It’s taken me a while to write this up, since I’ve been in the process of moving house – packing and unpacking and all the rest. However, a bit over a week ago, I was in Montreal, attending MakkaiFest ’09 at the Centre de Recherches Mathematiques at the University of Montréal (and a pre-conference workshop hosted at McGill, which I’m including in the talks I mention here). This was in honour of the 70th birthday of Mihaly (Michael) Makkai, of McGill University. Makkai has done a lot of important foundational work in logic, model theory, and category theory, and a great many of the talks were from former students who’d gone on and been inspired by him, so one got sense of the range of things he’s worked on through his life.

The broad picture of Makkai’s work was explained to us by J.P. Marquis, from the Philosophy department at U of M. He is interested in philosophy of mathematics, and described Makkai’s project by contrast with the program of axiomatization of the early 20th century, along the lines suggested by Hilbert. This program provided a formal language for concrete structures – the problem, which category theory is part of a solution to, is to do the same for abstract structures. Contrast, for instance, the concrete description of a group G as a (particular) set with some (particular) operation, with the abstract definition of a group object in a category. Makkai’s work in categorical logic, said Marquis, is about formalizing the process of abstraction that example illustrates.

Model Theory/Logic

This matter – of the relation between abstract theories and concrete models of the theories – is really what model theory is about, and this is one of the major areas Makkai has worked on. Roughly, a theory is most basically a schema with symbols for types, members of types, and some function symbols – and a collection of sentences built using these symbols (usually generated from some axioms by rules of logical inference). A model is (intuitively), an interpretation of the terms: a way of assigning concrete data to the symbols – say, a symbol for a type is assigned the set of all entities of that type, and a function symbol is assigned an actual function between sets, and so on – making all propositions true. A morphism of models is a map that preserves all the properties of the model that can be stated using first order logic.

This is an older way to say things – Victor Harnik gave an expository talk called “Model Theory vs. Categorical Logic” in which he compared two ways of adding an equivalence relation to a theory. The model theory way (invented by Shelah) involves taking the theory (list of sentences) T and extending it to a new theory T^{eq}. This has, for instance, some new types – if we had a type for “element of group”, for example, we might then get a new type “equivalence class of elements of group”, and so on. Now, this extension is “tight” in the sense that the categories of all models of T and of T^{eq} are equivalent (by a forgetful functor Mod(T^{eq}) \rightarrow Mod(T)) – but one can prove new theorems in the extended theory. To make this clear, he described work (due to Makkai and Reyes) about pretopos completion. Here, one has the concept of a “Boolean logical category” – Set is an example, as is, for any theory, a certain category whose objects are the formulas of the theory. This is related to Lawvere theories (see below). There are logical functors between such categories – functors into Set are models, but there are also logical functors between theories. The point is that a theory T embeds into T^{eq} (abusing notation here – these are now the boolean logical categories). Then the point is that T^{eq} arises as a kind of completion of T – namely, it’s a boolean pretopos (not just category). Moreover, it has some nice universal properties, making this point of view a bit more natural than the model-theoretic construction.

Bradd Hart’s talk, “Conceptual Completeness for Cantinuous Logic”, was a bit over my head, but made some use of this kind of extension of a theory to T^{eq}. The basic point seems to be to add some kind of continuous structure to logic. One example comes from a metric structure – defining a metric space of terms, where the metric function d(x,y) is some sum \sum_n \phi_n (x,y), where the \phi_n are formulas with two variables, either true or false – where true gives a 0, and false gives a 1 in this sum. This defines a distance from x to y associated to the given list of formulas \phi_n. A continuous logic is one with a structure like this. The business about equivalence relations arises if we say two things are equivalent when the distance between them is 0 – this leads to a concept of completion, and again there’s a notion that the categories of models are equivalent (though proving it here involves some notion of approximating terms to arbitrary epsilon, which doesn’t appear in standard logic).

Anand Pillay gave a talk which used model theory to describe some properties of the free group on n generators. This involved a “theory of the free group” which applies to any free group, and regard each such group as a model of the theory – in fact a submodel of some large model, and using model-theoretic methods to examine “stability” properties, in some sense which amounts to a notion of defining “generic” subsets of the group.

Logic and Higher Categories

A number of talks specifically addressed the ground where logic meets higher dimensional categories, since Makkai has worked with both.

In one talk, Robert Paré described a way of thinking about first-order theories as examples of “double Lawvere theories”. Lawvere’s way of formalizing “theories and models” was to say that the theory is a category itself (which has just the objects needed to describe the kind of structure it’s a theory of) – and a model is a functor into Sets (or some other category – a model of the theory of groups in topological spaces, say, is a topological group). For example, the theory of groups includes an object G and powers of it, multiplication and inverse maps, and expresses the axioms by the fact that certain diagrams commute. A model is a functor M : Th(Grp) \rightarrow Sets, assigning to the “group object” a set of elements, which then get the group structure from the maps. Instead of a category, this uses a double category. There are two kinds of morphisms – horizontal and vertical – and these are used to represent two kinds of symbols: function symbols, and relation symbols. (For example, one can talk about the theory of an ordered field – so one needs symbols for multiplication and addition and so forth, but also for the order relation \leq). Then a model of such a theory is a double functor into the double category whose objects are sets, and whose horizontal and vertical morphisms are respectively functions and relations.

André Joyal gave a talk about the first order logic of higher structures. He started by commenting on some fields which began life close together, and are now gradually re-merging: logic and category theory; category theory and homotopy theory (via higher categories); homotopy theory and algebraic geometry. The higher categories Joyal was thinking of are quasicategories, or “( \infty, 1)-categories, which are simplicial sets satisfying a weak version of a horn-filling condition (the “strict” version of this, a Kan complex, includes as example N(C), the nerve of a category C – there’s an n-simplex for each sequence of n composable morphisms, whose other edges are the various composites, and whose faces are “compositors”, “associators”, and so on – which for N(C) are identities). The point of this is that one can reproduce most of category theory for quasicategories – in particular, he mentioned limits and colimits, factorization systems, pretoposes, and model theory.

Moving to quasicategories on one side of the parallel between category theory and logic has a corresponding move on the other side – on the logic side, one aspect is that the usual notion of a language is replaced by what’s called Martin-Löf type theory. This, in fact, was the subject of Michael Warren’s talk, “Martin-Löf complexes” (I reported on a similar talk he gave at Octoberfest last year). The idea here is to start by defining a globular set, given a theory and type A – a complex whose n-cells have two faces, of dimension (n-1). The 0-cells are just terms of some type A. The 1-cells are terms of types like \underline{A}(a,b), where a and b are variables of type A – the type has an interpretation as a proposition that a=b “extensionally” (i.e. not via a proof – but as for instance when two programs with non-equivalent code happen to always produce the same output). This kind of operation can be repeated to give higher cells, like \underline{A(a,b)}(f,g), and so on. Given a globular set G, one gets a theory by an adjoint construction. Putting the two together, one has a monad on the category of globular sets – algebras for the monad are Martin-Löf complexes. Throwing in syntactic rules to truncate higher cells (I suppose by declaring all cells to be identities) gives n-truncated versions of these complexes, MLC_n. Then there is some interesting homotopy theory, in that the category of n-truncated Martin-Löf complexes is expected to be a model for homotopy n-types. For example, MLC_0 is equivalent to Sets, and there is an adjunction (in fact, a Quillen equivalence – that is, a kind of “homotopy” equivalence) between MLC_1 and Gpd.

Category Theory/Higher Categories

There were a number of talks that just dealt with categories – including higher categories – in their own right. Makkai has worked, for example, on computads, which were touched on by Marek Zawadowski in one of his two talks (one in the pre-conference workshop, the other in the conference). The first was about categories of “many-to-one shapes”, which are important to computads – these are a notion of higher-category, where every cell takes many “input” faces to one “output” face. Zawadowski described a “shape” of an n-cell as an initial object in a certain category built from the category of computads with specified faces. Then there’s a category of shapes, and an abstract description of “shape” in terms of a graded tensor theory (graded for dimension, and tensor because there’s a notion of composition, I believe). Zawadowski’s second talk, “Opetopic Sets in Lax Monoidal Fibrations”, dealt with a similar topic from a different point of view. A lax monoidal fibration (LMF) is a kind of gadget for dealing with multi-level structures (categories, multicategories, quasicategories, etc). There’s a lot of stuff here I didn’t entirely follow, but just to illustrate: categories arise as LMF, by the fibration cod : Set^{B} \rightarrow Set, where B is the category with two objects M, O, and two arrows from M to O. An object in the functor category Set^{B} consists of a “set of morphisms and set of objects” with maps – making this a category involves the monoidal structure, and how composition is defined, and the real point is that this is quite general machinery.

Joachim Lambek and Gonzalo Reyez, both longtime collaborators and friends of Makkai, also both gave talks that touched on physics and categories, though in very different ways. Lambek talked about the “Lorentz category” and its appearance in special relativity.  This involves a reformulation of SR in terms of biquaternions: like complex numbers, these are of the form u + iv, but u and v are quaternions.  They have various conjugation operations, and the geometry of SR can be described in terms of their algebra (just as, say, rotations in 3D can be described in terms of quaternions).  The Lorentz category is a way of organizing this – its two objects correspond to “unconjugated” and “conjugated” states.

Gonzalo Reyez gave a derivation of General Relativity in the context of synthetic differential geometry.  The substance of this derivation is not so different from the usual one, but with one exception.  Einstein’s field equations can be derived in terms of the motions of small regions full of of freely falling test particles – synthetic differential geometry makes it possible to do the same analysis using infinitesimals rigorously all the way through.  The basic point here is that in SDG one replaces the real line as usually conceived, with a “real line with infinitesimals” (think of the ring \mathbb{R}[\epsilon]/\langle \epsilon^2 \rangle, which is like the reals, but has the infinitesimal \epsilon, whose square is zero).

Among other talks: John Power talked about the correspondence between Lawvere theories in universal algebra and finitary tree monads on sets – and asked about what happens to the left hand side of this correspondence when we replace “sets” with other categories on the righ hand side. Jeff Egger talked about measure theory from a categorical point of view – namely, the correspondence of NCG between C*-algebras and “noncommutative” topological spaces, and between W*-algebras and “noncommutative” measure spaces, thought of in terms of locales. Hongde Hu talked about the “codensity theorem”, and a way to classify certain kinds of categories – he commented on how it was inspired by Makkai’s approach to mathematics: 1) Find new proofs of old theorems, (2) standardize the concepts used in them, and (3) prove new theorems with those concepts. Fred Linton gave a talk describing Heath’s “V-space”, which is a half-plane with a funny topology whose open sets are “V” shapes, and described how the topos of locally finite sheaves over it has surprising properties having to do with nonexistence of global sections. Manoush Sadrzadeh, whom I met recently at CQC (see the bottom of the previous post) was again talking about linguistics using monoidal categories – she described some rules for “clitic movement” and changes in word order, and what these rules look like in categorical terms.


A few other talks are a little harder for me to fit into the broad classification above.  There was Charles Steinhorn’s talk about ordered “o-minimal” structures, which touched on a bit of economics – essentially, a lot of economics is based on the assumption that preference orders can be made into real-valued functions, but in fact in many cases one has (variants on) “lexicographic order”, involving ranked priorities.  He talked about how typically one has a space of possibilities which can be cut up into cells, with one sort of order in each cell.  There was Julia Knight, talking about computable structures of “high Scott rank” – in particular, this is about infinite structures that can still be dealt with computably – for example, infinitary logical formulas involving an infinite number of “OR” statements where all the terms being joined are of some common form.  This ends up with an analysis of certain infinite trees.  Hal Kierstead gave a talk about Ramsey theory which I found notable because it used the kind of construction based on a game: to prove that any colouring of a graph (or hypergraph) has some property, one devises a game where one player tries to build a graph, and the other tries to colour it, and proves a winning strategy for one player.  Finally, Michael Barr gave a talk about a duality between certain categories of modules over commutative rings.

All in all, an interesting conference, with plenty of food for thought.

Barr, Kierstead, Knight, Steinhorn