assumed G was locally compact
and Hausdorff. Since he wanted L^2(G) to be separable, he also
assumed G was second countable.
For a group with all these properties - called an "lcsc group" by
specialists wearing white lab coats and big horn-rimmed glasses -
Mackey was able to construct a measure space G* called the "unitary
dual" of G.
The idea is simple: the points of G* are isomorphism classes of
irreps of G. But let's think about some special cases....
When G is a finite group, G* is a finite set.
When G is abelian group, not necessarily finite, G* is again an
abelian group, called the "Pontryagin dual" of G. I talked about
this a lot in "week273".
When G is both finite and abelian, so of course is G*.
But the tricky case is the general case, where G can be infinite
and nonabelian! Here Mackey described a procedure which is a grand
generalization of writing a rep as a direct sum of irreps.
If we choose a sigma-finite measure dm(x) on G* and a measurable field
H_x of Hilbert spaces on G*, we can build a rep of G. Here's how.
Each point x of G* gives an irrep of G, say R_x. These form another
measurable field of Hilbert space on G*. So, we can tensor
H_x and R_x, and then form the "direct integral"
integral_x (H_x tensor R_x) dm(x)
As I already mentioned, a direct integral is a generalization of a
direct sum. The result of doing this direct integral is a Hilbert
space, and in this case it's a rep of G. The Hilbert spaces H_x
specify the "multiplicity" of each irrep R_x in the representation
we are building.
The big question is whether we get *all* the reps of G this way.
And the amazing answer, due to James Glimm, is: yes, IF G* IS A
STANDARD BOREL SPACE!
In this case we say G is "type I". People know lots of examples. For
example, an lcsc group will be type I if it's compact, or abelian, or
a connected real algebraic group, or a connected nilpotent Lie group.
That covers a lot of ground. However, there are plenty of groups,
even Lie groups, that aren't type I. The representation theory of
these is more tricky!
If you want to know more, either read Mackey's book listed above,
or this summary:
18) George W. Mackey, Infinite-dimensional group representations,
Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 69 (1963), 628-686. Available from Project
Euclid at http://projecteuclid.org/euclid.bams/1183525453
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Quote of the Week:
The most fascinating thing about algebra and geometry is the way
they struggle to help each other to emerge from the chaos of non-being,
from those dark depths of subconscious where all roots of intellectual
creativity reside. - Yuri Manin
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