### gauge theory

To continue from the previous post

Twisted Differential Cohomology

Ulrich Bunke gave a talk introducing differential cohomology theories, and Thomas Nikolaus gave one about a twisted version of such theories (unfortunately, perhaps in the wrong order). The idea here is that cohomology can give a classification of field theories, and if we don’t want the theories to be purely topological, we would need to refine this. A cohomology theory is a (contravariant) functorial way of assigning to any space $X$, which we take to be a manifold, a $\mathbb{Z}$-graded group: that is, a tower of groups of “cocycles”, one group for each $n$, with some coboundary maps linking them. (In some cases, the groups are also rings) For example, the group of differential forms, graded by degree.

Cohomology theories satisfy some axioms – for example, the Mayer-Vietoris sequence has to apply whenever you cut a manifold into parts. Differential cohomology relaxes one axiom, the requirement that cohomology be a homotopy invariant of $X$. Given a differential cohomology theory, one can impose equivalence relations on the differential cocycles to get a theory that does satisfy this axiom – so we say the finer theory is a “differential refinement” of the coarser. So, in particular, ordinary cohomology theories are classified by spectra (this is related to the Brown representability theorem), whereas the differential ones are represented by sheaves of spectra – where the constant sheaves represent the cohomology theories which happen to be homotopy invariants.

The “twisting” part of this story can be applied to either an ordinary cohomology theory, or a differential refinement of one (though this needs similarly refined “twisting” data). The idea is that, if $R$ is a cohomology theory, it can be “twisted” over $X$ by a map $\tau: X \rightarrow Pic_R$ into the “Picard group” of $R$. This is the group of invertible $R$-modules (where an $R$-module means a module for the cohomology ring assigned to $X$) – essentially, tensoring with these modules is what defines the “twisting” of a cohomology element.

An example of all this is twisted differential K-theory. Here the groups are of isomorphism classes of certain vector bundles over $X$, and the twisting is particularly simple (the Picard group in the topological case is just $\mathbb{Z}_2$). The main result is that, while topological twists are classified by appropriate gerbes on $X$ (for K-theory, $U(1)$-gerbes), the differential ones are classified by gerbes with connection.

Fusion Categories

Scott Morrison gave a talk about Classifying Fusion Categories, the point of which was just to collect together a bunch of results constructing particular examples. The talk opens with a quote by Rutherford: “All science is either physics or stamp collecting” – that is, either about systematizing data and finding simple principles which explain it, or about collecting lots of data. This talk was unabashed stamp-collecting, on the grounds that we just don’t have a lot of data to systematically understand yet – and for that very reason I won’t try to summarize all the results, but the slides are well worth a look-over. The point is that fusion categories are very useful in constructing TQFT’s, and there are several different constructions that begin “given a fusion category $\mathcal{C}$“… and yet there aren’t all that many examples, and very few large ones, known.

Scott also makes the analogy that fusion categories are “noncommutative finite groups” – which is a little confusing, since not all finite groups are commutative anyway – but the idea is that the symmetric fusion categories are exactly the representation categories of finite groups. So general fusion categories are a non-symmetric generalization of such groups. Since classifying finite groups turned out to be difficult, and involve a laundry-list of sporadic groups, it shouldn’t be too surprising that understanding fusion categories (which, for the symmetric case, include the representation categories of all these examples) should be correspondingly tricky. Since, as he points out, we don’t have very many non-symmetric examples beyond rank 12 (analogous to knowing only finite groups with at most 12 elements), it’s likely that we don’t have a very good understanding of these categories in general yet.

There were a couple of talks – one during the workshop by Sonia Natale, and one the previous week by Sebastian Burciu, whom I also had the chance to talk with that week – about “Equivariantization” of fusion categories, and some fairly detailed descriptions of what results. The two of them have a paper on this which gives more details, which I won’t summarize – but I will say a bit about the construction.

An “equivariantization” of a category $C$ acted on by a group $G$ is supposed to be a generalization of the notion of the set of fixed points for a group acting on a set.  The category $C^G$ has objects which consist of an object $x \in C$ which is fixed by the action of $G$, together with an isomorphism $\mu_g : x \rightarrow x$ for each $g \in G$, satisfying a bunch of unsurprising conditions like being compatible with the group operation. The morphisms are maps in $C$ between the objects, which form commuting squares for each $g \in G$. Their paper, and the talks, described how this works when $C$ is a fusion category – namely, $C^G$ is also a fusion category, and one can work out its fusion rules (i.e. monoidal structure). In some cases, it’s a “group theoretical” fusion category (it looks like $Rep(H)$ for some group $H$) – or a weakened version of such a thing (it’s Morita equivalent to ).

A nice special case of this is if the group action happens to be trivial, so that every object of $C$ is a fixed point. In this case, $C^G$ is just the category of objects of $C$ equipped with a $G$-action, and the intertwining maps between these. For example, if $C = Vect$, then $C^G = Rep(G)$ (in particular, a “group-theoretical fusion category”). What’s more, this construction is functorial in $G$ itself: given a subgroup $H \subset G$, we get an adjoint pair of functors between $C^G$ and $C^H$, which in our special case are just the induced-representation and restricted-representation functors for that subgroup inclusion. That is, we have a Mackey functor here. These generalize, however, to any fusion category $C$, and to nontrivial actions of $G$ on $C$. The point of their paper, then, is to give a good characterization of the categories that come out of these constructions.

Quantizing with Higher Categories

The last talk I’d like to describe was by Urs Schreiber, called Linear Homotopy Type Theory for Quantization. Urs has been giving evolving talks on this topic for some time, and it’s quite a big subject (see the long version of the notes above if there’s any doubt). However, I always try to get a handle on these talks, because it seems to be describing the most general framework that fits the general approach I use in my own work. This particular one borrows a lot from the language of logic (the “linear” in the title alludes to linear logic).

Basically, Urs’ motivation is to describe a good mathematical setting in which to construct field theories using ingredients familiar to the physics approach to “field theory”, namely… fields. (See the description of Kevin Walker’s talk.) Also, Lagrangian functionals – that is, the notion of a physical action. Constructing TQFT from modular tensor categories, for instance, is great, but the fields and the action seem to be hiding in this picture. There are many conceptual problems with field theories – like the mathematical meaning of path integrals, for instance. Part of the approach here is to find a good setting in which to locate the moduli spaces of fields (and the spaces in which path integrals are done). Then, one has to come up with a notion of quantization that makes sense in that context.

The first claim is that the category of such spaces should form a differentially cohesive infinity-topos which we’ll call $\mathbb{H}$. The “infinity” part means we allow morphisms between field configurations of all orders (2-morphisms, 3-morphisms, etc.). The “topos” part means that all sorts of reasonable constructions can be done – for example, pullbacks. The “differentially cohesive” part captures the sort of structure that ensures we can really treat these as spaces of the suitable kind: “cohesive” means that we have a notion of connected components around (it’s implemented by having a bunch of adjoint functors between spaces and points). The “differential” part is meant to allow for the sort of structures discussed above under “differential cohomology” – really, that we can capture geometric structure, as in gauge theories, and not just topological structure.

In this case, we take $\mathbb{H}$ to have objects which are spectral-valued infinity-stacks on manifolds. This may be unfamiliar, but the main point is that it’s a kind of generalization of a space. Now, the sort of situation where quantization makes sense is: we have a space (i.e. $\mathbb{H}$-object) of field configurations to start, then a space of paths (this is WHERE “path-integrals” are defined), and a space of field configurations in the final system where we observe the result. There are maps from the space of paths to identify starting and ending points. That is, we have a span:

$A \leftarrow X \rightarrow B$

Now, in fact, these may all lie over some manifold, such as $B^n(U(1))$, the classifying space for $U(1)$ $(n-1)$-gerbes. That is, we don’t just have these “spaces”, but these spaces equipped with one of those pieces of cohomological twisting data discussed up above. That enters the quantization like an action (it’s WHAT you integrate in a path integral).

Aside: To continue the parallel, quantization is playing the role of a cohomology theory, and the action is the twist. I really need to come back and complete an old post about motives, because there’s a close analogy here. If quantization is a cohomology theory, it should come by factoring through a universal one. In the world of motives, where “space” now means something like “scheme”, the target of this universal cohomology theory is a mild variation on just the category of spans I just alluded to. Then all others come from some functor out of it.

Then the issue is what quantization looks like on this sort of scenario. The Atiyah-Singer viewpoint on TQFT isn’t completely lost here: quantization should be a functor into some monoidal category. This target needs properties which allow it to capture the basic “quantum” phenomena of superposition (i.e. some additivity property), and interference (some actual linearity over $\mathbb{C}$). The target category Urs talked about was the category of $E_{\infty}$-rings. The point is that these are just algebras that live in the world of spectra, which is where our spaces already lived. The appropriate target will depend on exactly what $\mathbb{H}$ is.

But what Urs did do was give a characterization of what the target category should be LIKE for a certain construction to work. It’s a “pull-push” construction: see the link way above on Mackey functors – restriction and induction of representations are an example . It’s what he calls a “(2-monoidal, Beck-Chevalley) Linear Homotopy-Type Theory”. Essentially, this is a list of conditions which ensure that, for the two morphisms in the span above, we have a “pull” operation for some and left and right adjoints to it (which need to be related in a nice way – the jargon here is that we must be in a Wirthmuller context), satisfying some nice relations, and that everything is functorial.

The intuition is that if we have some way of getting a “linear gadget” out of one of our configuration spaces of fields (analogous to constructing a space of functions when we do canonical quantization over, let’s say, a symplectic manifold), then we should be able to lift it (the “pull” operation) to the space of paths. Then the “push” part of the operation is where the “path integral” part comes in: many paths might contribute to the value of a function (or functor, or whatever it may be) at the end-point of those paths, because there are many ways to get from A to B, and all of them contribute in a linear way.

So, if this all seems rather abstract, that’s because the point of it is to characterize very generally what has to be available for the ideas that appear in physics notions of path-integral quantization to make sense. Many of the particulars – spectra, $E_{\infty}$-rings, infinity-stacks, and so on – which showed up in the example are in a sense just placeholders for anything with the right formal properties. So at the same time as it moves into seemingly very abstract terrain, this approach is also supposed to get out of the toy-model realm of TQFT, and really address the trouble in rigorously defining what’s meant by some of the standard practice of physics in field theory by analyzing the logical structure of what this practice is really saying. If it turns out to involve some unexpected math – well, given the underlying issues, it would have been more surprising if it didn’t.

It’s not clear to me how far along this road this program gets us, as far as dealing with questions an actual physicist would like to ask (for the most part, if the standard practice works as an algorithm to produce results, physicists seldom need to ask what it means in rigorous math language), but it does seem like an interesting question.

So I spent a few weeks at the Erwin Schrodinger Institute in Vienna, doing a short residence as part of the program “Modern Trends in Topological Quantum Field Theory” leading up to a workshop this week. There were quite a few interesting talks – some on topics that I’ve written about elsewhere in this blog, so I’ll gloss over those. For example, Catherine Meusburger spoke about the project with Barrett and Schaumann to give a diagrammatic language for Gray categories with duals – I’ve written about John Barrett’s talks on this elsewhere. Similarly, I’ve written about Chris Schommer-Pries’ talks about fully-extended TQFT’s and the cobordism hypothesis for structured cobordisms . I’d like to just describe some of the other highlights that connect nicely to themes I find interesting. In Part 1 of this post, the more topological themes…

TQFTs with Boundary

On the first day, Kevin Walker gave a talk called “Premodular TQFTs” which was quite interesting. The key idea here is that a fairly big class of different constructions of 3D TQFT’s turn out to actually be aspects of one 4D TQFT, which comes about by a construction based on the 3D construction of Crane-Yetter-Kauffman.  The term “premodular” refers to the fact that 3D TQFT’s can be related to modular tensor categories. “Tensor” includes several concepts, like being abelian, having vector spaces of morphisms, a monoidal structure that gets along with these – typical examples being the categories of vector spaces, or of representations of some fixed group. “Modular” means that there is a braiding, and that a certain string diagram (which looks like two linked rings) built using the braiding can be represented as an invertible matrix. These will show up as a special case of the “premodular” theory.

The basic idea is to use an approach that is based on local fields (which respects the physics-land concept of what “field theory” means), avoids the path integral approach (which is hard to make rigorous), and can be shown to connect back to the Atyiah-Singer approach in which a TQFT is a kind of functor out of a cobordism category.

That is, given a manifold $X$ we must be able to find the fields on $X$, called $F(X)$. For example, $F(X)$ could be the maps into a classifying space $BG$, for a gauge theory, or a category of diagrams on $X$ with labels in some appropriate sort of category. Then one has some relations which say when given fields are the same. For each manifold $Y$, this defines a vector space of linear combinations of fields, modulo relations, called $A(Y;c)$, where $c \in F(\partial Y)$. The dual space of $A(Y;c)$ is called $Z(Y;c)$ – in keeping with the principle that quantum states are functionals that we can evaluate on “classical” fields.

Walker’s talk develops, from this starting point, a view that includes a whole range of theories – the Dijkgraaf-Witten model (fields are maps to $BG$); diagrams in a semisimple 1-category (“Euler characteristic theory”), in a pivotal 2-category (a Turaev-Viro model), or a premodular 3-category (a “Crane-Yetter model”), among others. In particular, some familiar theories appear as living on 3D boundaries to a 4D manifold, where such a  premodular theory is defined. The talk goes on to describe a kind of “theory with defects”, where two different theories live on different parts of a manifold (this is a common theme to a number of the talks), and in particular it describes a bimodule which gives a Morita equivalence between two sorts of theory – one based on graphs labelled in representations of a group $G$, and the other based on $G$-connections. The bimodule is, effectively, a kind of “Fourier transform” which relates dimension-$k$ structures on one side to codimension-$k$ structures on the other: a line labelled by a $G$-representation on one side gets acted upon by $G$-holonomies for a hypersurface on the other side.

On a related note Alessandro Valentino gave a talk called “Boundary Conditions for 3d TQFT and module categories” This related to a couple of papers with Jurgen Fuchs and Christoph Schweigert. The basic idea starts with the fact that one can build (3,2,1)-dimensional TQFT’s from modular tensor categories $\mathcal{C}$, getting a Reshitikhin-Turaev type theory which assigns $\mathcal{C}$ to the circle. The modular tensor structure tells you what gets assigned to higher-dimensional cobordisms. (This is a higher-categorical analog of the fact that a (2,1)-dimensional TQFT is determined by a Frobenius algebra). Then the motivating question is: how can we extend this theory all the way down to a point (i.e. have it assign something to a point, so that $\mathcal{C}$ is somehow composed of naturally occurring morphisms).

So the question is: if we know what $\mathcal{C}$ is, what does that tell us about the “colours” that could be assigned to a boundary. There’s a fairly elegant way to take on this question by looking at what’s assigned to Wilson lines, the observables that matter in defining RT-type theories, when the line where we’re observing gets pushed onto the boundary. (See around p14 of the first paper linked above). The colours on lines inside the manifold could be objects of $\mathcal{C}$, and fusing them illustrates the monoidal structure of $\mathcal{C}$. Then the question is what kind of category can be attached to a boundary and be consistent with this.This should be functorial with respect to fusing two lines (i.e. doing this before or after projecting to the boundary should be the same).

They don’t completely characterize the situation, but they give some reasonable arguments which suggest that the result is that the boundary category, a braided monoidal category, ought to be the Drinfel’d centre of something. This is actually a stronger constraint for categories than groups (any commutative group is the centre of something – namely itself – but this isn’t true for monoidal categories).

2-Knots

Joost Slingerland gave a talk called “Local Representations of the Loop Braid Group”, which was quite nice. The Loop Braid Group was introduced by the late Xiao-Song Lin (whom I had the pleasure to know at UCR) as an interesting generalization of the braid group $B_n$. $B_n$ is the “motion group” of isomorphism classes of motions of $n$ particles in a plane: in such a motion, we let the particles move around arbitrarily, before ending up occupying the same points occupied initially. (In the “pure braid group”, each individual point must end up where it started – in the braid group, they can swap places). Up to diffeomorphism, this keeps track of how they move around each other – not just how they exchange places, but which one crosses in front of which, etc. The loop braid group does the same for loops embedded in 3D space. Now, if the loops always stay far away from each other, one possibility is that a motion amounts to a permutation in which the loops switch places: two paths through 3D space (or 4D spacetime) can always be untangled. On the other hand, loops can pass THROUGH each other, as seen at the beginning of this video:

This is analogous to two points braiding in 2D space (i.e. strands twisting around each other in 3D spacetime), although in fact these “slide moves” form a group which is different from just the pure braid group – but $PB_n$ fits inside them. In particular, the slide moves satisfy some of the same relations as the braid group – the Yang-Baxter equations.

The final thing that can happen is that loops might move, “flip over”, and return to their original position with reversed orientation. So the loop braid group can be broken down as $LB_n = Slide_n \rtimes (\mathbb{Z}_2)^n \rtimes S_n$. Every loop braid could be “closed up” to a 4D knotted surface, though not every knotted surface would be of this form. For one thing, our loops have a trivial embedding in 3D space here – to get every possible knotted surface, we’d need to have knots and links sliding around, braiding through each other, merging and splitting, etc. Knotted surfaces are much more complex than knotted circles, just as the topology of embedded circles is more complex than that of embedded points.

The talk described some work on the “local representations” of $LB_n$: representations on spaces where each loop is attached some $k$-dimensional vector space $V$ (this is the “local dimension”), so that the motions of $n$ loops gets represented on $V^{\otimes n}$ (a tensor product of $n$ copies of $V$). This is already rather complex, but is much easier than looking for arbitrary representations of $LB_n$ on any old vector space (“nonlocal” representations, if you like). Now, in particular, for local dimension 2, this boils down to some simple matrices which can be worked out – the slide moves are either represented by some permutation matrices, or some tensor products of rotation matrices, or a few other cases which can all be classified.

Toward the end, Dror Bar-Natan also gave a talk that touched on knotted surfaces, called “A Partial Reduction of BF Theory to Combinatorics“. The mention of BF theory – a kind of higher gauge theory that can be described locally in terms of a 1-form and a 2-form on a manifold – is basically to set up some discussion of knotted surfaces (the combinatorics it reduces to). The point is that, like many field theories, BF theory amplitudes can be calculated using a sum over certain Feynman diagrams – but these ones are diagrams that lie partly in certain knotted surfaces. (See the rather remarkable handout in the link above for lots of pictures). This is sort of analogous to how some gauge theories in 3D boil down to knot invariants – for knots that live on the boundary of a region cut out of the 3-manifold. This is similar, for a knotted surface in a 4-manifold.

The “combinatorics” boils down to showing some diagram presentations of these knotted surfaces – particularly, a special type called a “ribbon knot”, which is a certain kind of knotted sphere. The combinatorics show that these special knotted surfaces all correspond to ordinary knotted circles in 3D (in the handout, you’ll see the Gauss diagram for a knot – a picture which shows which points along a line cross over or under each other in a presentation of the knot – used to construct a corresponding ribbon knot). But do check out the handout for some pictures which show several different ways of presenting 2-knots.

(…To be continued in Part 2…)

## Hamburg

Since I moved to Hamburg,   Alessandro Valentino and I have been organizing one series of seminar talks whose goal is to bring people (mostly graduate students, and some postdocs and others) up to speed on the tools used in Jacob Lurie’s big paper on the classification of TQFT and proof of the Cobordism Hypothesis.  This is part of the Forschungsseminar (“research seminar”) for the working groups of Christoph Schweigert, Ingo Runkel, and Christoph Wockel.  First, I gave one introducing myself and what I’ve done on Extended TQFT. In our main series We’ve had a series of four so far – two in which Alessandro outlined a sketch of what Lurie’s result is, and another two by Sebastian Novak and Marc Palm that started catching our audience up on the simplicial methods used in the theory of $(\infty,n)$-categories which it uses.  Coming up in the New Year, Nathan Bowler and I will be talking about first $(\infty,1)$-categories, and then $(\infty,n)$-categories.   I’ll do a few posts summarizing the talks around then.

Some people in the group have done some work on quantum field theories with defects, in relation to which, there’s this workshop coming up here in February!  The idea here is that one could have two regions of space where different field theories apply, which are connected along a boundary. We might imagine these are theories which are different approximations to what’s going on physically, with a different approximation useful in each region.  Whatever the intuition, the regions will be labelled by some category, and boundaries between regions are labelled by functors between categories.  Where different boundary walls meet, one can have natural transformations.  There’s a whole theory of how a 3D TQFT can be associated to modular tensor categories, in sort of the same sense that a 2D TQFT is associated to a Frobenius algebra. This whole program is intimately connected with the idea of “extending” a given TQFT, in the sense that it deals with theories that have inputs which are spaces (or, in the case of defects, sub-spaces of given ones) of many different dimensions.  Lurie’s paper describing the n-dimensional cobordism category, is very much related to the input to a theory like this.

## Brno Visit

This time, I’d like to mention something which I began working on with Roger Picken in Lisbon, and talked about for the first time in Brno, Czech Republic, where I was invited to visit at Masaryk University.  I was in Brno for a week or so, and on Thursday, December 13, I gave this talk, called “Higher Gauge Theory and 2-Group Actions”.  But first, some pictures!

This fellow was near the hotel I stayed in:

Since this sculpture is both faceless and hard at work on nonspecific manual labour, I assume he’s a Communist-era artwork, but I don’t really know for sure.

The Christmas market was on in Náměstí Svobody (Freedom Square) in the centre of town.  This four-headed dragon caught my eye:

On the way back from Brno to Hamburg, I met up with my wife to spend a couple of days in Prague.  Here’s the Christmas market in the Old Town Square of Prague:

Anyway, it was a good visit to the Czech Republic.  Now, about the talk!

### Moduli Spaces in Higher Gauge Theory

The motivation which I tried to emphasize is to define a specific, concrete situation in which to explore the concept of “2-Symmetry”.  The situation is supposed to be, if not a realistic physical theory, then at least one which has enough physics-like features to give a good proof of concept argument that such higher symmetries should be meaningful in nature.  The idea is that Higher Gauge theory is a field theory which can be understood as one in which the possible (classical) fields on a space/spacetime manifold consist of maps from that space into some target space $X$.  For the topological theory, they are actually just homotopy classes of maps.  This is somewhat related to Sigma models used in theoretical physics, and mathematically to Homotopy Quantum Field Theory, which considers these maps as geometric structure on a manifold.  An HQFT is a functor taking such structured manifolds and cobordisms into Hilbert spaces and linear maps.  In the paper Roger and I are working on, we don’t talk about this stage of the process: we’re just considering how higher-symmetry appears in the moduli spaces for fields of this kind, which we think of in terms of Higher Gauge Theory.

Ordinary topological gauge theory – the study of flat connections on $G$-bundles for some Lie group $G$, can be looked at this way.  The target space $X = BG$ is the “classifying space” of the Lie group – homotopy classes of maps in $Hom(M,BG)$ are the same as groupoid homomorphisms in $Hom(\Pi_1(M),G)$.  Specifically, the pair of functors $\Pi_1$ and $B$ relating groupoids and topological spaces are adjoints.  Now, this deals with the situation where $X = BG$ is a homotopy 1-type, which is to say that it has a fundamental groupoid $\Pi_1(X) = G$, and no other interesting homotopy groups.  To deal with more general target spaces $X$, one should really deal with infinity-groupoids, which can capture the whole homotopy type of $X$ – in particular, all its higher homotopy groups at once (and various relations between them).  What we’re talking about in this paper is exactly one step in that direction: we deal with 2-groupoids.

We can think of this in terms of maps into a target space $X$ which is a 2-type, with nontrivial fundamental groupoid $\Pi_1(X)$, but also interesting second homotopy group $\pi_2(X)$ (and nothing higher).  These fit together to make a 2-groupoid $\Pi_2(X)$, which is a 2-group if $X$ is connected.  The idea is that $X$ is the classifying space of some 2-group $\mathcal{G}$, which plays the role of the Lie group $G$ in gauge theory.  It is the “gauge 2-group”.  Homotopy classes of maps into $X = B \mathcal{G}$ correspond to flat connections in this 2-group.

For practical purposes, we use the fact that there are several equivalent ways of describing 2-groups.  Two very directly equivalent ways to define them are as group objects internal to $\mathbf{Cat}$, or as categories internal to $\mathbf{Grp}$ – which have a group of objects and a group of morphisms, and group homomorphisms that define source, target, composition, and so on.  This second way is fairly close to the equivalent formulation as crossed modules $(G,H,\rhd,\partial)$.  The definition is in the slides, but essentially the point is that $G$ is the group of objects, and with the action $G \rhd H$, one gets the semidirect product $G \ltimes H$ which is the group of morphisms.  The map $\partial : H \rightarrow G$ makes it possible to speak of $G$ and $H$ acting on each other, and that these actions “look like conjugation” (the precise meaning of which is in the defining properties of the crossed module).

The reason for looking at the crossed-module formulation is that it then becomes fairly easy to understand the geometric nature of the fields we’re talking about.  In ordinary gauge theory, a connection can be described locally as a 1-form with values in $Lie(G)$, the Lie algebra of $G$.  Integrating such forms along curves gives another way to describe the connection, in terms of a rule assigning to every curve a holonomy valued in $G$ which describes how to transport something (generally, a fibre of a bundle) along the curve.  It’s somewhat nontrivial to say how this relates to the classic definition of a connection on a bundle, which can be described locally on “patches” of the manifold via 1-forms together with gluing functions where patches overlap.  The resulting categories are equivalent, though.

In higher gauge theory, we take a similar view. There is a local view of “connections on gerbes“, described by forms and gluing functions (the main difference in higher gauge theory is that the gluing functions related to higher cohomology).  But we will take the equivalent point of view where the connection is described by $G$-valued holonomies along paths, and $H$-valued holonomies over surfaces, for a crossed module $(G,H,\rhd,\partial)$, which satisfy some flatness conditions.  These amount to 2-functors of 2-categories $\Pi_2(M) \rightarrow \mathcal{G}$.

The moduli space of all such 2-connections is only part of the story.  2-functors are related by natural transformations, which are in turn related by “modifications”.  In gauge theory, the natural transformations are called “gauge transformations”, and though the term doesn’t seem to be in common use, the obvious term for the next layer would be “gauge modifications”. It is possible to assemble a 2-groupoid $Hom(\Pi_2(M),\mathcal{G}$, whose space of objects is exactly the moduli space of 2-connections, and whose 1- and 2-morphisms are exactly these gauge transformations and modifications.  So the question is, what is the meaning of the extra information contained in the 2-groupoid which doesn’t appear in the moduli space itself?

Our claim is that this information expresses how the moduli space carries “higher symmetry”.

### 2-Group Actions and the Transformation Double Category

What would it mean to say that something exhibits “higher” symmetry? A rudimentary way to formalize the intuition of “symmetry” is to say that there is a group (of “symmetries”) which acts on some object. One could get more subtle, but this should be enough to begin with. We already noted that “higher” gauge theory uses 2-groups (and beyond into $n$-groups) in the place of ordinary groups.  So in this context, the natural way to interpret it is by saying that there is an action of a 2-group on something.

Just as there are several equivalent ways to define a 2-group, there are different ways to say what it means for it to have an action on something.  One definition of a 2-group is to say that it’s a 2-category with one object and all morphisms and 2-morphisms invertible.  This definition makes it clear that a 2-group has to act on an object of some 2-category $\mathcal{C}$. For our purposes, just as we normally think of group actions on sets, we will focus on 2-group actions on categories, so that $\mathcal{C} = \mathbf{Cat}$ is the 2-category of interest. Then an action is just a map:

$\Phi : \mathcal{G} \rightarrow \mathbf{Cat}$

The unique object of $\mathcal{G}$ – let’s call it $\star$, gets taken to some object $\mathbf{C} = \Phi(\star) \in \mathbf{Cat}$.  This object $\mathbf{C}$ is the thing being “acted on” by $\mathcal{G}$.  The existence of the action implies that there are automorphisms $\Phi(g) : \mathbf{C} \rightarrow \mathbf{C}$ for every morphism in $\mathbf{G}$ (which correspond to the elements of the group $G$ of the crossed module).  This would be enough to describe ordinary symmetry, but the higher symmetry is also expressed in the images of 2-morphisms $\Phi( \eta : g \rightarrow g') = \Phi(\eta) : \Phi(g) \rightarrow \Phi(g')$, which we might call 2-symmetries relating 1-symmetries.

What we want to do in our paper, which the talk summarizes, is to show how this sort of 2-group action gives rise to a 2-groupoid (actually, just a 2-category when the $\mathbf{C}$ being acted on is a general category).  Then we claim that the 2-groupoid of connections can be seen as one that shows up in exactly this way.  (In the following, I have to give some credit to Dany Majard for talking this out and helping to find a better formalism.)

To make sense of this, we use the fact that there is a diagrammatic way to describe the transformation groupoid associated to the action of a group $G$ on a set $S$.  The set of morphisms is built as a pullback of the action map, $\rhd : (g,s) \mapsto g(s)$.

This means that morphisms are pairs $(g,s)$, thought of as going from $s$ to $g(s)$.  The rule for composing these is another pullback.  The diagram which shows how it’s done appears in the slides.  The whole construction ends up giving a cubical diagram in $\mathbf{Sets}$, whose top and bottom faces are mere commuting diagrams, and whose four other faces are all pullback squares.

To construct a 2-category from a 2-group action is similar. For now we assume that the 2-group action is strict (rather than being given by $\Phi$ a weak 2-functor).  In this case, it’s enough to think of our 2-group $\mathcal{G}$ not as a 2-category, but as a group-object in $\mathbf{Cat}$ – the same way that a 1-group, as well as being a category, can be seen as a group object in $\mathbf{Set}$.  The set of objects of this category is the group $G$ of morphisms of the 2-category, and the morphisms make up the group $G \ltimes H$ of 2-morphisms.  Being a group object is the same as having all the extra structure making up a 2-group.

To describe a strict action of such a $\mathcal{G}$ on $\mathbf{C}$, we just reproduce in $\mathbf{Cat}$ the diagram that defines an action in $\mathbf{Sets}$:

The fact that $\rhd$ is an action just means this commutes. In principle, we could define a weak action, which would mean that this commutes up to isomorphism, but we won’t be looking at that here.

Constructing the same diagram which describes the structure of a transformation groupoid (p29 in the slides for the talk), we get a structure with a “category of objects” and a “category of morphisms”.  The construction in $\mathbf{Set}$ gives us directly a set of morphisms, while $S$ itself is the set of objects. Similarly, in $\mathbf{Cat}$, the category of objects is just $\mathbf{C}$, while the construction gives a category of morphisms.

The two together make a category internal to $\mathbf{Cat}$, which is to say a double category.  By analogy with $S / \!\! / G$, we call this double category $\mathbf{C} / \!\! / \mathcal{G}$.

We take $\mathbf{C}$ as the category of objects, as the “horizontal category”, whose morphisms are the horizontal arrows of the double category. The category of morphisms of $\mathbf{C} /\!\!/ \mathcal{G}$ shows up by letting its objects be the vertical arrows of the double category, and its morphisms be the squares.  These look like this:

The vertical arrows are given by pairs of objects $(\gamma, x)$, and just like the transformation 1-groupoid, each corresponds to the fact that the action of $\gamma$ takes $x$ to $\gamma \rhd x$. Each square (morphism in the category of morphisms) is given by a pair $( (\gamma, \eta), f)$ of morphisms, one from $\mathcal{G}$ (given by an element in $G \rtimes H$), and one from $\mathbf{C}$.

The horizontal arrow on the bottom of this square is:

$(\partial \eta) \gamma \rhd f \circ \Phi(\gamma,\eta)_x = \Phi(\gamma,\eta)_y \circ \gamma \rhd f$

The fact that these are equal is exactly the fact that $\Phi(\gamma,\eta)$ is a natural transformation.

The double category $\mathbf{C} /\!\!/ \mathcal{G}$ turns out to have a very natural example which occurs in higher gauge theory.

### Higher Symmetry of the Moduli Space

The point of the talk is to show how the 2-groupoid of connections, previously described as $Hom(\Pi_2(M),\mathcal{G})$, can be seen as coming from a 2-group action on a category – the objects of this category being exactly the connections. In the slides above, for various reasons, we did this in a discretized setting – a manifold with a decomposition into cells. This is useful for writing things down explicitly, but not essential to the idea behind the 2-symmetry of the moduli space.

The point is that there is a category we call $\mathbf{Conn}$, whose objects are the connections: these assign $G$-holonomies to edges of our discretization (in general, to paths), and $H$-holonomies to 2D faces. (Without discretization, one would describe these in terms of $Lie(G)$-valued 1-forms and $Lie(H)$-valued 2-forms.)

The morphisms of $\mathbf{Conn}$ are one type of “gauge transformation”: namely, those which assign $H$-holonomies to edges. (Or: $Lie(H)$-valued 1-forms). They affect the edge holonomies of a connection just like a 2-morphism in $\mathcal{G}$.  Face holonomies are affected by the $H$-value that comes from the boundary of the face.

What’s physically significant here is that both objects and morphisms of $\mathbf{Conn}$ describe nonlocal geometric information.  They describe holonomies over edges and surfaces: not what happens at a point.  The “2-group of gauge transformations”, which we call $\mathbf{Gauge}$, on the other hand, is purely about local transformations.  If $V$ is the vertex set of the discretized manifold, then $\mathbf{Gauge} = \mathcal{G}^V$: one copy of the gauge 2-group at each vertex.  (Keeping this finite dimensional and avoiding technical details was one main reason we chose to use a discretization.  In principle, one could also talk about the 2-group of $\mathcal{G}$-valued functions, whose objects and morphisms, thinking of it as a group object in $\mathbf{Cat}$, are functions valued in morphisms of $\mathcal{G}$.)

Now, the way $\mathbf{Gauge}$ acts on $\mathbf{Conn}$ is essentially by conjugation: edge holonomies are affected by pre- and post-multiplication by the values at the two vertices on the edge – whether objects or morphisms of $\mathbf{Gauge}$.  (Face holonomies are unaffected).  There are details about this in the slides, but the important thing is that this is a 2-group of purely local changes.  The objects of $\mathbf{Gauge}$ are gauge transformations of this other type.  In a continuous setting, they would be described by $G$-valued functions.  The morphisms are gauge modifications, and could be described by $H$-valued functions.

The main conceptual point here is that we have really distinguished between two kinds of gauge transformation, which are the horizontal and vertical arrows of the double category $\mathbf{Conn} /\!\!/ \mathbf{Gauge}$.  This expresses the 2-symmetry by moving some gauge transformations into the category of connections, and others into the 2-group which acts on it.  But physically, we would like to say that both are “gauge transformations”.  So one way to do this is to “collapse” the double category to a bicategory: just formally allow horizontal and vertical arrows to compose, so that there is only one kind of arrow.  Squares become 2-cells.

So then if we collapse the double category expressing our 2-symmetry relation this way, the result is exactly equivalent to the functor category way of describing connections.  (The morphisms will all be invertible because $\mathbf{Conn}$ is a groupoid and $\mathbf{Gauge}$ is a 2-group).

I’m interested in this kind of geometrical example partly because it gives a good way to visualize something new happening here.  There appears to be some natural 2-symmetry on this space of fields, which is fairly easy to see geometrically, and distinguishes in a fundamental way between two types of gauge transformation.  This sort of phenomenon doesn’t occur in the world of $\mathbf{Sets}$ – a set $S$ has no morphisms, after all, so the transformation groupoid for a group action on it is much simpler.

In broad terms, this means that 2-symmetry has qualitatively new features that familiar old 1-symmetry doesn’t have.  Higher categorical versions – $n$-groups acting on $n$-groupoids, as might show up in more complicated HQFT – will certainly be even more complicated.  The 2-categorical version is just the first non-trivial situation where this happens, so it gives a nice starting point to understand what’s new in higher symmetry that we didn’t already know.

This entry is a by-special-request blog, which Derek Wise invited me to write for the blog associated with the International Loop Quantum Gravity Seminar, and it will appear over there as well.  The ILQGS is a long-running regular seminar which runs as a teleconference, with people joining in from various countries, on various topics which are more or less closely related to Loop Quantum Gravity and the interests of people who work on it.  The custom is that when someone gives a talk, someone else writes up a description of the talk for the ILQGS blog, and Derek invited me to write up a description of his talk.  The audio file of the talk itself is available in .aiff and .wav formats, and the slides are here.

The talk that Derek gave was based on a project of his and Steffen Gielen’s, which has taken written form in a few papers (two shorter ones, “Spontaneously broken Lorentz symmetry for Hamiltonian gravity“, “Linking Covariant and Canonical General Relativity via Local Observers“, and a new, longer one called “Lifting General Relativity to Observer Space“).

The key idea behind this project is the notion of “observer space”, which is exactly what it sounds like: a space of all observers in a given universe.  This is easiest to picture when one has a spacetime – a manifold with a Lorentzian metric, $(M,g)$ – to begin with.  Then an observer can be specified by choosing a particular point $(x_0,x_1,x_2,x_3) = \mathbf{x}$ in spacetime, as well as a unit future-directed timelike vector $v$.  This vector is a tangent to the observer’s worldline at $\mathbf{x}$.  The observer space is therefore a bundle over $M$, the “future unit tangent bundle”.  However, using the notion of a “Cartan geometry”, one can give a general definition of observer space which makes sense even when there is no underlying $(M,g)$.

The result is a surprising, relatively new physical intuition is that “spacetime” is a local and observer-dependent notion, which in some special cases can be extended so that all observers see the same spacetime.  This is somewhat related to the relativity of locality, which I’ve blogged about previously.  Geometrically, it is similar to the fact that a slicing of spacetime into space and time is not unique, and not respected by the full symmetries of the theory of Relativity, even for flat spacetime (much less for the case of General Relativity).  Similarly, we will see a notion of “observer space”, which can sometimes be turned into a bundle over an objective spacetime $M$, but not in all cases.

So, how is this described mathematically?  In particular, what did I mean up there by saying that spacetime becomes observer-dependent?

### Cartan Geometry

The answer uses Cartan geometry, which is a framework for differential geometry that is slightly broader than what is commonly used in physics.  Roughly, one can say “Cartan geometry is to Klein geometry as Riemannian geometry is to Euclidean geometry”.  The more familiar direction of generalization here is the fact that, like Riemannian geometry, Cartan is concerned with manifolds which have local models in terms of simple, “flat” geometries, but which have curvature, and fail to be homogeneous.  First let’s remember how Klein geometry works.

Klein’s Erlangen Program, carried out in the mid-19th-century, systematically brought abstract algebra, and specifically the theory of Lie groups, into geometry, by placing the idea of symmetry in the leading role.  It describes “homogeneous spaces”, which are geometries in which every point is indistinguishable from every other point.  This is expressed by the existence of a transitive action of some Lie group $G$ of all symmetries on an underlying space.  Any given point $x$ will be fixed by some symmetries, and not others, so one also has a subgroup $H = Stab(x) \subset G$.  This is the “stabilizer subgroup”, consisting of all symmetries which fix $x$.  That the space is homogeneous means that for any two points $x,y$, the subgroups $Stab(x)$ and $Stab(y)$ are conjugate (by a symmetry taking $x$ to $y$).  Then the homogeneous space, or Klein geometry, associated to $(G,H)$ is, up to isomorphism, just the same as the quotient space $G/H$ of the obvious action of $H$ on $G$.

The advantage of this program is that it has a great many examples, but the most relevant ones for now are:

• $n$-dimensional Euclidean space. the Euclidean group $ISO(n) = SO(n) \ltimes \mathbb{R}^n$ is precisely the group of transformations that leave the data of Euclidean geometry, lengths and angles, invariant.  It acts transitively on $\mathbb{R}^n$.  Any point will be fixed by the group of rotations centred at that point, which is a subgroup of $ISO(n)$ isomorphic to $SO(n)$.  Klein’s insight is to reverse this: we may define Euclidean space by $R^n \cong ISO(n)/SO(n)$.
• $n$-dimensional Minkowski space.  Similarly, we can define this space to be $ISO(n-1,1)/SO(n-1,1)$.  The Euclidean group has been replaced by the Poincaré group, and rotations by the Lorentz group (of rotations and boosts), but otherwise the situation is essentially the same.
• de Sitter space.  As a Klein geometry, this is the quotient $SO(4,1)/SO(3,1)$.  That is, the stabilizer of any point is the Lorentz group – so things look locally rather similar to Minkowski space around any given point.  But the global symmetries of de Sitter space are different.  Even more, it looks like Minkowski space locally in the sense that the Lie algebras give representations $so(4,1)/so(3,1)$ and $iso(3,1)/so(3,1)$ are identical, seen as representations of $SO(3,1)$.  It’s natural to identify them with the tangent space at a point.  de Sitter space as a whole is easiest to visualize as a 4D hyperboloid in $\mathbb{R}^5$.  This is supposed to be seen as a local model of spacetime in a theory in which there is a cosmological constant that gives empty space a constant negative curvature.
• anti-de Sitter space. This is similar, but now the quotient is $SO(3,2)/SO(3,1)$ – in fact, this whole theory goes through for any of the last three examples: Minkowski; de Sitter; and anti-de Sitter, each of which acts as a “local model” for spacetime in General Relativity with the cosmological constant, respectively: zero; positive; and negative.

Now, what does it mean to say that a Cartan geometry has a local model?  Well, just as a Lorentzian or Riemannian manifold is “locally modelled” by Minkowski or Euclidean space, a Cartan geometry is locally modelled by some Klein geometry.  This is best described in terms of a connection on a principal $G$-bundle, and the associated $G/H$-bundle, over some manifold $M$.  The crucial bundle in a Riemannian or Lorenztian geometry is the frame bundle: the fibre over each point consists of all the ways to isometrically embed a standard Euclidean or Minkowski space into the tangent space.  A connection on this bundle specifies how this embedding should transform as one moves along a path.  It’s determined by a 1-form on $M$, valued in the Lie algebra of $G$.

Given a parametrized path, one can apply this form to the tangent vector at each point, and get a Lie algebra-valued answer.  Integrating along the path, we get a path in the Lie group $G$ (which is independent of the parametrization).  This is called a “development” of the path, and by applying the $G$-values to the model space $G/H$, we see that the connection tells us how to move through a copy of $G/H$ as we move along the path.  The image this suggests is of “rolling without slipping” – think of the case where the model space is a sphere.  The connection describes how the model space “rolls” over the surface of the manifold $M$.  Curvature of the connection measures the failure to commute of the processes of rolling in two different directions.  A connection with zero curvature describes a space which (locally at least) looks exactly like the model space: picture a sphere rolling against its mirror image.  Transporting the sphere-shaped fibre around any closed curve always brings it back to its starting position. Now, curvature is defined in terms of transports of these Klein-geometry fibres.  If curvature is measured by the development of curves, we can think of each homogeneous space as a flat Cartan geometry with itself as a local model.

This idea, that the curvature of a manifold depends on the model geometry being used to measure it, shows up in the way we apply this geometry to physics.

### Gravity and Cartan Geometry

MacDowell-Mansouri gravity can be understood as a theory in which General Relativity is modelled by a Cartan geometry.  Of course, a standard way of presenting GR is in terms of the geometry of a Lorentzian manifold.  In the Palatini formalism, the basic fields are a connection $A$ and a vierbein (coframe field) called $e$, with dynamics encoded in the Palatini action, which is the integral over $M$ of $R[\omega] \wedge e \wedge e$, where $R$ is the curvature 2-form for $\omega$.

This can be derived from a Cartan geometry, whose model geometry is de Sitter space $SO(4,1)/SO(3,1)$.   Then MacDowell-Mansouri gravity gets $\omega$ and $e$ by splitting the Lie algebra as $so(4,1) = so(3,1) \oplus \mathbb{R^4}$.  This “breaks the full symmetry” at each point.  Then one has a fairly natural action on the $so(4,1)$-connection:

$\int_M tr(F_h \wedge \star F_h)$

Here, $F_h$ is the $so(3,1)$ part of the curvature of the big connection.  The splitting of the connection means that $F_h = R + e \wedge e$, and the action above is rewritten, up to a normalization, as the Palatini action for General Relativity (plus a topological term, which has no effect on the equations of motion we get from the action).  So General Relativity can be written as the theory of a Cartan geometry modelled on de Sitter space.

The cosmological constant in GR shows up because a “flat” connection for a Cartan geometry based on de Sitter space will look (if measured by Minkowski space) as if it has constant curvature which is exactly that of the model Klein geometry.  The way to think of this is to take the fibre bundle of homogeneous model spaces as a replacement for the tangent bundle to the manifold.  The fibre at each point describes the local appearance of spacetime.  If empty spacetime is flat, this local model is Minkowski space, $ISO(3,1)/SO(3,1)$, and one can really speak of tangent “vectors”.  The tangent homogeneous space is not linear.  In these first cases, the fibres are not vector spaces, precisely because the large group of symmetries doesn’t contain a group of translations, but they are Klein geometries constructed in just the same way as Minkowski space. Thus, the local description of the connection in terms of $Lie(G)$-valued forms can be treated in the same way, regardless of which Klein geometry $G/H$ occurs in the fibres.  In particular, General Relativity, formulated in terms of Cartan geometry, always says that, in the absence of matter, the geometry of space is flat, and the cosmological constant is included naturally by the choice of which Klein geometry is the local model of spacetime.

### Observer Space

The idea in defining an observer space is to combine two symmetry reductions into one.  The reduction from $SO(4,1)$ to $SO(3,1)$ gives de Sitter space, $SO(4,1)/SO(3,1)$ as a model Klein geometry, which reflects the “symmetry breaking” that happens when choosing one particular point in spacetime, or event.  Then, the reduction of $SO(3,1)$ to $SO(3)$ similarly reflects the symmetry breaking that occurs when one chooses a specific time direction (a future-directed unit timelike vector).  These are the tangent vectors to the worldline of an observer at the chosen point, so $SO(3,1)/SO(3)$ the model Klein geometry, is the space of such possible observers.  The stabilizer subgroup for a point in this space consists of just the rotations of space around the corresponding observer – the boosts in $SO(3,1)$ translate between observers.  So locally, choosing an observer amounts to a splitting of the model spacetime at the point into a product of space and time. If we combine both reductions at once, we get the 7-dimensional Klein geometry $SO(4,1)/SO(3)$.  This is just the future unit tangent bundle of de Sitter space, which we think of as a homogeneous model for the “space of observers”

A general observer space $O$, however, is just a Cartan geometry modelled on $SO(4,1)/SO(3)$.  This is a 7-dimensional manifold, equipped with the structure of a Cartan geometry.  One class of examples are exactly the future unit tangent bundles to 4-dimensional Lorentzian spacetimes.  In these cases, observer space is naturally a contact manifold: that is, it’s an odd-dimensional manifold equipped with a 1-form $\alpha$, the contact form, which is such that the top-dimensional form $\alpha \wedge d \alpha \wedge \dots \wedge d \alpha$ is nowhere zero.  This is the odd-dimensional analog of a symplectic manifold.  Contact manifolds are, intuitively, configuration spaces of systems which involve “rolling without slipping” – for instance, a sphere rolling on a plane.  In this case, it’s better to think of the local space of observers which “rolls without slipping” on a spacetime manifold $M$.

Now, Minkowski space has a slicing into space and time – in fact, one for each observer, who defines the time direction, but the time coordinate does not transform in any meaningful way under the symmetries of the theory, and different observers will choose different ones.  In just the same way, the homogeneous model of observer space can naturally be written as a bundle $SO(4,1)/SO(3) \rightarrow SO(4,1)/SO(3,1)$.  But a general observer space $O$ may or may not be a bundle over an ordinary spacetime manifold, $O \rightarrow M$.  Every Cartan geometry $M$ gives rise to an observer space $O$ as the bundle of future-directed timelike vectors, but not every Cartan geometry $O$ is of this form, in any natural way. Indeed, without a further condition, we can’t even reconstruct observer space as such a bundle in an open neighborhood of a given observer.

This may be intuitively surprising: it gives a perfectly concrete geometric model in which “spacetime” is relative and observer-dependent, and perhaps only locally meaningful, in just the same way as the distinction between “space” and “time” in General Relativity. It may be impossible, that is, to determine objectively whether two observers are located at the same base event or not. This is a kind of “Relativity of Locality” which is geometrically much like the by-now more familiar Relativity of Simultaneity. Each observer will reach certain conclusions as to which observers share the same base event, but different observers may not agree.  The coincident observers according to a given observer are those reached by a good class of geodesics in $O$ moving only in directions that observer sees as boosts.

When one can reconstruct $O \rightarrow M$, two observers will agree whether or not they are coincident.  This extra condition which makes this possible is an integrability constraint on the action of the Lie algebra $H$ (in our main example, $H = SO(3,1)$) on the observer space $O$.  In this case, the fibres of the bundle are the orbits of this action, and we have the familiar world of Relativity, where simultaneity may be relative, but locality is absolute.

### Lifting Gravity to Observer Space

Apart from describing this model of relative spacetime, another motivation for describing observer space is that one can formulate canonical (Hamiltonian) GR locally near each point in such an observer space.  The goal is to make a link between covariant and canonical quantization of gravity.  Covariant quantization treats the geometry of spacetime all at once, by means of a Lagrangian action functional.  This is mathematically appealing, since it respects the symmetry of General Relativity, namely its diffeomorphism-invariance.  On the other hand, it is remote from the canonical (Hamiltonian) approach to quantization of physical systems, in which the concept of time is fundamental. In the canonical approach, one gets a Hilbert space by quantizing the space of states of a system at a given point in time, and the Hamiltonian for the theory describes its evolution.  This is problematic for diffeomorphism-, or even Lorentz-invariance, since coordinate time depends on a choice of observer.  The point of observer space is that we consider all these choices at once.  Describing GR in $O$ is both covariant, and based on (local) choices of time direction.

This is easiest to describe in the case of a bundle $O \rightarrow M$.  Then a “field of observers” to be a section of the bundle: a choice, at each base event in $M$, of an observer based at that event.  A field of observers may or may not correspond to a particular decomposition of spacetime into space evolving in time, but locally, at each point in $O$, it always looks like one.  The resulting theory describes the dynamics of space-geometry over time, as seen locally by a given observer.  In this case, a Cartan connection on observer space is described by to a $Lie(SO(4,1))$-valued form.  This decomposes into four Lie-algebra valued forms, interpreted as infinitesimal transformations of the model observer by: (1) spatial rotations; (2) boosts; (3) spatial translations; (4) time translation.  The four-fold division is based on two distinctions: first, between the base event at which the observer lives, and the choice of observer (i.e. the reduction of $SO(4,1)$ to $SO(3,1)$, which symmetry breaking entails choosing a point); and second, between space and time (i.e. the reduction of $SO(3,1)$ to $SO(3)$, which symmetry breaking entails choosing a time direction).

This splitting, along the same lines as the one in MacDowell-Mansouri gravity described above, suggests that one could lift GR to a theory on an observer space $O$.  This amount to describing fields on $O$ and an action functional, so that the splitting of the fields gives back the usual fields of GR on spacetime, and the action gives back the usual action.  This part of the project is still under development, but this lifting has been described.  In the case when there is no “objective” spacetime, the result includes some surprising new fields which it’s not clear how to deal with, but when there is an objective spacetime, the resulting theory looks just like GR.

Well, as promised in the previous post, I’d like to give a summary of some of what was discussed at the conference I attended (quite a while ago now, late last year) in Erlangen, Germany.  I was there also to visit Derek Wise, talking about a project we’ve been working on for some time.

(I’ve also significantly revised this paper about Extended TQFT since then, and it now includes some stuff which was the basis of my talk at Erlangen on cohomological twisting of the category $Span(Gpd)$.  I’ll get to that in the next post.  Also coming up, I’ll be describing some new things I’ve given some talks about recently which relate the Baez-Dolan groupoidification program to Khovanov-Lauda categorification of algebras – at least in one example, hopefully in a way which will generalize nicely.)

In the meantime, there were a few themes at the conference which bear on the Extended TQFT project in various ways, so in this post I’ll describe some of them.  (This isn’t an exhaustive description of all the talks: just of a selection of illustrative ones.)

Categories with Structures

A few talks were mainly about facts regarding the sorts of categories which get used in field theory contexts.  One important type, for instance, are fusion categories is a monoidal category which is enriched in vector spaces, generated by simple objects, and some other properties: essentially, monoidal 2-vector spaces.  The basic example would be categories of representations (of groups, quantum groups, algebras, etc.), but fusion categories are an abstraction of (some of) their properties.  Many of the standard properties are described and proved in this paper by Etingof, Nikshych, and Ostrik, which also poses one of the basic conjectures, the “ENO Conjecture”, which was referred to repeatedly in various talks.  This is the guess that every fusion category can be given a “pivotal” structure: an isomorphism from $Id$ to $**$.  It generalizes the theorem that there’s always such an isomorphism into $****$.  More on this below.

Hendryk Pfeiffer talked about a combinatorial way to classify fusion categories in terms of certain graphs (see this paper here).  One way I understand this idea is to ask how much this sort of category really does generalize categories of representations, or actually comodules.  One starting point for this is the theorem that there’s a pair of functors between certain monoidal categories and weak Hopf algebras.  Specifically, the monoidal categories are $(Cat \downarrow Vect)^{\otimes}$, which consists of monoidal categories equipped with a forgetful functor into $Vect$.  Then from this one can get (via a coend), a weak Hopf algebra over the base field $k$(in the category $WHA_k$).  From a weak Hopf algebra $H$, one can get back such a category by taking all the modules of $H$.  These two processes form an adjunction: they’re not inverses, but we have maps between the two composites and the identity functors.

The new result Hendryk gave is that if we restrict our categories over $Vect$ to be abelian, and the functors between them to be linear, faithful, and exact (that is, roughly, that we’re talking about concrete monoidal 2-vector spaces), then this adjunction is actually an equivalence: so essentially, all such categories $C$ may as well be module categories for weak Hopf algebras.  Then he gave a characterization of these in terms of the “dimension graph” (in fact a quiver) for $(C,M)$, where $M$ is one of the monoidal generators of $C$.  The vertices of $\mathcal{G} = \mathcal{G}_{(C,M)}$ are labelled by the irreducible representations $v_i$ (i.e. set of generators of the category), and there’s a set of edges $j \rightarrow l$ labelled by a basis of $Hom(v_j, v_l \otimes M)$.  Then one can carry on and build a big graded algebra $H[\mathcal{G}]$ whose $m$-graded part consists of length-$m$ paths in $\mathcal{G}$.  Then the point is that the weak Hopf algebra of which $C$ is (up to isomorphism) the module category will be a certain quotient of $H[\mathcal{G}]$ (after imposing some natural relations in a systematic way).

The point, then, is that the sort of categories mostly used in this area can be taken to be representation categories, but in general only of these weak Hopf algebras: groups and ordinary algebras are special cases, but they show up naturally for certain kinds of field theory.

Tensor Categories and Field Theories

There were several talks about the relationship between tensor categories of various sorts and particular field theories.  The idea is that local field theories can be broken down in terms of some kind of n-category: $n$-dimensional regions get labelled by categories, $(n-1)$-D boundaries between regions, or “defects”, are labelled by functors between the categories (with the idea that this shows how two different kinds of field can couple together at the defect), and so on (I think the highest-dimension that was discussed explicitly involved 3-categories, so one has junctions between defects, and junctions between junctions, which get assigned some higher-morphism data).  Alteratively, there’s the dual picture where categories are assigned to points, functors to 1-manifolds, and so on.  (This is just Poincaré duality in the case where the manifolds come with a decomposition into cells, which they often are if only for convenience).

Victor Ostrik gave a pair of talks giving an overview role tensor categories play in conformal field theory.  There’s too much material here to easily summarize, but the basics go like this: CFTs are field theories defined on cobordisms that have some conformal structure (i.e. notion of angles, but not distance), and on the algebraic side they are associated with vertex algebras (some useful discussion appears on mathoverflow, but in this context they can be understood as vector spaces equipped with exactly the algebraic operations needed to model cobordisms with some local holomorphic structure).

In particular, the irreducible representations of these VOA’s determine the “conformal blocks” of the theory, which tell us about possible correlations between observables (self-adjoint operators).  A VOA $V$ is “rational” if the category $Rep(V)$ is semisimple (i.e. generated as finite direct sums of these conformal blocks).  For good VOA’s, $Rep(V)$ will be a modular tensor category (MTC), which is a fusion category with a duality, braiding, and some other strucutre (see this for more).   So describing these gives us a lot of information about what CFT’s are possible.

The full data of a rational CFT are given by a vertex algebra, and a module category $M$: that is, a fusion category is a sort of categorified ring, so it can act on $M$ as an ring acts on a module.  It turns out that choosing an $M$ is equivalent to finding a certain algebra (i.e. algebra object) $\mathcal{L}$, a “Lagrangian algebra” inside the centre of $Rep(V)$.  The Drinfel’d centre $Z(C)$ of a monoidal category $C$ is a sort of free way to turn a monoidal category into a braided one: but concretely in this case it just looks like $Rep(V) \otimes Rep(V)^{\ast}$.  Knowing the isomorphism class $\mathcal{L}$ determines a “modular invariant”.  It gets “physics” meaning from how it’s equipped with an algebra structure (which can happen in more than one way), but in any case $\mathcal{L}$ has an underlying vector space, which becomes the Hilbert space of states for the conformal field theory, which the VOA acts on in the natural way.

Now, that was all conformal field theory.  Christopher Douglas described some work with Chris Schommer-Pries and Noah Snyder about fusion categories and structured topological field theories.  These are functors out of cobordism categories, the most important of which are $n$-categories, where the objects are points, morphisms are 1D cobordisms, and so on up to $n$-morphisms which are $n$-dimensional cobordisms.  To keep things under control, Chris Douglas talked about the case $Bord_0^3$, which is where $n=3$, and a “local” field theory is a 3-functor $Bord_0^3 \rightarrow \mathcal{C}$ for some 3-category $\mathcal{C}$.  Now, the (Baez-Dolan) Cobordism Hypothesis, which was proved by Jacob Lurie, says that $Bord_0^3$ is, in a suitable sense, the free symmetric monoidal 3-category with duals.  What this amounts to is that a local field theory whose target 3-category is $\mathcal{C}$ is “just” a dualizable object of $\mathcal{C}$.

The handy example which links this up to the above is when $\mathcal{C}$ has objects which are tensor categories, morphisms which are bimodule categories (i.e. categories acted), 2-morphisms which are functors, and 3-morphisms which are natural transformations.  Then the issue is to classify what kind of tensor categories these objects can be.

The story is trickier if we’re talking about, not just topological cobordisms, but ones equipped with some kind of structure regulated by a structure group $G$(for instance, orientation by $G=SO(n)$, spin structure by its universal cover $G= Spin(n)$, and so on).  This means the cobordisms come equipped with a map into $BG$.  They take $O(n)$ as the starting point, and then consider groups $G$ with a map to $O(n)$, and require that the map into $BG$ is a lift of the map to $BO(n)$.  Then one gets that a structured local field theory amounts to a dualizable objects of $\mathcal{C}$ with a homotopy-fixed point for some $G$-action – and this describes what gets assigned to the point by such a field theory.  What they then show is a correspondence between $G$ and classes of categories.  For instance, fusion categories are what one gets by imposing that the cobordisms be oriented.

Liang Kong talked about “Topological Orders and Tensor Categories”, which used the Levin-Wen models, from condensed matter phyiscs.  (Benjamin Balsam also gave a nice talk describing these models and showing how they’re equivalent to the Turaev-Viro and Kitaev models in appropriate cases.  Ingo Runkel gave a related talk about topological field theories with “domain walls”.).  Here, the idea of a “defect” (and topological order) can be understood very graphically: we imagine a 2-dimensional crystal lattice (of atoms, say), and the defect is a 1-dimensional place where the two lattices join together, with the internal symmetry of each breaking down at the boundary.  (For example, a square lattice glued where the edges on one side are offset and meet the squares on the other side in the middle of a face, as you typically see in a row of bricks – the slides linked above have some pictures).  The Levin-Wen models are built using a hexagonal lattice, starting with a tensor category with several properties: spherical (there are dualities satisfying some relations), fusion, and unitary: in fact, historically, these defining properties were rediscovered independently here as the requirement for there to be excitations on the boundary which satisfy physically-inspired consistency conditions.

These abstract the properties of a category of representations.  A generalization of this to “topological orders” in 3D or higher is an extended TFT in the sense mentioned just above: they have a target 3-category of tensor categories, bimodule categories, functors and natural transformations.  The tensor categories (say, $\mathcal{C}$, $\mathcal{D}$, etc.) get assigned to the bulk regions; to “domain walls” between different regions, namely defects between lattices, we assign bimodule categories (but, for instance, to a line within a region, we get $\mathcal{C}$ understood as a $\mathcal{C}-\mathcal{C}$-bimodule); then to codimension 2 and 3 defects we attach functors and natural transformations.  The algebra for how these combine expresses the ways these topological defects can go together.  On a lattice, this is an abstraction of a spin network model, where typically we have just one tensor category $\mathcal{C}$ applied to the whole bulk, namely the representations of a Lie group (say, a unitary group).  Then we do calculations by breaking down into bases: on codimension-1 faces, these are simple objects of $\mathcal{C}$; to vertices we assign a Hom space (and label by a basis for intertwiners in the special case); and so on.

Thomas Nickolaus spoke about the same kind of $G$-equivariant Dijkgraaf-Witten models as at our workshop in Lisbon, so I’ll refer you back to my earlier post on that.  However, speaking of equivariance and group actions:

Michael Müger  spoke about “Orbifolds of Rational CFT’s and Braided Crossed $G$-Categories” (see this paper for details).  This starts with that correspondence between rational CFT’s (strictly, rational chiral CFT’s) and modular categories $Rep(F)$.  (He takes $F$ to be the name of the CFT).  Then we consider what happens if some finite group $G$ acts on $F$ (if we understand $F$ as a functor, this is an action by natural transformations; if as an algebra, then ).  This produces an “orbifold theory” $F^G$ (just like a finite group action on a manifold produces an orbifold), which is the “$G$-fixed subtheory” of $F$, by taking $G$-fixed points for every object, and is also a rational CFT.  But that means it corresponds to some other modular category $Rep(F^G)$, so one would like to know what category this is.

A natural guess might be that it’s $Rep(F)^G$, where $C^G$ is a “weak fixed-point” category that comes from a weak group action on a category $C$.  Objects of $C^G$ are pairs $(c,f_g)$ where $c \in C$ and $f_g : g(c) \rightarrow c$ is a specified isomorphism.  (This is a weak analog of $S^G$, the set of fixed points for a group acting on a set).  But this guess is wrong – indeed, it turns out these categories have the wrong dimension (which is defined because the modular category has a trace, which we can sum over generating objects).  Instead, the right answer, denoted by $Rep(F^G) = G-Rep(F)^G$, is the $G$-fixed part of some other category.  It’s a braided crossed $G$-category: one with a grading by $G$, and a $G$-action that gets along with it.  The identity-graded part of $Rep(F^G)$ is just the original $Rep(F)$.

State Sum Models

This ties in somewhat with at least some of the models in the previous section.  Some of these were somewhat introductory, since many of the people at the conference were coming from a different background.  So, for instance, to begin the workshop, John Barrett gave a talk about categories and quantum gravity, which started by outlining the historical background, and the development of state-sum models.  He gave a second talk where he began to relate this to diagrams in Gray-categories (something he also talked about here in Lisbon in February, which I wrote about then).  He finished up with some discussion of spherical categories (and in particular the fact that there is a Gray-category of spherical categories, with a bunch of duals in the suitable sense).  This relates back to the kind of structures Chris Douglas spoke about (described above, but chronologically right after John).  Likewise, Winston Fairbairn gave a talk about state sum models in 3D quantum gravity – the Ponzano Regge model and Turaev-Viro model being the focal point, describing how these work and how they’re constructed.  Part of the point is that one would like to see that these fit into the sort of framework described in the section above, which for PR and TV models makes sense, but for the fancier state-sum models in higher dimensions, this becomes more complicated.

Higher Gauge Theory

There wasn’t as much on this topic as at our own workshop in Lisbon (though I have more remarks on higher gauge theory in one post about it), but there were a few entries.  Roger Picken talked about some work with Joao Martins about a cubical formalism for parallel transport based on crossed modules, which consist of a group $G$ and abelian group $H$, with a map $\partial : H \rightarrow G$ and an action of $G$ on $H$ satisfying some axioms.  They can represent categorical groups, namely group objects in $Cat$ (equivalently, categories internal to $Grp$), and are “higher” analogs of groups with a set of elements.  Roger’s talk was about how to understand holonomies and parallel transports in this context.  So, a “connection” lets on transport things with $G$-symmetries along paths, and with $H$-symmetries along surfaces.  It’s natural to describe this with squares whose edges are labelled by $G$-elements, and faces labelled by $H$-elements (which are the holonomies).  Then the “cubical approach” means that we can describe gauge transformations, and higher gauge transformations (which in one sense are the point of higher gauge theory) in just the same way: a gauge transformation which assigns $H$-values to edges and $G$-values to vertices can be drawn via the holonomies of a connection on a cube which extends the original square into 3D (so the edges become squares, and so get $H$-values, and so on).  The higher gauge transformations work in a similar way.  This cubical picture gives a good way to understand the algebra of how gauge transformations etc. work: so for instance, gauge transformations look like “conjugation” of a square by four other squares – namely, relating the front and back faces of a cube by means of the remaining faces.  Higher gauge transformations can be described by means of a 4D hypercube in an analogous way, and their algebraic properties have to do with the 2D faces of the hypercube.

Derek Wise gave a short talk outlining his recent paper with John Baez in which they show that it’s possible to construct a higher gauge theory based on the Poincare 2-group which turns out to have fields, and dynamics, which are equivalent to teleparallel gravity, a slightly unusal theory which nevertheless looks in practice just like General Relativity.  I discussed this in a previous post.

So next time I’ll talk about the new additions to my paper on ETQFT which were the basis of my talk, which illustrates a few of the themes above.

As usual, this write-up process has been taking a while since life does intrude into blogging for some reason.  In this case, because for a little less than a week, my wife and I have been on our honeymoon, which was delayed by our moving to Lisbon.  We went to the Azores, or rather to São Miguel, the largest of the nine islands.  We had a good time, roughly like so:

Now that we’re back, I’ll attempt to wrap up with the summaries of things discussed at the workshop on Higher Gauge Theory, TQFT, and Quantum Gravity.  In the previous post I described talks which I roughly gathered under TQFT and Higher Gauge Theory, but the latter really ramifies out in a few different ways.  As began to be clear before, higher bundles are classified by higher cohomology of manifolds, and so are gerbes – so in fact these are two slightly different ways of talking about the same thing.  I also remarked, in the summary of Konrad Waldorf’s talk, the idea that the theory of gerbes on a manifold is equivalent to ordinary gauge theory on its loop space – which is one way to make explicit the idea that categorification “raises dimension”, in this case from parallel transport of points to that of 1-dimensional loops.  Next we’ll expand on that theme, and then finally reach the “Quantum Gravity” part, and draw the connection between this and higher gauge theory toward the end.

## Gerbes and Cohomology

The very first workshop speaker, in fact, was Paolo Aschieri, who has done a lot of work relating noncommutative geometry and gravity.  In this case, though, he was talking about noncommutative gerbes, and specifically referred to this work with some of the other speakers.  To be clear, this isn’t about gerbes with noncommutative group $G$, but about gerbes on noncommutative spaces.  To begin with, it’s useful to express gerbes in the usual sense in the right language.  In particular, he explain what a gerbe on a manifold $X$ is in concrete terms, giving Hitchin’s definition (viz).  A $U(1)$ gerbe can be described as “a cohomology class” but it’s more concrete to present it as:

• a collection of line bundles $L_{\alpha \beta}$ associated with double overlaps $U_{\alpha \beta} = U_{\alpha} \cap U_{\beta}$.  Note this gets an algebraic structure (multiplication $\star$ of bundles is pointwise $\otimes$, with an inverse given by the dual, $L^{-1} = L^*$, so we can require…
• $L_{\alpha \beta}^{-1} \cong L_{\beta \alpha}$, which helps define…
• transition functions $\lambda _{\alpha \beta \gamma}$ on triple overlaps $U_{\alpha \beta \gamma}$, which are sections of $L_{\alpha \beta \gamma} = L_{\alpha \beta} \star L_{\beta \gamma} \star L_{\gamma \alpha}$.  If this product is trivial, there’d be a 1-cocycle condition here, but we only insist on the 2-cocycle condition…
• $\lambda_{\beta \gamma \delta} \lambda_{\alpha \gamma \delta}^{-1} \lambda_{\alpha \beta \delta} \lambda_{\alpha \beta \gamma}^{-1} = 1$

This is a $U(1)$-gerbe on a commutative space.  The point is that one can make a similar definition for a noncommutative space.  If the space $X$ is associated with the algebra $A=C^{\infty}(X)$ of smooth functions, then a line bundle is a module for $A$, so if $A$ is noncommutative (thought of as a “space” $X$), a “bundle over $X$ is just defined to be an $A$-module.  One also has to define an appropriate “covariant derivative” operator $D$ on this module, and the $\star$-product must be defined as well, and will be noncommutative (we can think of it as a deformation of the $\star$ above).  The transition functions are sections: that is, elements of the modules in question.  his means we can describe a gerbe in terms of a big stack of modules, with a chosen algebraic structure, together with some elements.  The idea then is that gerbes can give an interpretation of cohomology of noncommutative spaces as well as commutative ones.

Mauro Spera spoke about a point of view of gerbes based on “transgressions”.  The essential point is that an $n$-gerbe on a space $X$ can be seen as the obstruction to patching together a family of  $(n-1)$-gerbes.  Thus, for instance, a $U(1)$ 0-gerbe is a $U(1)$-bundle, which is to say a complex line bundle.  As described above, a 1-gerbe can be understood as describing the obstacle to patching together a bunch of line bundles, and the obstacle is the ability to find a cocycle $\lambda$ satisfying the requisite conditions.  This obstacle is measured by the cohomology of the space.  Saying we want to patch together $(n-1)$-gerbes on the fibre.  He went on to discuss how this manifests in terms of obstructions to string structures on manifolds (already discussed at some length in the post on Hisham Sati’s school talk, so I won’t duplicate here).

A talk by Igor Bakovic, “Stacks, Gerbes and Etale Groupoids”, gave a way of looking at gerbes via stacks (see this for instance).  The organizing principle is the classification of bundles by the space maps into a classifying space – or, to get the category of principal $G$-bundles on, the category $Top(Sh(X),BG)$, where $Sh(X)$ is the category of sheaves on $X$ and $BG$ is the classifying topos of $G$-sets.  (So we have geometric morphisms between the toposes as the objects.)  Now, to get further into this, we use that $Sh(X)$ is equivalent to the category of Étale spaces over $X$ – this is a refinement of the equivalence between bundles and presheaves.  Taking stalks of a presheaf gives a bundle, and taking sections of a bundle gives a presheaf – and these operations are adjoint.

The issue at hand is how to categorify this framework to talk about 2-bundles, and the answer is there’s a 2-adjunction between the 2-category $2-Bun(X)$ of such things, and $Fib(X) = [\mathcal{O}(X)^{op},Cat]$, the 2-category of fibred categories over $X$.  (That is, instead of looking at “sheaves of sets”, we look at “sheaves of categories” here.)  The adjunction, again, involves talking stalks one way, and taking sections the other way.  One hard part of this is getting a nice definition of “stalk” for stacks (i.e. for the “sheaves of categories”), and a good part of the talk focused on explaining how to get a nice tractable definition which is (fibre-wise) equivalent to the more natural one.

Bakovic did a bunch of this work with Branislav Jurco, who was also there, and spoke about “Nonabelian Bundle 2-Gerbes“.  The paper behind that link has more details, which I’ve yet to entirely absorb, but the essential point appears to be to extend the description of “bundle gerbes” associated to crossed modules up to 2-crossed modules.  Bundles, with a structure-group $G$, are classified by the cohomology $H^1(X,G)$ with coefficients in $G$; and whereas “bundle-gerbes” with a structure-crossed-module $H \rightarrow G$ can likewise be described by cohomology $H^1(X,H \rightarrow G)$.  Notice this is a bit different from the description in terms of higher cohomology $H^2(X,G)$ for a $G$-gerbe, which can be understood as a bundle-gerbe using the shifted crossed module $G \rightarrow 1$ (when $G$ is abelian.  The goal here is to generalize this part to nonabelian groups, and also pass up to “bundle 2-gerbes” based on a 2-crossed module, or crossed complex of length 2, $L \rightarrow H \rightarrow G$ as I described previously for Joao Martins’ talk.  This would be classified in terms of cohomology valued in the 2-crossed module.  The point is that one can describe such a thing as a bundle over a fibre product, which (I think – I’m not so clear on this part) deals with the same structure of overlaps as the higher cohomology in the other way of describing things.

Finally,  a talk that’s a little harder to classify than most, but which I’ve put here with things somewhat related to string theory, was Alexander Kahle‘s on “T-Duality and Differential K-Theory”, based on work with Alessandro Valentino.  This uses the idea of the differential refinement of cohomology theories – in this case, K-theory, which is a generalized cohomology theory, which is to say that K-theory satisfies the Eilenberg-Steenrod axioms (with the dimension axiom relaxed, hence “generalized”).  Cohomology theories, including generalized ones, can have differential refinements, which pass from giving topological to geometrical information about a space.  So, while K-theory assigns to a space the Grothendieck ring of the category of vector bundles over it, the differential refinement of K-theory does the same with the category of vector bundles with connection.  This captures both local and global structures, which turns out to be necessary to describe fields in string theory – specifically, Ramond-Ramond fields.  The point of this talk was to describe what happens to these fields under T-duality.  This is a kind of duality in string theory between a theory with large strings and small strings.  The talk describes how this works, where we have a manifold with fibres at each point $M\times S^1_r$ with fibres strings of radius $r$ and $M \times S^1_{1/r}$ with radius $1/r$.  There’s a correspondence space $M \times S^1_r \times S^1_{1/r}$, which has projection maps down into the two situations.  Fields, being forms on such a fibration, can be “transferred” through this correspondence space by a “pull-back and push-forward” (with, in the middle, a wedge with a form that mixes the two directions, $exp( d \theta_r + d \theta_{1/r})$).  But to be physically the right kind of field, these “forms” actually need to be representing cohomology classes in the differential refinement of K-theory.

## Quantum Gravity etc.

Now, part of the point of this workshop was to try to build, or anyway maintain, some bridges between the kind of work in geometry and topology which I’ve been describing and the world of physics.  There are some particular versions of physical theories where these ideas have come up.  I’ve already touched on string theory along the way (there weren’t many talks about it from a physicist’s point of view), so this will mostly be about a different sort of approach.

Benjamin Bahr gave a talk outlining this approach for our mathematician-heavy audience, with his talk on “Spin Foam Operators” (see also for instance this paper).  The point is that one approach to quantum gravity has a theory whose “kinematics” (the description of the state of a system at a given time) is described by “spin networks” (based on $SU(2)$ gauge theory), as described back in the pre-school post.  These span a Hilbert space, so the “dynamical” issue of such models is how to get operators between Hilbert spaces from “foams” that interpolate between such networks – that is, what kind of extra data they might need, and how to assign amplitudes to faces and edges etc. to define an operator, which (assuming a “local” theory where distant parts of the foam affect the result independently) will be of the form:

$Z(K,\rho,P) = (\prod_f A_f) \prod_v Tr_v(\otimes P_e)$

where $K$ is a particular complex (foam), $\rho$ is a way of assigning irreps to faces of the foam, and $P$ is the assignment of intertwiners to edges.  Later on, one can take a discrete version of a path integral by summing over all these $(K, \rho, P)$.  Here we have a product over faces and one over vertices, with an amplitude $A_f$ assigned (somehow – this is the issue) to faces.  The trace is over all the representation spaces assigned to the edges that are incident to a vertex (this is essentially the only consistent way to assign an amplitude to a vertex).  If we also consider spacetimes with boundary, we need some amplitudes $B_e$ at the boundary edges, as well.  A big part of the work with such models is finding such amplitudes that meet some nice conditions.

Some of these conditions are inherently necessary – to ensure the theory is invariant under gauge transformations, or (formally) changing orientations of faces.  Others are considered optional, though to me “functoriality” (that the way of deriving operators respects the gluing-together of foams) seems unavoidable – it imposes that the boundary amplitudes have to be found from the $A_f$ in one specific way.  Some other nice conditions might be: that $Z(K, \rho, P)$ depends only on the topology of $K$ (which demands that the $P$ operators be projections); that $Z$ is invariant under subdivision of the foam (which implies the amplitudes have to be $A_f = dim(\rho_f)$).

Assuming all these means the only choice is exactly which sub-projection $P_e$ is of the projection onto the gauge-invariant part of the representation space for the faces attached to edge $e$.  The rest of the talk discussed this, including some examples (models for BF-theory, the Barrett-Crane model and the more recent EPRL/FK model), and finished up by discussing issues about getting a nice continuum limit by way of “coarse graining”.

On a related subject, Bianca Dittrich spoke about “Dynamics and Diffeomorphism Symmetry in Discrete Quantum Gravity”, which explained the nature of some of the hard problems with this sort of discrete model of quantum gravity.  She began by asking what sort of models (i.e. which choices of amplitudes) in such discrete models would actually produce a nice continuum theory – since gravity, classically, is described in terms of spacetimes which are continua, and the quantum theory must look like this in some approximation.  The point is to think of these as “coarse-graining” of a very fine (perfect, in the limit) approximation to the continuum by a triangulation with a very short length-scale for the edges.  Coarse graining means discarding some of the edges to get a coarser approximation (perhaps repeatedly).  If the $Z$ happens to be triangulation-independent, then coarse graining makes no difference to the result, nor does the converse process of refining the triangulation.  So one question is:  if we expect the continuum limit to be diffeomorphism invariant (as is General Relativity), what does this say at the discrete level?  The relation between diffeomorphism invariance and triangulation invariance has been described by Hendryk Pfeiffer, and in the reverse direction by Dittrich et al.

Actually constructing the dynamics for a system like this in a nice way (“canonical dynamics with anomaly-free constraints”) is still a big problem, which Bianca suggested might be approached by this coarse-graining idea.  Now, if a theory is topological (here we get the link to TQFT), such as electromagnetism in 2D, or (linearized) gravity in 3D, coarse graining doesn’t change much.  But otherwise, changing the length scale means changing the action for the continuum limit of the theory.  This is related to renormalization: one starts with a “naive” guess at a theory, then refines it (in this case, by the coarse-graining process), which changes the action for the theory, until arriving at (or approximating to) a fixed point.  Bianca showed an example, which produces a really huge, horrible action full of very complicated terms, which seems rather dissatisfying.  What’s more, she pointed out that, unless the theory is topological, this always produces an action which is non-local – unlike the “naive” discrete theory.  That is, the action can’t be described in terms of a bunch of non-interacting contributions from the field at individual points – instead, it’s some function which couples the field values at distant points (albeit in a way that falls off exponentially as the points get further apart).

In a more specific talk, Aleksandr Mikovic discussed “Finiteness and Semiclassical Limit of EPRL-FK Spin Foam Models”, looking at a particular example of such models which is the (relatively) new-and-improved candidate for quantum gravity mentioned above.  This was a somewhat technical talk, which I didn’t entirely follow, but  roughly, the way he went at this was through the techniques of perturbative QFT.  That is, by looking at the theory in terms of an “effective action”, instead of some path integral over histories $\phi$ with action $S(\phi)$ – which looks like $\int d\phi e^{iS(\phi)}$.  Starting with some classical history $\bar{\phi}$ – a stationary point of the action $S$ – the effective action $\Gamma(\bar{\phi})$ is an integral over small fluctuations $\phi$ around it of $e^{iS(\bar{\phi} + \phi)}$.

He commented more on the distinction between the question of triangulation independence (which is crucial for using spin foams to give invariants of manifolds) and the question of whether the theory gives a good quantum theory of gravity – that’s the “semiclassical limit” part.  (In light of the above, this seems to amount to asking if “diffeomorphism invariance” really extends through to the full theory, or is only approximately true, in the limiting case).  Then the “finiteness” part has to do with the question of getting decent asymptotic behaviour for some of those weights mentioned above so as to give a nice effective action (if not necessarily triangulation independence).  So, for instance, in the Ponzano-Regge model (which gives a nice invariant for manifolds), the vertex amplitudes $A_v$ are found by the 6j-symbols of representations.  The asymptotics of the 6j symbols then becomes an issue – Alekandr noted that to get a theory with a nice effective action, those 6j-symbols need to be scaled by a certain factor.  This breaks triangulation independence (hence means we don’t have a good manifold invariant), but gives a physically nicer theory.  In the case of 3D gravity, this is not what we want, but as he said, there isn’t a good a-priori reason to think it can’t give a good theory of 4D gravity.

Now, making a connection between these sorts of models and higher gauge theory, Aristide Baratin spoke about “2-Group Representations for State Sum Models”.  This is a project Baez, Freidel, and Wise, building on work by Crane and Sheppard (see my previous post, where Derek described the geometry of the representation theory for some 2-groups).  The idea is to construct state-sum models where, at the kinematical level, edges are labelled by 2-group representations, faces by intertwiners, and tetrahedra by 2-intertwiners.  (This assumes the foam is a triangulation – there’s a certain amount of back-and-forth in this area between this, and the Poincaré dual picture where we have 4-valent vertices).  He discussed this in a couple of related cases – the Euclidean and Poincaré 2-groups, which are described by crossed modules with base groups $SO(4)$ or $SO(3,1)$ respectively, acting on the abelian group (of automorphisms of the identity) $R^4$ in the obvious way.  Then the analogy of the 6j symbols above, which are assigned to tetrahedra (or dually, vertices in a foam interpolating two kinematical states), are now 10j symbols assigned to 4-simplexes (or dually, vertices in the foam).

One nice thing about this setup is that there’s a good geometric interpretation of the kinematics – irreducible representations of these 2-groups pick out orbits of the action of the relevant $SO$ on $R^4$.  These are “mass shells” – radii of spheres in the Euclidean case, or proper length/time values that pick out hyperboloids in the Lorentzian case of $SO(3,1)$.  Assigning these to edges has an obvious geometric meaning (as a proper length of the edge), which thus has a continuous spectrum.  The areas and volumes interpreting the intertwiners and 2-intertwiners start to exhibit more of the discreteness you see in the usual formulation with representations of the $SO$ groups themselves.  Finally, Aristide pointed out that this model originally arose not from an attempt to make a quantum gravity model, but from looking at Feynman diagrams in flat space (a sort of “quantum flat space” model), which is suggestively interesting, if not really conclusively proving anything.

Finally, Laurent Freidel gave a talk, “Classical Geometry of Spin Network States” which was a way of challenging the idea that these states are exclusively about “quantum geometries”, and tried to give an account of how to interpret them as discrete, but classical.  That is, the quantization of the classical phase space $T^*(A/G)$ (the cotangent bundle of connections-mod-gauge) involves first a discretization to a spin-network phase space $\mathcal{P}_{\Gamma}$, and then a quantization to get a Hilbert space $H_{\Gamma}$, and the hard part is the first step.  The point is to see what the classical phase space is, and he describes it as a (symplectic) quotient $T^*(SU(2)^E)//SU(2)^V$, which starts by assigning $T^*(SU(2))$ to each edge, then reduced by gauge transformations.  The puzzle is to interpret the states as geometries with some discrete aspect.

The answer is that one thinks of edges as describing (dual) faces, and vertices as describing some polytopes.  For each $p$, there’s a $2(p-3)$-dimensional “shape space” of convex polytopes with $p$-faces and a given fixed area $j$.  This has a canonical symplectic structure, where lengths and interior angles at an edge are the canonically conjugate variables.  Then the whole phase space describes ways of building geometries by gluing these things (associated to vertices) together at the corresponding faces whenever the two vertices are joined by an edge.  Notice this is a bit strange, since there’s no particular reason the faces being glued will have the same shape: just the same area.  An area-1 pentagon and an area-1 square associated to the same edge could be glued just fine.  Then the classical geometry for one of these configurations is build of a bunch of flat polyhedra (i.e. with a flat metric and connection on them).  Measuring distance across a face in this geometry is a little strange.  Given two points inside adjacent cells, you measure orthogonal distance to the matched faces, and add in the distance between the points you arrive at (orthogonally) – assuming you glued the faces at the centre.  This is a rather ugly-seeming geometry, but it’s symplectically isomorphic to the phase space of spin network states – so it’s these classical geometries that spin-foam QG is a quantization of.  Maybe the ugliness should count against this model of quantum gravity – or maybe my aesthetic sense just needs work.

(Laurent also gave another talk, which was originally scheduled as one of the school talks, but ended up being a very interesting exposition of the principle of “Relativity of Localization”, which is hard to shoehorn into the themes I’ve used here, and was anyway interesting enough that I’ll devote a separate post to it.)

Now for a more sketchy bunch of summaries of some talks presented at the HGTQGR workshop.  I’ll organize this into a few themes which appeared repeatedly and which roughly line up with the topics in the title: in this post, variations on TQFT, plus 2-group and higher forms of gauge theory; in the next post, gerbes and cohomology, plus talks on discrete models of quantum gravity and suchlike physics.

## TQFT and Variations

I start here for no better reason than the personal one that it lets me put my talk first, so I’m on familiar ground to start with, for which reason also I’ll probably give more details here than later on.  So: a TQFT is a linear representation of the category of cobordisms – that is, a (symmetric monoidal) functor $nCob \rightarrow Vect$, in the notation I mentioned in the first school post.  An Extended TQFT is a higher functor $nCob_k \rightarrow k-Vect$, representing a category of cobordisms with corners into a higher category of k-Vector spaces (for some definition of same).  The essential point of my talk is that there’s a universal construction that can be used to build one of these at $k=2$, which relies on some way of representing $nCob_2$ into $Span(Gpd)$, whose objects are groupoids, and whose morphisms in $Hom(A,B)$ are pairs of groupoid homomorphisms $A \leftarrow X \rightarrow B$.  The 2-morphisms have an analogous structure.  The point is that there’s a 2-functor $\Lambda : Span(Gpd) \rightarrow 2Vect$ which is takes representations of groupoids, at the level of objects; for morphisms, there is a “pull-push” operation that just uses the restricted and induced representation functors to move a representation across a span; the non-trivial (but still universal) bit is the 2-morphism map, which uses the fact that the restriction and induction functors are bi-ajdoint, so there are units and counits to use.  A construction using gauge theory gives groupoids of connections and gauge transformations for each manifold or cobordism.  This recovers a form of the Dijkgraaf-Witten model.  In principle, though, any way of getting a groupoid (really, a stack) associated to a space functorially will give an ETQFT this way.  I finished up by suggesting what would need to be done to extend this up to higher codimension.  To go to codimension 3, one would assign an object (codimension-3 manifold) a 3-vector space which is a representation 2-category of 2-groupoids of connections valued in 2-groups, and so on.  There are some theorems about representations of n-groupoids which would need to be proved to make this work.

The fact that different constructions can give groupoids for spaces was used by the next speaker, Thomas Nicklaus, whose talk described another construction that uses the $\Lambda$ I mentioned above.  This one produces “Equivariant Dijkgraaf-Witten Theory”.  The point is that one gets groupoids for spaces in a new way.  Before, we had, for a space $M$ a groupoid $\mathcal{A}_G(M)$ whose objects are $G$-connections (or, put another way, bundles-with-connection) and whose morphisms are gauge transformations.  Now we suppose that there’s some group $J$ which acts weakly (i.e. an action defined up to isomorphism) on $\mathcal{A}_G(M)$.  We think of this as describing “twisted bundles” over $M$.  This is described by a quotient stack $\mathcal{A}_G // J$ (which, as a groupoid, gets some extra isomorphisms showing where two objects are related by the $J$-action).  So this gives a new map $nCob \rightarrow Span(Gpd)$, and applying $\Lambda$ gives a TQFT.  The generating objects for the resulting 2-vector space are “twisted sectors” of the equivariant DW model.  There was some more to the talk, including a description of how the DW model can be further mutated using a cocycle in the group cohomology of $G$, but I’ll let you look at the slides for that.

Next up was Jamie Vicary, who was talking about “(1,2,3)-TQFT”, which is another term for what I called “Extended” TQFT above, but specifying that the objects are 1-manifolds, the morphisms 2-manifolds, and the 2-morphisms are 3-manifolds.  He was talking about a theorem that identifies oriented TQFT’s of this sort with “anomaly-free modular tensor categories” – which is widely believed, but in fact harder than commonly thought.  It’s easy enough that such a TQFT $Z$ corresponds to a MTC – it’s the category $Z(S^1)$ assigned to the circle.  What’s harder is showing that the TQFT’s are equivalent functors iff the categories are equivalent.  This boils down, historically, to the difficulty of showing the category is rigid.  Jamie was talking about a project with Bruce Bartlett and Chris Schommer-Pries, whose presentation of the cobordism category (described in the school post) was the basis of their proof.

Part of it amounts to giving a description of the TQFT in terms of certain string diagrams.  Jamie kindly credited me with describing this point of view to him: that the codimension-2 manifolds in a TQFT can be thought of as “boundaries in space” – codimension-1 manifolds are either time-evolving boundaries, or else slices of space in which the boundaries live; top-dimension cobordisms are then time-evolving slices of space-with-boundary.  (This should be only a heuristic way of thinking – certainly a generic TQFT has no literal notion of “time-evolution”, though in that (2+1) quantum gravity can be seen as a TQFT, there’s at least one case where this picture could be taken literally.)  Then part of their proof involves showing that the cobordisms can be characterized by taking vector spaces on the source and target manifolds spanned by the generating objects, and finding the functors assigned to cobordisms in terms of sums over all “string diagrams” (particle worldlines, if you like) bounded by the evolving boundaries.  Jamie described this as a “topological path integral”.  Then one has to describe the string diagram calculus – ridigidy follows from the “yanking” rule, for instance, and this follows from Morse theory as in Chris’ presentation of the cobordism category.

There was a little more discussion about what the various properties (proved in a similar way) imply.  One is “cloaking” – the fact that a 2-morphism which “creates a handle” is invisible to the string diagrams in the sense that it introduces a sum over all diagrams with a string “looped” around the new handle, but this sum gives a result that’s equal to the original map (in any “pivotal” tensor category, as here).

Chronologically before all these, one of the first talks on such a topic was by Rafael Diaz, on Homological Quantum Field Theory, or HLQFT for short, which is a rather different sort of construction.  Remember that Homotopy QFT, as described in my summary of Tim Porter’s school sessions, is about linear representations of what I’ll for now call $Cob(d,B)$, whose morphisms are $d$-dimensional cobordisms equipped with maps into a space $B$ up to homotopy.  HLQFT instead considers cobordisms equipped with maps taken up to homology.

Specifically, there’s some space $M$, say a manifold, with some distinguished submanifolds (possibly boundary components; possibly just embedded submanifolds; possibly even all of $M$ for a degenerate case).  Then we define $Cob_d^M$ to have objects which are $(d-1)$-manifolds equipped with maps into $M$ which land on the distinguished submanifolds (to make composition work nicely, we in fact assume they map to a single point).  Morphisms in $Cob_d^M$ are trickier, and look like $(N,\alpha, \xi)$: a cobordism $N$ in this category is likewise equipped with a map $\alpha$ from its boundary into $M$ which recovers the maps on its objects.  That $\xi$ is a homology class of maps from $N$ to $M$, which agrees with $\alpha$.  This forms a monoidal category as with standard cobordisms.  Then HLQFT is about representations of this category.  One simple case Rafael described is the dimension-1 case, where objects are (ordered sets of) points equipped with maps that pick out chosen submanifolds of $M$, and morphisms are just braids equipped with homology classes of “paths” joining up the source and target submanifolds.  Then a representation might, e.g., describe how to evolve a homology class on the starting manifold to one on the target by transporting along such a path-up-to-homology.  In higher dimensions, the evolution is naturally more complicated.

A slightly looser fit to this section is the talk by Thomas Krajewski, “Quasi-Quantum Groups from Strings” (see this) – he was talking about how certain algebraic structures arise from “string worldsheets”, which are another way to describe cobordisms.  This does somewhat resemble the way an algebraic structure (Frobenius algebra) is related to a 2D TQFT, but here the string worldsheets are interacting with 3-form field, $H$ (the curvature of that 2-form field $B$ of string theory) and things needn’t be topological, so the result is somewhat different.

Part of the point is that quantizing such a thing gives a higher version of what happens for quantizing a moving particle in a gauge field.  In the particle case, one comes up with a line bundle (of which sections form the Hilbert space) and in the string case one comes up with a gerbe; for the particle, this involves associated 2-cocycle, and for the string a 3-cocycle; for the particle, one ends up producing a twisted group algebra, and for the string, this is where one gets a “quasi-quantum group”.  The algebraic structures, as in the TQFT situation, come from, for instance, the “pants” cobordism which gives a multiplication and a comultiplication (by giving maps $H \otimes H \rightarrow H$ or the reverse, where $H$ is the object assigned to a circle).

There is some machinery along the way which I won’t describe in detail, except that it involves a tricomplex of forms – the gradings being form degree, the degree of a cocycle for group cohomology, and the number of overlaps.  As observed before, gerbes and their higher versions have transition functions on higher numbers of overlapping local neighborhoods than mere bundles.  (See the paper above for more)

## Higher Gauge Theory

The talks I’ll summarize here touch on various aspects of higher-categorical connections or 2-groups (though at least one I’ll put off until later).  The division between this and the section on gerbes is a little arbitrary, since of course they’re deeply connected, but I’m making some judgements about emphasis or P.O.V. here.

Apart from giving lectures in the school sessions, John Huerta also spoke on “Higher Supergroups for String Theory”, which brings “super” (i.e. $\mathbb{Z}_2$-graded) objects into higher gauge theory.  There are “super” versions of vector spaces and manifolds, which decompose into “even” and “odd” graded parts (a.k.a. “bosonic” and “fermionic” parts).  Thus there are “super” variants of Lie algebras and Lie groups, which are like the usual versions, except commutation properties have to take signs into account (e.g. a Lie superalgebra’s bracket is commutative if the product of the grades of two vectors is odd, anticommutative if it’s even).  Then there are Lie 2-algebras and 2-groups as well – categories internal to this setting.  The initial question has to do with whether one can integrate some Lie 2-algebra structures to Lie 2-group structures on a spacetime, which depends on the existence of some globally smooth cocycles.  The point is that when spacetime is of certain special dimensions, this can work, namely dimensions 3, 4, 6, and 10.  These are all 2 more than the real dimensions of the four real division algebras, $\mathbb{R}$, $\mathbb{C}$, $\mathbb{H}$ and $\mathbb{O}$.  It’s in these dimensions that Lie 2-superalgebras can be integrated to Lie 2-supergroups.  The essential reason is that a certain cocycle condition will hold because of the properties of a form on the Clifford algebras that are associated to the division algebras.  (John has some related material here and here, though not about the 2-group case.)

Since we’re talking about higher versions of Lie groups/algebras, an important bunch of concepts to categorify are those in representation theory.  Derek Wise spoke on “2-Group Representations and Geometry”, based on work with Baez, Baratin and Freidel, most fully developed here, but summarized here.  The point is to describe the representation theory of Lie 2-groups, in particular geometrically.  They’re to be represented on (in general, infinite-dimensional) 2-vector spaces of some sort, which is chosen to be a category of measurable fields of Hilbert spaces on some measure space, which is called $H^X$ (intended to resemble, but not exactly be the same as, $Hilb^X$, the space of “functors into $Hilb$ from the space $X$, the way Kapranov-Voevodsky 2-vector spaces can be described as $Vect^k$).  The first work on this was by Crane and Sheppeard, and also Yetter.  One point is that for 2-groups, we have not only representations and intertwiners between them, but 2-intertwiners between these.  One can describe these geometrically – part of which is a choice of that measure space $(X,\mu)$.

This done, we can say that a representation of a 2-group is a 2-functor $\mathcal{G} \rightarrow H^X$, where $\mathcal{G}$ is seen as a one-object 2-category.  Thinking about this geometrically, if we concretely describe $\mathcal{G}$ by the crossed module $(G,H,\rhd,\partial)$, defines an action of $G$ on $X$, and a map $X \rightarrow H^*$ into the character group, which thereby becomes a $G$-equivariant bundle.  One consequence of this description is that it becomes possible to distinguish not only irreducible representations (bundles over a single orbit) and indecomposible ones (where the fibres are particularly simple homogeneous spaces), but an intermediate notion called “irretractible” (though it’s not clear how much this provides).  An intertwining operator between reps over $X$ and $Y$ can be described in terms of a bundle of Hilbert spaces – which is itself defined over the pullback of $X$ and $Y$ seen as $G$-bundles over $H^*$.  A 2-intertwiner is a fibre-wise map between two such things.  This geometric picture specializes in various ways for particular examples of 2-groups.  A physically interesting one, which Crane and Sheppeard, and expanded on in that paper of [BBFW] up above, deals with the Poincaré 2-group, and where irreducible representations live over mass-shells in Minkowski space (or rather, the dual of $H \cong \mathbb{R}^{3,1}$).

Moving on from 2-group stuff, there were a few talks related to 3-groups and 3-groupoids.  There are some new complexities that enter here, because while (weak) 2-categories are all (bi)equivalent to strict 2-categories (where things like associativity and the interchange law for composing 2-cells hold exactly), this isn’t true for 3-categories.  The best strictification result is that any 3-category is (tri)equivalent to a Gray category – where all those properties hold exactly, except for the interchange law $(\alpha \circ \beta) \cdot (\alpha ' \circ \beta ') = (\alpha \cdot \alpha ') \circ (\beta \circ \beta ')$ for horizontal and vertical compositions of 2-cells, which is replaced by an “interchanger” isomorphism with some coherence properties.  John Barrett gave an introduction to this idea and spoke about “Diagrams for Gray Categories”, describing how to represent morphisms, 2-morphisms, and 3-morphisms in terms of higher versions of “string” diagrams involving (piecewise linear) surfaces satisfying some properties.  He also carefully explained how to reduce the dimensions in order to make them both clearer and easier to draw.  Bjorn Gohla spoke on “Mapping Spaces for Gray Categories”, but since it was essentially a shorter version of a talk I’ve already posted about, I’ll leave that for now, except to point out that it linked to the talk by Joao Faria Martins, “3D Holonomy” (though see also this paper with Roger Picken).

The point in Joao’s talk starts with the fact that we can describe holonomies for 3-connections on 3-bundles valued in Gray-groups (i.e. the maximally strict form of a general 3-group) in terms of Gray-functors $hol: \Pi_3(M) \rightarrow \mathcal{G}$.  Here, $\Pi_3(M)$ is the fundamental 3-groupoid of $M$, which turns points, paths, homotopies of paths, and homotopies of homotopies into a Gray groupoid (modulo some technicalities about “thin” or “laminated”  homotopies) and $\mathcal{G}$ is a gauge Gray-group.  Just as a 2-group can be represented by a crossed module, a Gray (3-)group can be represented by a “2-crossed module” (yes, the level shift in the terminology is occasionally confusing).  This is a chain of groups $L \stackrel{\delta}{\rightarrow} E \stackrel{\partial}{\rightarrow} G$, where $G$ acts on the other groups, together with some structure maps (for instance, the Peiffer commutator for a crossed module becomes a lifting $\{ ,\} : E \times E \rightarrow L$) which all fit together nicely.  Then a tri-connection can be given locally by forms valued in the Lie algebras of these groups: $(\omega , m ,\theta)$ in  $\Omega^1 (M,\mathfrak{g} ) \times \Omega^2 (M,\mathfrak{e}) \times \Omega^3(M,\mathfrak{l})$.  Relating the global description in terms of $hol$ and local description in terms of $(\omega, m, \theta)$ is a matter of integrating forms over paths, surfaces, or 3-volumes that give the various $j$-morphisms of $\Pi_3(M)$.  This sort of construction of parallel transport as functor has been developed in detail by Waldorf and Schreiber (viz. these slides, or the full paper), some time ago, which is why, thematically, they’re the next two speakers I’ll summarize.

Konrad Waldorf spoke about “Abelian Gauge Theories on Loop Spaces and their Regression”.  (For more, see two papers by Konrad on this)  The point here is that there is a relation between two kinds of theories – string theory (with $B$-field) on a manifold $M$, and ordinary $U(1)$ gauge theory on its loop space $LM$.  The relation between them goes by the name “regression” (passing from gauge theory on $LM$ to string theory on $M$), or “transgression”, going the other way.  This amounts to showing an equivalence of categories between [principal $U(1)$-bundles with connection on $LM$] and [$U(1)$-gerbes with connection on $M$].  This nicely gives a way of seeing how gerbes “categorify” bundles, since passing to the loop space – whose points are maps $S^1 \rightarrow M$ means a holonomy functor is now looking at objects (points in $LM$) which would be morphisms in the fundamental groupoid of $M$, and morphisms which are paths of loops (surfaces in $M$ which trace out homotopies).  So things are shifted by one level.  Anyway, Konrad explained how this works in more detail, and how it should be interpreted as relating connections on loop space to the $B$-field in string theory.

Urs Schreiber kicked the whole categorification program up a notch by talking about $\infty$-Connections and their Chern-Simons Functionals .  So now we’re getting up into $\infty$-categories, and particularly $\infty$-toposes (see Jacob Lurie’s paper, or even book if so inclined to find out what these are), and in particular a “cohesive topos”, where derived geometry can be developed (Urs suggested people look here, where a bunch of background is collected). The point is that $\infty$-topoi are good for talking about homotopy theory.  We want a setting which allows all that structure, but also allows us to do differential geometry and derived geometry.  So there’s a “cohesive” $\infty$-topos called $Smooth\infty Gpds$, of “sheaves” (in the $\infty$-topos sense) of $\infty$-groupoids on smooth manifolds.  This setting is the minimal common generalization of homotopy theory and differential geometry.

This is about a higher analog of this setup: since there’s a smooth classifying space (in fact, a Lie groupoid) for $G$-bundles, $BG$, there’s also an equivalence between categories $G-Bund$ of $G$-principal bundles, and $SmoothGpd(X,BG)$ (of functors into $BG$).  Moreover, there’s a similar setup with $BG_{conn}$ for bundles with connection.  This can be described topologically, or there’s also a “differential refinement” to talk about the smooth situation.  This equivalence lives within a category of (smooth) sheaves of groupoids.  For higher gauge theory, we want a higher version as in $Smooth \infty Gpds$ described above.  Then we should get an equivalence – in this cohesive topos – of $hom(X,B^n U(1))$ and a category of $U(1)$-$(n-1)$-gerbes.

Then the part about the  “Chern-Simons functionals” refers to the fact that CS theory for a manifold (which is a kind of TQFT) is built using an action functional that is found as an integral of the forms that describe some $U(1)$-connection over the manifold.  (Then one does a path-integral of this functional over all connections to find partition functions etc.)  So the idea is that for these higher $U(1)$-gerbes, whose classifying spaces we’ve just described, there should be corresponding functionals.  This is why, as Urs remarked in wrapping up, this whole picture has an explicit presentation in terms of forms.  Actually, in terms of Cech-cocycles (due to the fact we’re talking about gerbes), whose coefficients are taken in sheaves of complexes (this is the derived geometry part) of differential forms whose coefficients are in $L_\infty$-algebroids (the $\infty$-groupoid version of Lie algebras, since in general we’re talking about a theory with gauge $\infty$-groupoids now).

Whew!  Okay, that’s enough for this post.  Next time, wrapping up blogging the workshop, finally.

Continuing from the previous post, there are a few more lecture series from the school to talk about.

## Higher Gauge Theory

The next was John Huerta’s series on Higher Gauge Theory from the point of view of 2-groups.  John set this in the context of “categorification”, a slightly vague program of replacing set-based mathematical ideas with category-based mathematical ideas.  The general reason for this is to get an extra layer of “maps between things”, or “relations between relations”, etc. which tend to be expressed by natural transformations.  There are various ways to go about this, but one is internalization: given some sort of structure, the relevant example in this case being “groups”, one has a category ${Groups}$, and can define a 2-group as a “category internal to ${Groups}$“.  So a 2-group has a group of objects, a group of morphisms, and all the usual maps (source and target for morphisms, composition, etc.) which all have to be group homomorphisms.  It should be said that this all produces a “strict 2-group”, since the objects $G$ necessarily form a group here.  In particular, $m : G \times G \rightarrow G$ satisfies group axioms “on the nose” – which is the only way to satisfy them for a group made of the elements of a set, but for a group made of the elements of a category, one might require only that it commute up to isomorphism.  A weak 2-group might then be described as a “weak model” of the theory of groups in $Cat$, but this whole approach is much less well-understood than the strict version as one goes to general n-groups.

Now, as mentioned in the previous post, there is a 1-1 correspondence between 2-groups and crossed modules (up to equivalence): given a crossed module $(G,H,\partial,\rhd)$, there’s a 2-group $\mathcal{G}$ whose objects are $G$ and whose morphisms are $G \ltimes H$; given a 2-group $\mathcal{G}$ with objects $G$, there’s a crossed module $(G, Aut(1_G),1,m)$.  (The action $m$ acts on a morphism in such as way as to act by multiplication on its source and target).  Then, for instance, the Peiffer identity for crossed modules (see previous post) is a consequence of the fact that composition of morphisms is supposed to be a group homomorphism.

Looking at internal categories in [your favourite setting here] isn’t the only way to do categorification, but it does produce some interesting examples.  Baez-Crans 2-vector spaces are defined this way (in $Vect$), and built using these are Lie 2-algebras.  Looking for a way to integrate Lie 2-algebras up to Lie 2-groups (which are internal categories in Lie groups) brings us back to the current main point.  This is the use of 2-groups to do higher gauge theory.  This requires the use of “2-bundles”.  To explain these, we can say first of all that a “2-space” is an internal category in $Spaces$ (whether that be manifolds, or topological spaces, or what-have-you), and that a (locally trivial) 2-bundle should have a total 2-space $E$, a base 2-space $M$, and a (functorial) projection map $p : E \rightarrow M$, such that there’s some open cover of $M$ by neighborhoods $U_i$ where locally the bundle “looks like” $\pi_i : U_i \times F \rightarrow U_i$, where $F$ is the fibre of the bundle.  In the bundle setting, “looks like” means “is isomorphic to” by means of isomorphisms $f_i : E_{U_i} \rightarrow U_i \times F$.  With 2-bundles, it’s interpreted as “is equivalent to” in the categorical sense, likewise by maps $f_i$.

Actually making this precise is a lot of work when $M$ is a general 2-space – even defining open covers and setting up all the machinery properly is quite hard.  This has been done, by Toby Bartels in his thesis, but to keep things simple, John restricted his talk to the case where $M$ is just an ordinary manifold (thought of as a 2-space which has only identity morphisms).   Then a key point is that there’s an analog to how (principal) $G$-bundles (where $F \cong G$ as a $G$-set) are classified up to isomorphism by the first Cech cohomology of the manifold, $\check{H}^1(M,G)$.  This works because one can define transition functions on double overlaps $U_{ij} := U_i \cap U_j$, by $g_{ij} = f_i f_j^{-1}$.  Then these $g_{ij}$ will automatically satisfy the 1-cocycle condidion ($g_{ij} g_{jk} = g_{ik}$ on the triple overlap $U_{ijk}$) which means they represent a cohomology class $[g] = \in \check{H}^1(M,G)$.

A comparable thing can be said for the “transition functors” for a 2-bundle – they’re defined superficially just as above, except that being functors, we can now say there’s a natural isomorphism $h_{ijk} : g_{ij}g_{jk} \rightarrow g_{ik}$, and it’s these $h_{ijk}$, defined on triple overlaps, which satisfy a 2-cocycle condition on 4-fold intersections (essentially, the two ways to compose them to collapse $g_{ij} g_{jk} g_{kl}$ into $g_{il}$ agree).  That is, we have $g_{ij} : U_{ij} \rightarrow Ob(\mathcal{G})$ and $h_{ijk} : U_{ijk} \rightarrow Mor(\mathcal{G})$ which fit together nicely.  In particular, we have an element $[h] \in \check{H}^2(M,G)$ of the second Cech cohomology of $M$: “principal $\mathcal{G}$-bundles are classified by second Cech cohomology of $M$“.  This sort of thing ties in to an ongoing theme of the later talks, the relationship between gerbes and higher cohomology – a 2-bundle corresponds to a “gerbe”, or rather a “1-gerbe”.  (The consistent terminology would have called a bundle a “0-gerbe”, but as usual, terminology got settled before the general pattern was understood).

Finally, having defined bundles, one usually defines connections, and so we do the same with 2-bundles.  A connection on a bundle gives a parallel transport operation for paths $\gamma$ in $M$, telling how to identify the fibres at points along $\gamma$ by means of a functor $hol : P_1(M) \rightarrow G$, thinking of $G$ as a category with one object, and where $P_1(M)$ is the path groupoid whose objects are points in $M$ and whose morphisms are paths (up to “thin” homotopy). At least, it does so once we trivialize the bundle around $\gamma$, anyway, to think of it as $M \times G$ locally – in general we need to get the transition functions involved when we pass into some other local neighborhood.  A connection on a 2-bundle is similar, but tells how to parallel transport fibres not only along paths, but along homotopies of paths, by means of $hol : P_2(M) \rightarrow \mathcal{G}$, where $\mathcal{G}$ is seen as a 2-category with one object, and $P_2(M)$ now has 2-morphisms which are (essentially) homotopies of paths.

Just as connections can be described by 1-forms $A$ valued in $Lie(G)$, which give $hol$ by integrating, a similar story exists for 2-connections: now we need a 1-form $A$ valued in $Lie(G)$ and a 2-form $B$ valued in $Lie(H)$.  These need to satisfy some relations, essentially that the curvature of $A$ has to be controlled by $B$.   Moreover, that $B$ is related to the $B$-field of string theory, as I mentioned in the post on the pre-school… But really, this is telling us about the Lie 2-algebra associated to $\mathcal{G}$, and how to integrate it up to the group!

## Infinite Dimensional Lie Theory and Higher Gauge Theory

This series of talks by Christoph Wockel returns us to the question of “integrating up” to a Lie group $G$ from a Lie algebra $\mathfrak{g} = Lie(G)$, which is seen as the tangent space of $G$ at the identity.  This is a well-understood, well-behaved phenomenon when the Lie algebras happen to be finite dimensional.  Indeed the classification theorem for the classical Lie groups can be got at in just this way: a combinatorial way to characterize Lie algebras using Dynkin diagrams (which describe the structure of some weight lattice), followed by a correspondence between Lie algebras and Lie groups.  But when the Lie algebras are infinite dimensional, this just doesn’t have to work.  It may be impossible to integrate a Lie algebra up to a full Lie group: instead, one can only get a little neighborhood of the identity.  The point of such infinite-dimensional groups, and ultimately their representation theory, is to deal with string groups that have to do with motions of extended objects.  Christoph Wockel was describing a result which says that, going to 2-groups, this problem can be overcome.  (See the relevant paper here.)

The first lecture in the series presented some background on a setting for infinite dimensional manifolds.  There are various approaches, a popular one being Frechet manifolds, but in this context, the somewhat weaker notion of locally convex spaces is sufficient.  These are “locally modelled” by (infinite dimensional) locally convex vector spaces, the way finite dimensonal manifolds are locally modelled by Euclidean space.  Being locally convex is enough to allow them to support a lot of differential calculus: one can find straight-line paths, locally, to define a notion of directional derivative in the direction of a general vector.  Using this, one can build up definitions of differentiable and smooth functions, derivatives, and integrals, just by looking at the restrictions to all such directions.  Then there’s a fundamental theorem of calculus, a chain rule, and so on.

At this point, one has plenty of differential calculus, and it becomes interesting to bring in Lie theory.  A Lie group is defined as a group object in the category of manifolds and smooth maps, just as in the finite-dimensional case.  Some infinite-dimensional Lie groups of interest would include: $G = Diff(M)$, the group of diffeomorphisms of some compact manifold $M$; and the group of smooth functions $G = C^{\infty}(M,K)$ from $M$ into some (finite-dimensional) Lie group $K$ (perhaps just $\mathbb{R}$), with the usual pointwise multiplication.  These are certainly groups, and one handy fact about such groups is that, if they have a manifold structure near the identity, on some subset that generates $G$ as a group in a nice way, you can extend the manifold structure to the whole group.  And indeed, that happens in these examples.

Well, next we’d like to know if we can, given an infinite dimensional Lie algebra $X$, “integrate up” to a Lie group – that is, find a Lie group $G$ for which $X \cong T_eG$ is the “infinitesimal” version of $G$.  One way this arises is from central extensions.  A central extension of Lie group $G$ by $Z$ is an exact sequence $Z \hookrightarrow \hat{G} \twoheadrightarrow G$ where (the image of) $Z$ is in the centre of $\hat{G}$.  The point here is that $\hat{G}$ extends $G$.  This setup makes $\hat{G}$ is a principal $Z$-bundle over $G$.

Now, finding central extensions of Lie algebras is comparatively easy, and given a central extension of Lie groups, one always falls out of the induced maps.  There will be an exact sequence of Lie algebras, and now the special condition is that there must exist a continuous section of the second map.  The question is to go the other way: given one of these, get back to an extension of Lie groups.  The problem of finding extensions of $G$ by $Z$, in particular as a problem of finding a bundle with connection having specified curvature, which brings us back to gauge theory.  One type of extension is the universal cover of $G$, which appears as $\pi_1(G) \hookrightarrow \hat{G} \twoheadrightarrow G$, so that the fibre is $\pi_1(G)$.

In general, whether an extension can exist comes down to a question about a cocycle: that is, if there’s a function $f : G \times G \rightarrow Z$ which is locally smooth (i.e. in some neighborhood in $G$), and is a cocyle (so that $f(g,h) + f(gh,k) = f(g,hk) + f(h,k)$), by the same sorts of arguments we’ve already seen a bit of.  For this reason, central extensions are classified by the cohomology group $H^2(G,Z)$.  The cocycle enables a “twisting” of the multiplication associated to a nontrivial loop in $G$, and is used to construct $\hat{G}$ (by specifying how multiplication on $G$ lifts to $\hat{G}$).  Given a  2-cocycle $\omega$ at the Lie algebra level (easier to do), one would like to lift that up the Lie group.  It turns out this is possible if the period homomorphism $per_{\omega} : \Pi_2(G) \rightarrow Z$ – which takes a chain $[\sigma]$ (with $\sigma : S^2 \rightarrow G$) to the integral of the original cocycle on it, $\int_{\sigma} \omega$ – lands in a discrete subgroup of $Z$. A popular example of this is when $Z$ is just $\mathbb{R}$, and the discrete subgroup is $\mathbb{Z}$ (or, similarly, $U(1)$ and $1$ respectively).  This business of requiring a cocycle to be integral in this way is sometimes called a “prequantization” problem.

So suppose we wanted to make the “2-connected cover” $\pi_2(G) \hookrightarrow \pi_2(G) \times_{\gamma} G \twoheadrightarrow G$ as a central extension: since $\pi_2(G)$ will be abelian, this is conceivable.  If the dimension of $G$ is finite, this is trivial (since $\pi_2(G) = 0$ in finite dimensions), which is why we need some theory  of infinite-dimensional manifolds.  Moreover, though, this may not work in the context of groups: the $\gamma$ in the extension $\pi_2(G) \times_{\gamma} G$ above needs to be a “twisting” of associativity, not multiplication, being lifted from $G$.  Such twistings come from the THIRD cohomology of $G$ (see here, e.g.), and describe the structure of 2-groups (or crossed modules, whichever you like).  In fact, the solution (go read the paper for more if you like) to define a notion of central extension for 2-groups (essentially the same as the usual definition, but with maps of 2-groups, or crossed modules, everywhere).  Since a group is a trivial kind of 2-group (with only trivial automorphisms of any element), the usual notion of central extension turns out to be a special case.  Then by thinking of $\pi_2(G)$ and $G$ as crossed modules, one can find a central extension which is like the 2-connected cover we wanted – though it doesn’t work as an extension of groups because we think of $G$ as the base group of the crossed module, and $\pi_2(G)$ as the second group in the tower.

The pattern of moving to higher group-like structures, higher cohomology, and obstructions to various constructions ran all through the workshop, and carried on in the next school session…

## Higher Spin Structures in String Theory

Hisham Sati gave just one school-lecture in addition to his workshop talk, but it was packed with a lot of material.  This is essentially about cohomology and the structures on manifolds to which cohomology groups describe the obstructions.  The background part of the lecture referenced this book by Fridrich, and the newer parts were describing some of Sati’s own work, in particular a couple of papers with Schreiber and Stasheff (also see this one).

The basic point here is that, for physical reasons, we’re often interested in putting some sort of structure on a manifold, which is really best described in terms of a bundle.  For instance, a connection or spin connection on spacetime lets us transport vectors or spinors, respectively, along paths, which in turn lets us define derivatives.  These two structures really belong on vector bundles or spinor bundles.  Now, if these bundles are trivial, then one can make the connections on them trivial as well by gauge transformation.  So having nontrivial bundles really makes this all more interesting.  However, this isn’t always possible, and so one wants to the obstruction to being able to do it.  This is typically a class in one of the cohomology groups of the manifold – a characteristic class.  There are various examples: Chern classes, Pontrjagin classes, Steifel-Whitney classes, and so on, each of which comes in various degrees $i$.  Each one corresponds to a different coefficient group for the cohomology groups – in these examples, the groups $U$ and $O$ which are the limits of the unitary and orthogonal groups (such as $O := O(\infty) \supset \dots \supset O(2) \supset O(1)$)

The point is that these classes are obstructions to building certain structures on the manifold $X$ – which amounts to finding sections of a bundle.  So for instance, the first Steifel-Whitney classes, $w_1(E)$ of a bundle $E$ are related to orientations, coming from cohomology with coefficients in $O(n)$.  Orientations for the manifold $X$ can be described in terms of its tangent bundle, which is an $O(n)$-bundle (tangent spaces carry an action of the rotation group).  Consider $X = S^1$, where we have actually $O(1) \simeq \mathbb{Z}_2$.  The group $H^1(S^1, \mathbb{Z}_2)$ has two elements, and there are two types of line bundle on the circle $S^1$: ones with a nowhere-zero section, like the trivial bundle; and ones without, like the Moebius strip.  The circle is orientable, because its tangent bundle is of the first sort.

Generally, an orientation can be put on $X$ if the tangent bundle, as a map $f : X \rightarrow B(O(n))$, can be lifted to a map $\tilde{f} : X \rightarrow B(SO(n))$ – that is, it’s “secretly” an $SO(n)$-bundle – the special orthogonal group respects orientation, which is what the determinant measures.  Its two values, $\pm 1$, are what’s behind the two classes of bundles.  (In short, this story relates to the exact sequence $1 \rightarrow SO(n) \rightarrow O(n) \stackrel{det}{\rightarrow} O(1) = \mathbb{Z}_2 \rightarrow 1$; in just the same way we have big groups $SO$, $Spin$, and so forth.)

So spin structures have a story much like the above, but where the exact sequence $1 \rightarrow \mathbb{Z}_2 \rightarrow Spin(n) \rightarrow SO(n) \rightarrow 1$ plays a role – the spin groups are the universal covers (which are all double-sheeted covers) of the special rotation groups.  A spin structure on some $SO(n)$ bundle $E$, let’s say represented by $f : X \rightarrow B(SO(n))$ is thus, again, a lifting to $\tilde{f} : X \rightarrow B(Spin(n))$.  The obstruction to doing this (the thing which must be zero for the lifting to exist) is the second Stiefel-Whitney class, $w_2(E)$.  Hisham Sati also explained the example of “generalized” spin structures in these terms.  But the main theme is an analogous, but much more general, story for other cohomology groups as obstructions to liftings of some sort of structures on manifolds.  These may be bundles, for the lower-degree cohomology, or they may be gerbes or n-bundles, for higher-degree, but the setup is roughly the same.

The title’s term “higher spin structures” comes from the fact that we’ve so far had a tower of classifying spaces (or groups), $B(O) \leftarrow B(SO) \leftarrow B(Spin)$, and so on.  Then the problem of putting various sorts of structures on $X$ has been turned into the problem of lifting a map $f : X \rightarrow S(O)$ up this tower.  At each point, the obstruction to lifting is some cohomology class with coefficients in the groups ($O$, $SO$, etc.)  So when are these structures interesting?

This turns out to bring up another theme, which is that of special dimensions – it’s just not true that the same phenomena happen in every dimension.  In this case, this has to do with the homotopy groups  – of $O$ and its cousins.  So it turns out that the homotopy group $\pi_k(O)$ (which is the same as $\pi_k(O_n)$ as long as $n$ is bigger than $k$) follows a pattern, where $\pi_k(O) = \mathbb{Z}_2$ if $k = 0,1 (mod 8)$, and $\pi_k(O) = \mathbb{Z}$ if $k = 3,7 (mod 8)$.  The fact that this pattern repeats mod-8 is one form of the (real) Bott Periodicity theorem.  These homotopy groups reflect that, wherever there’s nontrivial homotopy in some dimension, there’s an obstruction to contracting maps into $O$ from such a sphere.

All of this plays into the question of what kinds of nontrivial structures can be put on orthogonal bundles on manifolds of various dimensions.  In the dimensions where these homotopy groups are non-trivial, there’s an obstruction to the lifting, and therefore some interesting structure one can put on $X$ which may or may not exist.  Hisham Sati spoke of “killing” various homotopy groups – meaning, as far as I can tell, imposing conditions which get past these obstructions.  In string theory, his application of interest, one talks of “anomaly cancellation” – an anomaly being the obstruction to making these structures.  The first part of the punchline is that, since these are related to nontrivial cohomology groups, we can think of them in terms of defining structures on n-bundles or gerbes.  These structures are, essentially, connections – they tell us how to parallel-transport objects of various dimensions.  It turns out that the $\pi_k$ homotopy group is related to parallel transport along $(k-1)$-dimensional surfaces in $X$, which can be thought of as the world-sheets of $(k-2)$-dimensional “particles” (or rather, “branes”).

So, for instance, the fact that $\pi_1(O)$ is nontrivial means there’s an obstruction to a lifting in the form of a class in $H^2(X,\mathbb{Z})$, which has to do with spin structure – as above.  “Cancelling” this “anomaly” means that for a theory involving such a spin structure to be well-defined, then this characteristic class for $X$ must be zero.  The fact that $\pi_3(O) = \mathbb{Z}$ is nontrivial means there’s an obstruction to a lifting in the form of a class in $H^4(X, \mathbb{Z})$.  This has to do with “string bundles”, where the string group is a higher analog of $Spin$ in exactly the sense we’ve just described.  If such a lifting exists, then there’s a “string-structure” on $X$ which is compatible with the spin structure we lifted (and with the orientation a level below that).  Similarly, $\pi_7(O) = \mathbb{Z}$ being nontrivial, by way of an obstruction in $H^8$, means there’s an interesting notion of “five-brane” structure, and a $Fivebrane$ group, and so on.  Personally, I think of these as giving a geometric interpretation for what the higher cohomology groups actually mean.

A slight refinement of the above, and actually more directly related to “cancellation” of the anomalies, is that these structures can be defined in a “twisted” way: given a cocycle in the appropriate cohomology group, we can ask that a lifting exist, not on the nose, but as a diagram commuting only up to a higher cell, which is exactly given by the cocycle.  I mentioned, in the previous section, a situation where the cocycle gives an associator, so that instead of being exactly associative, a structure has a “twisted” associativity.  This is similar, except we’re twisting the condition that makes a spin structure (or higher spin structure) well-defined.  So if $X$ has the wrong characteristic class, we can only define one of these twisted structures at that level.

This theme of higher cohomology and gerbes, and their geometric interpretation, was another one that turned up throughout the talks in the workshop…

And speaking of that: coming up soon, some descriptions of the actual workshop.

I’d like to continue describing the talks that made up the HGTQGR workshop, in particular the ones that took place during the school portion of the event.  I’ll save one “school” session, by Laurent Freidel, to discuss with the talks because it seems to more nearly belong there. This leaves five people who gave between two and four lectures each over a period of a few days, all intermingled. Here’s a very rough summary in the order of first appearance:

## 2D Extended TQFT

Chris Schommer-Pries gave the longest series of talks, about the classification of 2D extended TQFT’s.  A TQFT is a kind of topological invariant for manifolds, which has a sort of “locality” property, in that you can decompose the manifold, compute the invariant on the parts, and find the whole by gluing the pieces back together.  This is expressed by saying it’s a monoidal functor $Z : (Cob_d, \sqcup) \rightarrow (Vect, \otimes)$, where the “locality” property is now functoriality property that composition is preserved.  The key thing here is the cobordism category $Cob_d$, which has objects (d-1)-dimensional manifolds, and morphisms d-dimensional cobordisms (manifolds with boundary, where the objects are components of the boundary).  Then a closed d-manifold is just a cobordism from $latex\emptyset$ to itself.

Making this into a category is actually a bit nontrivial: gluing bits of smooth manifolds, for instance, won’t necessarily give something smooth.  There are various ways of handling this, such as giving the boundaries “collars”, but Chris’ preferred method is to give boundaries (and, ultimately, corners, etc.) a”halation”.  This word originally means the halo of light around bright things you sometimes see in photos, but in this context, a halation for $X$ is an equivalence class of embeddings into neighborhoods $U \subset \mathbb{R}^d$.  The equivalence class says two such embeddings into $U$ and $V$ are equivalent if there’s a compatible refinement into some common $W$ that embeds into both $U$ and $V$.  The idea is that a halation is a kind of d-dimensional “halo”, or the “germ of a d-manifold” around $X$.  Then gluing compatibly along (d-1)-boundaries with halations ensures that we get smooth d-manifolds.  (One can also extend this setup so that everything in sight is oriented, or has some other such structure on it.)

In any case, an extended TQFT will then mean an n-functor $Z : (Bord_d,\sqcup) \rightarrow (\mathcal{C},\otimes)$, where $(\mathcal{C},\otimes)$ is some symmetric monoidal n-category (which is supposed to be similar to $Vect$).  Its exact nature is less important than that of $Bord_d$, which has:

• 0-Morphisms (i.e. Objects): 0-manifolds (collections of points)
• 1-Morphisms: 1-dimensional cobordisms between 0-manifolds (curves)
• 2-Morphisms: 2-dim cobordisms with corners between 1-Morphisms (surfaces with boundary)
• d-Morphisms: d-dimensional cobordisms between (d-1)-Morphisms (n-manifolds with corners), up to isomorphism

(Note: the distinction between “Bord” and “Cobord” is basically a matter of when a given terminology came in.  “Cobordism” and “Bordism”, unfortunately, mean the same thing, except that “bordism” has become popular more recently, since the “co” makes it sound like it’s the opposite category of something else.  This is kind of regrettable, but that’s what happened.  Sorry.)

The crucial point, is that Chris wanted to classify all such things, and his approach to this is to give a presentation of $Bord_d$.  This is based on stuff in his thesis.  The basic idea is to use Morse theory, and its higher-dimensional generalization, Cerf theory.  The idea is that one can put a Morse function  on a cobordism (essentially, a well-behaved “time order” on points) and look at its critical points.  Classifying these tells us what the generators for the category of cobordisms must be: there need to be enough to capture all the most general sorts of critical points.

Cerf theory does something similar, but one dimension up: now we’re talking about “stratified” families of Morse functions.  Again one studies critical points, but, for instance, on a 2-dim surface, there can be 1- and 0-dimensional parts of the set of cricical points.  In general, this gets into the theory of higher-dimensional singularities, catastrophe theory, and so on.  Each extra dimension one adds means looking at how the sets of critical points in the previous dimension can change over “time” (i.e. within some stratified family of Cerf functions).  Where these changes themselves go through critical points, one needs new generators for the various j-morphisms of the cobordism category.  (See some examples of such “catastrophes”, such as folds, cusps, swallowtails, etc. linked from here, say.)  Showing what such singularities can be like in the “generic” situation, and indeed, even defining “generic” in a way that makes sense in any dimension, required some discussion of jet bundles.  These are generalizations of tangent bundles that capture higher derivatives the way tangent bundles capture first-derivatives.  The essential point is that one can find a way to decompose these into a direct sum of parts of various dimensions (capturing where various higher derivatives are zero, say), and these will eventually tell us the dimension of a set of critical points for a Cerf function.

Now, this gives a characterization of what cobordisms can be like – part of the work in the theorem is to show that this is sufficient: that is, given a diagram showing the critical points for some Morse/Cerf function, one needs to be able to find the appropriate generators and piece together the cobordism (possibly a closed manifold) that it came from.  Chris showed how this works – a slightly finicky process involving cutting a diagram of the singular points (with some extra labelling information) into parts, and using a graphical calculus to work out how pasting works – and showed an example reconstruction of a surface this way.  This amounts to a construction of an equivalence between an “abstract” cobordism category given in terms of generators (and relations) which come from Cerf theory, and the concrete one.  The theorem then says that there’s a correspondence between equivalence classes of 2D cobordisms, and certain planar diagrams, up to some local moves.  To show this properly required a digression through some theory of symmetric monoidal bicategories, and what the right notion of equivalence for them is.

This all done, the point is that $Bord_d$ has a characterization in terms of a universal property, and so any ETQFT $Z : Bord_d \rightarrow \mathcal{C}$ amounts to a certain kind of object in $\mathcal{C}$ (corresponding to the image of the point – the generating object in $Bord_d$).  For instance, in the oriented situation this object needs to be “fully dualizable”: it should have a dual (the point with opposite orientation), and a whole bunch of maps that specify the duality: a cobordism from $(+,-)$ to nothing (just the “U”-shaped curve), which has a dual – and some 2-D cobordisms which specify that duality, and so on.  Specifying all this dualizability structure amounts to giving the image of all the generators of cobordisms, and determines the functors $Z$, and vice versa.

This is a rapid summary of six hours of lectures, of course, so for more precise versions of these statements, you may want to look into Chris’ thesis as linked above.

## Homotopy QFT and the Crossed Menagerie

The next series of lectures in the school was Tim Porter’s, about relations between Homotopy Quantum Field Theory (HQFT) and various sort of crossed gizmos.  HQFT is an idea introduced by Vladimir Turaev, (see his paper with Tim here, for an intro, though Turaev also now has a book on the subject).  It’s intended to deal with similar sorts of structures to TQFT, but with various sorts of extra structure.  This structure is related to the “Crossed Menagerie”, on which Tim has written an almost unbelievably extensive bunch of lecture notes, of which a special short version was made for this lecture series that’s a mere 350 pages long.

Anyway, the cobordism category $Bord_d$ described above is replaced by one Tim called $HCobord(d,B)$ (see above comment about “bord” and “cobord”, which mean the same thing).  Again, this has d-dimensional cobordisms as its morphisms and (d-1)-dimensional manifolds as its objects, but now everything in sight is equipped with a map into a space $B$ – almost.  So an object is $X \rightarrow B$, and a morphism is a cobordism with a homotopy class of maps $M \rightarrow B$ which are compatible with the ones at the boundaries.  Then just as a d-TQFT is a representation (i.e. a functor) of $Cob_d$ into $Vect$, a $(d,B)$-HQFT is a representation of $HCobord(d,B)$.

The motivating example here is when $B = B(G)$, the classifying space of a group.  These spaces are fairly complicated when you describe them as built from gluing cells (in homotopy theory, one typically things of spaces as something like CW-complexes: a bunch of cells in various dimensions glued together with face maps etc.), but $B(G)$ has the property that its fundamental group is $G$, and all other homotopy groups are trivial (ensuring this part is what makes the cellular decomposition description tricky).

The upshot is that there’s a correspondence between (homotopy classes of) maps $Map(X ,B(G)) \simeq Hom(\pi(X),G)$ (this makes a good alternative definition of the classifying space, though one needs to ).  Since a map from the fundamental group into $G$ amounts to a flat principal $G$-bundle, we can say that $HCobord(d,B(G))$ is a category of manifolds and cobordisms carrying such a bundle.  This gets us into gauge theory.

But we can go beyond and into higher gauge theory (and other sorts of structures) by picking other sorts of $B$.  To begin with, notice that the correspondence above implies that mapping into $B(G)$ means that when we take maps up to homotopy, we can only detect the fundamental group of $X$, and not any higher homotopy groups.  We say we can only detect the “homotopy 1-type” of the space.  The “homotopy n-type” of a given space $X$ is just the first $n$ homotopy groups $(\pi_1(X), \dots, \pi_n(X))$.  Alternatively, an “n-type” is an equivalence class of spaces which all have the same such groups.  Or, again, an “n-type” is a particular representative of one of these classes where these are the only nonzero homotopy groups.

The point being that if we’re considering maps $X \rightarrow B$ up to homotopy, we may only be detecting the n-type of $X$ (and therefore may as well assume $X$ is an n-type in the last sense when it’s convenient).  More precisely, there are “Postnikov functors” $P_n(-)$ which take a space $X$ and return the corresponding n-type.  This can be done by gluing in “patches” of higher dimensions to “fill in the holes” which are measured by the higher homotopy groups (in general, the result is infinite dimensional as a cell complex).  Thus, there are embeddings $X \hookrightarrow P_n(X)$, which get along with the obvious chain

$\dots \rightarrow P_{n+1}(X) \rightarrow P_n(X) \rightarrow P_{n-1}(X) \rightarrow \dots$

There was a fairly nifty digression here explaining how this is a “coskeleton” of $X$, in that $P_n$ is a right adjoint to the “n-skeleton” functor (which throws away cells above dimension n, not homotopy groups), so that $S(Sk_n(M),X) \cong S(M,P_n(X))$.  To really explain it properly, though I would have to really explain what that $S$ is (it refers to maps in the category of simplicial sets, which are another nice model of spaces up to homotopy).  This digression would carry us away from higher gauge theory, which is where I’m going.

One thing to say is that if $X$ is d-dimensional, then any HQFT is determined entirely by the d-type of $B$.  Any extra jazz going on in $B$‘s higher homotopy groups won’t be detected when we’re only mapping a d-dimensional space $X$ into it.  So one might as well assume that $B$ is just a d-type.

We want to say we can detect a homotopy n-type of a space if, for example, $B = B(\mathcal{G})$ where $\mathcal{G}$ is an “n-group”.  A handy way to account for this is in terms of a “crossed complex”.  The first nontrivial example of this would be a crossed module, which consists of

• Two groups, $G$ and $H$ with
• A map $\partial : H \rightarrow G$ and
• An action of $G$ on $H$ by automorphisms, $G \rhd H$
• all such that action looks as much like conjugation as possible:
• $\partial(g \rhd h) = g (\partial h) g^{-1}$ (so that $\partial$ is $G$-equivariant)
• $\partial h \rhd h' = h h' h^{-1}$ (the “Peiffer identity”)

This definition looks a little funny, but it does characterize “2-groups” in the sense of categories internal to $\mathbf{Groups}$ (the definition used elsewhere), by taking $G$ to be the group of objects, and $H$ the group of automorphisms of the identity of $G$.  In the description of John Huerta’s lectures, I’ll get back to how that works.

The immediate point is that there are a bunch of natural examples of crossed modules.  For instance: from normal subgroups, where $\partial: H \subset G$ is inclusion and the action really is conjugation; from fibrations, using fundamental groups of base and fibre; from a canonical case where $H = Aut(G)$  and $\partial = 1$ takes everything to the identity; from modules, taking $H$ to be a $G$-module as an abelian group and $\partial = 1$ again.  The first and last give the classical intuition of these guys: crossed modules are simultaneous generalizations of (a) normal subgroups of $G$, and (b) $G$-modules.

There are various other examples, but the relevant thing here is a theorem of MacLane and Whitehead, that crossed modules model all connected homotopy 2-types.  That is, there’s a correspondence between crossed modules up to isomorphism and 2-types.  Of course, groups model 1-types: any group is the fundmental group for a 1-type, and any 1-type is the classifying space for some group.  Likewise, any crossed module determines a 2-type, and vice versa.  So this theorem suggests why crossed modules might deserve to be called “2-groups” even if they didn’t naturally line up with the alternative definition.

To go up to 3-types and 4-types, the intuitive idea is: “do for crossed modules what we did for groups”.  That is, instead of a map of groups $\partial : H \rightarrow G$, we consider a map of crossed modules (which is given by a pair of maps between the groups in each) and so forth.  The resulting structure is a square diagram in $\mathbf{Groups}$ with a bunch of actions.  Each of these maps is the $\partial$ map for a crossed module.  (We can think of the normal subgroup situation: there are two normal subgroups $H,K$ of $G$, and in each of them, the intersection $H \cap K$ is normal, so it determines a crossed module).  This is a “crossed square”, and things like this correspond exactly to homotopy 3-types.  This works roughly as before, since there is a notion of a classifying space $B(\mathcal{G})$ where $\mathcal{G} = (G,H,\partial,\rhd)$, and similarly on for crossed n-cubes.   We can carry on in this way to define a “crossed n-cube”, which correspond to homotopy (n+1)-types.  The correspondence is a little bit more fiddly than it was for groups, but it still exists: any (n+1)-type is the classifying space for a crossed n-cube, and any such crossed n-cube has an (n+1)-type for its classifying space.

This correspondence is the point here.  As we said, when looking at HQFT’s from $HCobord(d,B)$, we may as well assume that $B$ is a d-type.  But then, it’s a classifying space for some crossed (d-1)-cube.  This is a sensible sort of $B$ to use in an HQFT, and it ends up giving us a theory which is related to higher gauge theory: a map $X \rightarrow B(\mathcal{G})$ up to homotopy, where $\mathcal{G}$ is a crossed n-cube will correspond to the structure of a flat $(n+1)$-bundle on $X$, and similarly for cobordisms.  HQFT’s let us look at the structure of this structured cobordism category by means of its linear representations.  Now, it may be that this crossed-cube point of view isn’t the best way to look at $B$, but it is there, and available.

To say more about this, I’ll have to talk more directly about higher gauge theory in its own terms – which I’ll do in part IIb, since this is already pretty long.

A more substantial post is upcoming, but I wanted to get out this announcement for a conference I’m helping to organise, along with Roger Picken, João Faria Martins, and Aleksandr Mikovic.  Its website: https://sites.google.com/site/hgtqgr/home has more details, and will have more as we finalise them, but here are some of them:

## ﻿Workshop and School on Higher Gauge Theory, TQFT and Quantum Gravity

Lisbon, 10-13 February, 2011 (Workshop), 7-13 February, 2011 (School)

Description from the website:

Higher gauge theory is a fascinating generalization of ordinary abelian and non-abelian gauge theory, involving (at the first level) connection 2-forms, curvature 3-forms and parallel transport along surfaces. This ladder can be continued to connection forms of higher degree and transport along extended objects of the corresponding dimension. On the mathematical side, higher gauge theory is closely tied to higher algebraic structures, such as 2-categories, 2-groups etc., and higher geometrical structures, known as gerbes or n-gerbes with connection. Thus higher gauge theory is an example of the categorification phenomenon which has been very influential in mathematics recently.

There have been a number of suggestions that higher gauge theory could be related to (4D) quantum gravity, e.g. by Baez-Huerta (in the QG^2 Corfu school lectures), and Baez-Baratin-Freidel-Wise in the context of state-sums. A pivotal role is played by TQFTs in these approaches, in particular BF theories and variants thereof, as well as extended TQFTs, constructed from suitable geometric or algebraic data. Another route between higher gauge theory and quantum gravity is via string theory, where higher gauge theory provides a setting for n-form fields, worldsheets for strings and branes, and higher spin structures (i.e. string structures and generalizations, as studied e.g. by Sati-Schreiber-Stasheff). Moving away from point particles to higher-dimensional extended objects is a feature both of loop quantum gravity and string theory, so higher gauge theory should play an important role in both approaches, and may allow us to probe a deeper level of symmetry, going beyond normal gauge symmetry.

Thus the moment seems ripe to bring together a group of researchers who could shed some light on these issues. Apart from the courses and lectures given by the invited speakers, we plan to incorporate discussion sessions in the afternoon throughout the week, for students to ask questions and to stimulate dialogue between participants from different backgrounds.

Provisional list of speakers:

• Paolo Aschieri (Alessandria)
• Benjamin Bahr (Cambridge)
• Aristide Baratin (Paris-Orsay)
• John Barrett (Nottingham)
• Rafael Diaz (Bogotá)
• Bianca Dittrich (Potsdam)
• Laurent Freidel (Perimeter)
• John Huerta (California)
• Branislav Jurco (Prague)
• Thomas Krajewski (Marseille)
• Tim Porter (Bangor)
• Hisham Sati (Maryland)
• Christopher Schommer-Pries (MIT)
• Urs Schreiber (Utrecht)
• Jamie Vicary (Oxford)