This is the 100th entry on this blog! It’s taken a while, but we’ve arrived at a meaningless but convenient milestone. This post constitutes Part III of the posts on the topics course which I shared with Susama Agarwala. In the first, I summarized the core idea in the series of lectures I did, which introduced toposes and sheaves, and explained how, at least for appropriate sites, sheaves can be thought of as generalized spaces. In the second, I described the guest lecture by John Huerta which described how supermanifolds can be seen as an example of that notion.
In this post, I’ll describe the machinery I set up as part of the context for Susama’s talks. The connections are a bit tangential, but it gives some helpful context for what’s to come. Namely, my last couple of lectures were on sheaves with structure, and derived categories. In algebraic geometry and elsewhere, derived categories are a common tool for studying spaces. They have a cohomological flavour, because they involve sheaves of complexes (or complexes of sheaves) of abelian groups. Having talked about the background of sheaves in Part I, let’s consider how these categories arise.
Structured Sheaves and Internal Constructions in Toposes
The definition of a (pre)sheaf as a functor valued in is the basic one, but there are parallel notions for presheaves valued in categories other than – for instance, in Abelian groups, rings, simplicial sets, complexes etc. Abelian groups are particularly important for geometry/cohomology.
But for the most part, as long as the target category can be defined in terms of sets and structure maps (such as the multiplication map for groups, face maps for simplicial sets, or boundary maps in complexes), we can just think of these in terms of objects “internal to a category of sheaves”. That is, we have a definition of “abelian group object” in any reasonably nice category – in particular, any topos. Then the category of “abelian group objects in ” is equivalent to a category of “abelian-group-valued sheaves on “, denoted . (As usual, I’ll omit the Grothendieck topology in the notation from now on, though it’s important that it is still there.)
Sheaves of abelian groups are supposed to generalize the prototypical example, namely sheaves of functions valued in abelian groups, (indeed, rings) such as , , or .
To begin with, we look at the category , which amounts to the same as the category of abelian group objects in . This inherits several properties from itself. In particular, it’s an abelian category: this gives us that there is a direct sum for objects, a zero object, exact sequences split, all morphisms have kernels and cokernels, and so forth. These useful properties all hold because at each , the direct sum of sheaves of abelian group just gives , and all the properties hold locally at each .
So, sheaves of abelian groups can be seen as abelian groups in a topos of sheaves . In the same way, other kinds of structures can be built up inside the topos of sheaves, and there are corresponding “external” point of view. One good example would be simplicial objects: one can talk about the simplicial objects in , or sheaves of simplicial sets, . (Though it’s worth noting that since simplicial sets model infinity-groupoids, there are more sophisticated forms of the sheaf condition which can be applied here. But for now, this isn’t what we need.)
Recall that simplicial objects in a category are functors – that is, -valued presheaves on , the simplex category. This has nonnegative integers as its objects, and the morphisms from to are the order-preserving functions from to . If , we get “simplicial sets”, where is the “set of -dimensional simplices”. The various morphisms in turn into (composites of) the face and degeneracy maps. Simplicial sets are useful because they are a good model for “spaces”.
Just as with abelian groups, simplicial objects in can also be seen as sheaves on valued in the category of simplicial sets, i.e. objects of . These things are called, naturally, “simplicial sheaves”, and there is a rather extensive body of work on them. (See, for instance, the canonical book by Goerss and Jardine.)
This correspondence is just because there is a fairly obvious bunch of isomorphisms turning functors with two inputs into functors with one input returning another functor with one input:
(These are all presheaf categories – if we put a trivial topology on , we can refine this to consider only those functors which are sheaves in every position, where we use a certain product topology on .)
Another relevant example would be complexes. This word is a bit overloaded, but here I’m referring to the sort of complexes appearing in cohomology, such as the de Rahm complex, where the terms of the complex are the sheaves of differential forms on a space, linked by the exterior derivative. A complex is a sequence of Abelian groups with boundary maps (or just for short), like so:
with the property that . Morphisms between these are sequences of morphisms between the terms of the complexes where each which commute with all the boundary maps. These all assemble into a category of complexes . We also have and , the (full) subcategories of complexes where all the negative (respectively, positive) terms are trivial.
One can generalize this to replace by any category enriched in abelian groups, which we need to make sense of the requirement that a morphism is zero. In particular, one can generalize it to sheaves of abelian groups. This is an example where the above discussion about internalization can be extended to more than one structure at a time: “sheaves-of-(complexes-of-abelian-groups)” is equivalent to “complexes-of-(sheaves-of-abelian-groups)”.
This brings us to the next point, which is that, within , the last two examples, simplicial objects and complexes, are secretly the same thing.
The fact I just alluded to is a special case of the Dold-Puppe correspondence, which says:
Theorem: In any abelian category , the category of simplicial objects is equivalent to the category of positive chain complexes .
The better-known name “Dold-Kan Theorem” refers to the case where . If is a category of -valued sheaves, the Dold-Puppe correspondence amounts to using Dold-Kan at each .
The point is that complexes have only coboundary maps, rather than a plethora of many different face and boundary maps, so we gain some convenience when we’re looking at, for instance, abelian groups in our category of spaces, by passing to this equivalent description.
The correspondence works by way of two maps (for more details, see the book by Goerss and Jardine linked above, or see the summary here). The easy direction is the Moore complex functor, . On objects, it gives the intersection of all the kernels of the face maps:
The boundary map from this is then just . This ends up satisfying the “boundary-squared is zero” condition because of the identities for the face maps.
The other direction is a little more complicated, so for current purposes, I’ll leave you to follow the references above, except to say that the functor from complexes to simplicial objects in is defined so as to be adjoint to . Indeed, and together form an adjoint equivalence of the categories.
Chain Homotopies and Quasi-Isomorphisms
One source of complexes in mathematics is in cohomology theories. So, for example, there is de Rahm cohomology, where one starts with the complex with the space of smooth differential -forms on some smooth manifold , with the exterior derivatives as the coboundary maps. But no matter which complex you start with, there is a sequence of cohomology groups, because we have a sequence of cohomology functors:
given by the quotients
That is, it’s the cocycles (things whose coboundary is zero), up to equivalence where cocycles are considered equivalent if their difference is a coboundary (i.e. something which is itself the coboundary of something else). In fact, these assemble into a functor , since there are natural transformations between these functors
which just come from the restrictions of the to the kernel . (In fact, this makes the maps trivial – but the main point is that this restriction is well-defined on equivalence classes, and so we get an actual complex again.) The fact that we get a functor means that any chain map gives a corresponding .
Now, the original motivation of cohomology for a space, like the de Rahm cohomology of a manifold , is to measure something about the topology of . If is trivial (say, a contractible space), then its cohomology groups are all trivial. In the general setting, we say that is acyclic if all the . But of course, this doesn’t mean that the chain itself is zero.
More generally, just because two complexes have isomorphic cohomology, doesn’t mean they are themselves isomorphic, but we say that is a quasi-isomorphism if is an isomorphism. The idea is that, as far as we can tell from the information that coholomology detects, it might as well be an isomorphism.
Now, for spaces, as represented by simplicial sets, we have a similar notion: a map between spaces is a quasi-isomorphism if it induces an isomorphism on cohomology. Then the key thing is the Whitehead Theorem (viz), which in this language says:
Theorem: If is a quasi-isomorphism, it is a homotopy equivalence.
That is, it has a homotopy inverse , which means there is a homotopy .
What about for complexes? We said that in an abelian category, simplicial objects and complexes are equivalent constructions by the Dold-Puppe correspondence. However, the question of what is homotopy equivalent to what is a bit more complicated in the world of complexes. The convenience we gain when passing from simplicial objects to the simpler structure of complexes must be paid for it with a little extra complexity in describing what corresponds to homotopy equivalences.
The usual notion of a chain homotopy between two maps is a collection of maps which shift degrees, , such that . That is, the coboundary of is the difference between and . (The “co” version of the usual intuition of a homotopy, whose ingoing and outgoing boundaries are the things which are supposed to be homotopic).
The Whitehead theorem doesn’t work for chain complexes: the usual “naive” notion of chain homotopy isn’t quite good enough to correspond to the notion of homotopy in spaces. (There is some discussion of this in the nLab article on the subject. That is the reason for…
Taking “derived categories” for some abelian category can be thought of as analogous, for complexes, to finding the homotopy category for simplicial objects. It compensates for the fact that taking a quotient by chain homotopy doesn’t give the same “homotopy classes” of maps of complexes as the corresponding operation over in spaces.
That is, simplicial sets, as a model category, know everything about the homotopy type of spaces: so taking simplicial objects in is like internalizing the homotopy theory of spaces in a category . So, if what we’re interested in are the homotopical properties of spaces described as simplicial sets, we want to “mod out” by homotopy equivalences. However, we have two notions which are easy to describe in the world of complexes, which between them capture the notion “homotopy” in simplicial sets. There are chain homotopies and quasi-isomorphisms. So, naturally, we mod out by both notions.
So, suppose we have an abelian category . In the background, keep in mind the typical example where , and even where for some reasonably nice space , if it helps to picture things. Then the derived category of is built up in a few steps:
- Take the category of complexes. (This stands in for “spaces in ” as above, although we’ve dropped the ““, so the correct analogy is really with spectra. This is a bit too far afield to get into here, though, so for now let’s just ignore it.)
- Take morphisms only up to homotopy equivalence. That is, define the equivalence relation with whenever there is a homotopy with . Then is the quotient by this relation.
- Localize at quasi-isomorphisms. That is, formally throw in inverses for all quasi-isomorphisms , to turn them into actual isomorphisms. The result is .
(Since we have direct sums of complexes (componentwise), it’s also possible to think of the last step as defining , where is the category of acyclic complexes – the ones whose cohomology complexes are zero.)
Explicitly, the morphisms of can be thought of as “zig-zags” in ,
where all the left-pointing arrows are quasi-isomorphisms. (The left-pointing arrows are standing in for their new inverses in , pointing right.) This relates to the notion of a category of spans: in a reasonably nice category, we can always compose these zig-zags to get one of length two, with one leftward and one rightward arrow. In general, though, this might not happen.
Now, the point here is that this is a way of extracting “homotopical” or “cohomological” information about , and hence about if or something similar. In the next post, I’ll talk about Susama’s series of lectures, on the subject of motives. This uses some of the same technology described above, in the specific context of schemes (which introduces some extra considerations specific to that world). It’s aim is to produce a category (and a functor into it) which captures all the cohomological information about spaces – in some sense a universal cohomology theory from which any other can be found.