### 2-groups

Continuing from the previous post, we’ll take a detour in a different direction. The physics-oriented talks were by Martin Wolf, Sam Palmer, Thomas Strobl, and Patricia Ritter. Since my background in this subject isn’t particularly physics-y, I’ll do my best to summarize the ones that had obvious connections to other topics, but may be getting things wrong or unbalanced here…

### Dirac Sigma Models

Thomas Strobl’s talk, “New Methods in Gauge Theory” (based on a whole series of papers linked to from the conference webpage), started with a discussion of of generalizing Sigma Models. Strobl’s talk was a bit high-level physics for me to do it justice, but I came away with the impression of a fairly large program that has several points of contact with more mathematical notions I’ll discuss later.

In particular, Sigma models are physical theories in which a field configuration on spacetime $\Sigma$ is a map $X : \Sigma \rightarrow M$ into some target manifold, or rather $(M,g)$, since we need a metric to integrate and find differentials. Given this, we can define the crucial physics ingredient, an action functional
$S[X] = \int_{\Sigma} g_{ij} dX^i \wedge (\star d X^j)$
where the $dX^i$ are the differentials of the map into $M$.

In string theory, $\Sigma$ is the world-sheet of a string and $M$ is ordinary spacetime. This generalizes the simpler example of a moving particle, where $\Sigma = \mathbb{R}$ is just its worldline. In that case, minimizing the action functional above says that the particle moves along geodesics.

The big generalization introduced is termed a “Dirac Sigma Model” or DSM (the paper that introduces them is this one).

In building up to these DSM, a different generalization notes that if there is a group action $G \rhd M$ that describes “rigid” symmetries of the theory (for Minkowski space we might pick the Poincare group, or perhaps the Lorentz group if we want to fix an origin point), then the action functional on the space $Maps(\Sigma,M)$ is invariant in the direction of any of the symmetries. One can use this to reduce $(M,g)$, by “gauging out” the symmetries to get a quotient $(N,h)$, and get a corresponding $S_{gauged}$ to integrate over $N$.

To generalize this, note that there’s an action groupoid associated with $G \rhd M$, and replace this with some other (Poisson) groupoid instead. That is, one thinks of the real target for a gauge theory not as $M$, but the action groupoid $M \/\!\!\/ G$, and then just considers replacing this with some generic groupoid that doesn’t necessarily arise from a group of rigid symmetries on some underlying $M$. (In this regard, see the second post in this series, about Urs Schreiber’s talk, and stacks as classifying spaces for gauge theories).

The point here seems to be that one wants to get a nice generalization of this situation – in particular, to be able to go backward from $N$ to $M$, to deal with the possibility that the quotient $N$ may be geometrically badly-behaved. Or rather, given $(N,h)$, to find some $(M,g)$ of which it is a reduction, but which is better behaved. That means needing to be able to treat a Sigma model with symmetry information attached.

There’s also an infinitesimal version of this: locally, invariance means the Lie derivative of the action in the direction of any of the generators of the Lie algebra of $G$ – so called Killing vectors – is zero. So this equation can generalize to a case where there are vectors where the Lie derivative is zero – a so-called “generalized Killing equation”. They may not generate isometries, but can be treated similarly. What they do give, if you integrate these vectors, is a foliation of $M$. The space of leaves is the quotient $N$ mentioned above.

The most generic situation Thomas discussed is when one has a Dirac structure on $M$ – this is a certain kind of subbundle $D \subset TM \oplus T^*M$ of the tangent-plus-cotangent bundle over $M$.

### Supersymmetric Field Theories

Another couple of physics-y talks related higher gauge theory to some particular physics models, namely $N=(2,0)$ and $N=(1,0)$ supersymmetric field theories.

The first, by Martin Wolf, was called “Self-Dual Higher Gauge Theory”, and was rooted in generalizing some ideas about twistor geometry – here are some lecture notes by the same author, about how twistor geometry relates to ordinary gauge theory.

The idea of twistor geometry is somewhat analogous to the idea of a Fourier transform, which is ultimately that the same space of fields can be described in two different ways. The Fourier transform goes from looking at functions on a position space, to functions on a frequency space, by way of an integral transform. The Penrose-Ward transform, analogously, transforms a space of fields on Minkowski spacetime, satisfying one set of equations, to a set of fields on “twistor space”, satisfying a different set of equations. The theories represented by those fields are then equivalent (as long as the PW transform is an isomorphism).

The PW transform is described by a “correspondence”, or “double fibration” of spaces – what I would term a “span”, such that both maps are fibrations:

$P \stackrel{\pi_1}{\leftarrow} K \stackrel{\pi_2}{\rightarrow} M$

The general story of such correspondences is that one has some geometric data on $P$, which we call $Ob_P$ – a set of functions, differential forms, vector bundles, cohomology classes, etc. They are pulled back to $K$, and then “pushed forward” to $M$ by a direct image functor. In many cases, this is given by an integral along each fibre of the fibration $\pi_2$, so we have an integral transform. The image of $Ob_P$ we call $Ob_M$, and it consists of data satisfying, typically, some PDE’s.In the case of the PW transform, $P$ is complex projective 3-space $\mathbb{P}^3/\mathbb{P}^1$ and $Ob_P$ is the set of holomorphic principal $G$ bundles for some group $G$; $M$ is (complexified) Minkowski space $\mathbb{C}^4$ and the fields are principal $G$-bundles with connection. The PDE they satisfy is $F = \star F$, where $F$ is the curvature of the bundle and $\star$ is the Hodge dual). This means cohomology on twistor space (which classifies the bundles) is related self-dual fields on spacetime. One can also find that a point in $M$ corresponds to a projective line in $P$, while a point in $P$ corresponds to a null plane in $M$. (The space $K = \mathbb{C}^4 \times \mathbb{P}^1$).

Then the issue to to generalize this to higher gauge theory: rather than principal $G$-bundles for a group, one is talking about a 2-group $\mathcal{G}$ with connection. Wolf’s talk explained how there is a Penrose-Ward transform between a certain class of higher gauge theories (on the one hand) and an $N=(2,0)$ supersymmetric field theory (on the other hand). Specifically, taking $M = \mathbb{C}^6$, and $P$ to be (a subspace of) 6D projective space $\mathbb{P}^7 / \mathbb{P}^1$, there is a similar correspondence between certain holomorphic 2-bundles on $P$ and solutions to some self-dual field equations on $M$ (which can be seen as constraints on the curvature 3-form $F$ for a principal 2-bundle: the self-duality condition is why this only makes sense in 6 dimensions).

This picture generalizes to supermanifolds, where there are fermionic as well as bosonic fields. These turn out to correspond to a certain 6-dimensional $N = (2,0)$ supersymmetric field theory.

Then Sam Palmer gave a talk in which he described a somewhat similar picture for an $N = (1,0)$ supersymmetric theory. However, unlike the $N=(2,0)$ theory, this one gives, not a higher gauge theory, but something that superficially looks similar, but in fact is quite different. It ends up being a theory of a number of fields – form valued in three linked vector spaces

$\mathfrak{g}^* \stackrel{g}{\rightarrow} \mathfrak{h} \stackrel{h}{\rightarrow} \mathfrak{g}$

equipped with a bunch of maps that give the whole setup some structure. There is a collection of seven fields in groups (“multiplets”, in physics jargon) valued in each of these spaces. They satisfy a large number of identities. It somewhat resembles the higher gauge theory that corresponds to the $N=(1,0)$ case, so this situation gets called a “$(1,0)$-gauge model”.

There are some special cases of such a setup, including Courant-Dorfman algebras and Lie 2-algebras. The talk gave quite a few examples of solutions to the equations that fall out. The overall conclusion is that, while there are some similarities between $(1,0)$-gauge models and the way Higher Gauge Theory appears at the level of algebra-valued forms and the equations they must satisfy, there are some significant differences. I won’t try to summarize this in more depth, because (a) I didn’t follow the nitty-gritty technical details very well, and (b) it turns out to be not HGT, but some new theory which is less well understood at summary-level.

The main thing happening in my end of the world is that it’s relocated from Europe back to North America. I’m taking up a teaching postdoc position in the Mathematics and Computer Science department at Mount Allison University starting this month. However, amidst all the preparations and moving, I was also recently in Edinburgh, Scotland for a workshop on Higher Gauge Theory and Higher Quantization, where I gave a talk called 2-Group Symmetries on Moduli Spaces in Higher Gauge Theory. That’s what I’d like to write about this time.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city, though since the workshop was held at Heriot-Watt University, whose campus is outside the city itself, I only got to see it on the Saturday after the workshop ended. However, John Huerta and I spent a while walking around, and as it turned out, climbing a lot: first the Scott Monument, from which I took this photo down Princes Street:

And then up a rather large hill called Arthur’s Seat, in Holyrood Park next to the Scottish Parliament.

The workshop itself had an interesting mix of participants. Urs Schreiber gave the most mathematically sophisticated talk, and mine was also quite category-theory-minded. But there were also some fairly physics-minded talks that are interesting to me as well because they show the source of these ideas. In this first post, I’ll begin with my own, and continue with David Roberts’ talk on constructing an explicit string bundle. …

### 2-Group Symmetries of Moduli Spaces

My own talk, based on work with Roger Picken, boils down to a couple of observations about the notion of symmetry, and applies them to a discrete model in higher gauge theory. It’s the kind of model you might use if you wanted to do lattice gauge theory for a BF theory, or some other higher gauge theory. But the discretization is just a convenience to avoid having to deal with infinite dimensional spaces and other issues that don’t really bear on the central point.

Part of that point was described in a previous post: it has to do with finding a higher analog for the relationship between two views of symmetry: one is “global” (I found the physics-inclined part of the audience preferred “rigid”), to do with a group action on the entire space; the other is “local”, having to do with treating the points of the space as objects of a groupoid who show how points are related to each other. (Think of trying to describe the orbit structure of just the part of a group action that relates points in a little neighborhood on a manifold, say.)

In particular, we’re interested in the symmetries of the moduli space of connections (or, depending on the context, flat connections) on a space, so the symmetries are gauge transformations. Now, here already some of the physically-inclined audience objected that these symmetries should just be eliminated by taking the quotient space of the group action. This is based on the slogan that “only gauge-invariant quantities matter”. But this slogan has some caveats: in only applies to closed manifolds, for one. When there are boundaries, it isn’t true, and to describe the boundary we need something which acts as a representation of the symmetries. Urs Schreiber pointed out a well-known example: the Chern-Simons action, a functional on a certain space of connections, is not gauge-invariant. Indeed, the boundary terms that show up due to this not-invariance explain why there is a Wess-Zumino-Witt theory associated with the boundaries when the bulk is described by Chern-Simons.

Now, I’ve described a lot of the idea of this talk in the previous post linked above, but what’s new has to do with how this applies to moduli spaces that appear in higher gauge theory based on a 2-group $\mathcal{G}$. The points in these space are connections on a manifold $M$. In particular, since a 2-group is a group object in categories, the transformation groupoid (which captures global symmetries of the moduli space) will be a double category. It turns out there is another way of seeing this double category by local descriptions of the gauge transformations.

In particular, general gauge transformations in HGT are combinations of two special types, described geometrically by $G$-valued functions, or $Lie(H)$-valued 1-forms, where $G$ is the group of objects of $\mathcal{G}$, and $H$ is the group of morphisms based at $1_G$. If we think of connections as functors from the fundamental 2-groupoid $\Pi_2(M)$ into $\mathcal{G}$, these correspond to pseudonatural transformations between these functors. The main point is that there are also two special types of these, called “strict”, and “costrict”. The strict ones are just natural transformations, where the naturality square commutes strictly. The costrict ones, also called ICONs (for “identity component oplax natural transformations” – see the paper by Steve Lack linked from the nlab page above for an explanation of “costrictness”). They assign the identity morphism to each object, but the naturality square commutes only up to a specified 2-cell. Any pseudonatural transformation factors into a strict and costrict part.

The point is that taking these two types of transformation to be the horizontal and vertical morphisms of a double category, we get something that very naturally arises by the action of a big 2-group of symmetries on a category. We also find something which doesn’t happen in ordinary gauge theory: that only the strict gauge transformations arise from this global symmetry. The costrict ones must already be the morphisms in the category being acted on. This category plays the role of the moduli space in the normal 1-group situation. So moving to 2-groups reveals that in general we should distinguish between global/rigid symmetries of the moduli space, which are strict gauge transformations, and costrict ones, which do not arise from the global 2-group action and should be thought of as intrinsic to the moduli space.

### String Bundles

David Roberts gave a rather interesting talk called “Constructing Explicit String Bundles”. There are some notes for this talk here. The point is simply to give an explicit construction of a particular 2-group bundle. There is a lot of general abstract theory about 2-bundles around, and a fair amount of work that manipulates physically-motivated descriptions of things that can presumably be modelled with 2-bundles. There has been less work on giving a mathematically rigorous description of specific, concrete 2-bundles.

This one is of interest because it’s based on the String 2-group. Details are behind that link, but roughly the classifying space of $String(G)$ (a homotopy 2-type) is fibred over the classifying space for $G$ (a 1-type). The exact map is determined by taking a pullback along a certain characteristic class (which is a map out of $BG$). Saying “the” string 2-group is a bit of a misnomer, by the way, since such a 2-group exists for every simply connected compact Lie group $G$. The group that’s involved here is a $String(n)$, the string 2-group associated to $Spin(n)$, the universal cover of the rotation group $SO(n)$. This is the one that determines whether a given manifold can support a “string structure”. A string structure on $M$, therefore, is a lift of a spin structure, which determines whether one can have a spin bundle over $M$, hence consistently talk about a spin connection which gives parallel transport for spinor fields on $M$. The string structure determines if one can consistently talk about a string-bundle over $M$, and hence a 2-group connection giving parallel transport for strings.

In this particular example, the idea was to find, explicitly, a string bundle over Minkowski space – or its conformal compactification. In point of fact, this particular one is for $latek String(5)$, and is over 6-dimensional Minkowski space, whose compactification is $M = S^5 \times S^1$. This particular $M$ is convenient because it’s possible to show abstractly that it has exactly one nontrivial class of string bundles, so exhibiting one gives a complete classification. The details of the construction are in the notes linked above. The technical details rely on the fact that we can coordinatize $M$ nicely using the projective quaternionic plane, but conceptually it relies on the fact that $S^5 \cong SU(3)/SU(2)$, and because of how the lifting works, this is also $String(SU(3))/String(SU(2))$. This quotient means there’s a string bundle $String(SU(3)) \rightarrow S^5$ whose fibre is $String(SU(2))$.

While this is only one string bundle, and not a particularly general situation, it’s nice to see that there’s a nice elegant presentation which gives such a bundle explicitly (by constructing cocycles valued in the crossed module associated to the string 2-group, which give its transition functions).

(Here endeth Part I of this discussion of the workshop in Edinburgh. Part II will talk about Urs Schreiber’s very nice introduction to Higher Geometric Quantization)

(This ends the first part of this update – the next will describe the physics-oriented talks, and the third will describe Urs Schreiber’s series on higher geometric quantization)

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…)

So it’s been a while since I last posted – the end of 2013 ended up being busy with a couple of visits to Jamie Vicary in Oxford, and Roger Picken in Lisbon. In the aftermath of the two trips, I did manage to get a major revision of this paper submitted to a journal, and put this one out in public. A couple of others will be coming down the pipeline this year as well.

I’m hoping to get back to a post about motives which I planned earlier, but for the moment, I’d like to write a little about the second paper, with Roger Picken.

### Global and Local Symmetry

The upshot is that it’s about categorifying the concept of symmetry. More specifically, it’s about finding the analog in the world of categories for the interplay between global and local symmetry which occurs in the world of set-based structures (sets, topological spaces, vector spaces, etc.) This distinction is discussed in a nice way by Alan Weinstein in this article from the Notices of the AMS from

The global symmetry of an object $X$ in some category $\mathbf{C}$ can be described in terms of its group of automorphisms: all the ways the object can be transformed which leave it “the same”. This fits our understanding of “symmetry” when the morphisms can really be interpreted as transformations of some sort. So let’s suppose the object is a set with some structure, and the morphisms are set-maps that preserve the structure: for example, the objects could be sets of vertices and edges of a graph, so that morphisms are maps of the underlying data that preserve incidence relations. So a symmetry of an object is a way of transforming it into itself – and an invertible one at that – and these automorphisms naturally form a group $Aut(X)$. More generally, we can talk about an action of a group $G$ on an object $X$, which is a map $\phi : G \rightarrow Aut(X)$.

“Local symmetry” is different, and it makes most sense in a context where the object $X$ is a set – or at least, where it makes sense to talk about elements of $X$, so that $X$ has an underlying set of some sort.

Actually, being a set-with-structure, in a lingo I associate with Jim Dolan, means that the forgetful functor $U : \mathbf{C} \rightarrow \mathbf{Sets}$ is faithful: you can tell morphisms in $\mathbf{C}$ (in particular, automorphisms of $X$) apart by looking at what they do to the underlying set. The intuition is that the morphisms of $\mathbf{C}$ are exactly set maps which preserve the structure which $U$ forgets about – or, conversely, that the structure on objects of $\mathbf{C}$ is exactly that which is forgotten by $U$. Certainly, knowing only this information determines $\mathbf{C}$ up to equivalence. In any case, suppose we have an object like this: then knowing about the symmetries of $X$ amounts to knowing about a certain group action, namely the action of $Aut(X)$, on the underlying set $U(X)$.

From this point of view, symmetry is about group actions on sets. The way we represent local symmetry (following Weinstein’s discussion, above) is to encode it as a groupoid – a category whose morphisms are all invertible. There is a level-slip happening here, since $X$ is now no longer seen as an object inside a category: it is the collection of all the objects of a groupoid. What makes this a representation of “local” symmetry is that each morphism now represents, not just a transformation of the whole object $X$, but a relationship under some specific symmetry between one element of $X$ and another. If there is an isomorphism between $x \in X$ and $y \in X$, then $x$ and $y$ are “symmetric” points under some transformation. As Weinstein’s article illustrates nicely, though, there is no assumption that the given transformation actually extends to the entire object $X$: it may be that only part of $X$ has, for example, a reflection symmetry, but the symmetry doesn’t extend globally.

### Transformation Groupoid

The “interplay” I alluded to above, between the global and local pictures of symmetry, is to build a “transformation groupoid” (or “action groupoid“) associated to a group $G$ acting on a set $X$. The result is called $X // G$ for short. Its morphisms consist of pairs such that  $(g,x) : x \rightarrow (g \rhd x)$ is a morphism taking $x$ to its image under the action of $g \in G$. The “local” symmetry view of $X // G$ treats each of these symmetry relations between points as a distinct bit of data, but coming from a global symmetry – that is, a group action – means that the set of morphisms comes from the product $G \times X$.

Indeed, the “target” map in $X // G$ from morphisms to objects is exactly a map $G \times X \rightarrow X$. It is not hard to show that this map is an action in another standard sense. Namely, if we have a real action $\phi : G \rightarrow Hom(X,X)$, then this map is just $\hat{\phi} : G \times X \rightarrow X$, which moves one of the arguments to the left side. If $\phi$ was a functor, then $\hat{\phi}$ satisfies the “action” condition, namely that the following square commutes:

(Here, $m$ is the multiplication in $G$, and this is the familiar associativity-type axiom for a group action: acting by a product of two elements in $G$ is the same as acting by each one successively.

So the starting point for the paper with Roger Picken was to categorify this. It’s useful, before doing that, to stop and think for a moment about what makes this possible.

First, as stated, this assumed that $X$ either is a set, or has an underlying set by way of some faithful forgetful functor: that is, every morphism in $Aut(X)$ corresponds to a unique set map from the elements of $X$ to itself. We needed this to describe the groupoid $X // G$, whose objects are exactly the elements of $X$. The diagram above suggests a different way to think about this. The action diagram lives in the category $\mathbf{Set}$: we are thinking of $G$ as a set together with some structure maps. $X$ and the morphism $\hat{\phi}$ must be in the same category, $\mathbf{Set}$, for this characterization to make sense.

So in fact, what matters is that the category $X$ lived in was closed: that is, it is enriched in itself, so that for any objects $X,Y$, there is an object $Hom(X,Y)$, the internal hom. In this case, it’s $G = Hom(X,X)$ which appears in the diagram. Such an internal hom is supposed to be a dual to $\mathbf{Set}$‘s monoidal product (which happens to be the Cartesian product $\times$): this is exactly what lets us talk about $\hat{\phi}$.

So really, this construction of a transformation groupoid will work for any closed monoidal category $\mathbf{C}$, producing a groupoid in $\mathbf{C}$. It may be easier to understand in cases like $\mathbf{C}=\mathbf{Top}$, the category of topological spaces, where there is indeed a faithful underlying set functor. But although talking explicitly about elements of $X$ was useful for intuitively seeing how $X//G$ relates global and local symmetries, it played no particular role in the construction.

### Categorify Everything

In the circles I run in, a popular hobby is to “categorify everything“: there are different versions, but what we mean here is to turn ideas expressed in the world of sets into ideas in the world of categories. (Technical aside: all the categories here are assumed to be small). In principle, this is harder than just reproducing all of the above in any old closed monoidal category: the “world” of categories is $\mathbf{Cat}$, which is a closed monoidal 2-category, which is a more complicated notion. This means that doing all the above “strictly” is a special case: all the equalities (like the commutativity of the action square) might in principle be replaced by (natural) isomorphisms, and a good categorification involves picking these to have good properties.

(In our paper, we left this to an appendix, because the strict special case is already interesting, and in any case there are “strictification” results, such as the fact that weak 2-groups are all equivalent to strict 2-groups, which mean that the weak case isn’t as much more general as it looks. For higher $n$-categories, this will fail – which is why we include the appendix to suggest how the pattern might continue).

Why is this interesting to us? Bumping up the “categorical level” appeals for different reasons, but the ones matter most to me have to do with taking low-dimensional (or -codimensional) structures, and finding analogous ones at higher (co)dimension. In our case, the starting point had to do with looking at the symmetries of “higher gauge theories” – which can be used to describe the transport of higher-dimensional surfaces in a background geometry, the way gauge theories can describe the transport of point particles. But I won’t ask you to understand that example right now, as long as you can accept that “what are the global/local symmetries of a category like?” is a possibly interesting question.

So let’s categorify the discussion about symmetry above… To begin with, we can just take our (closed monoidal) category to be $\mathbf{Cat}$, and follow the same construction above. So our first ingredient is a 2-group $\mathcal{G}$. As with groups, we can think of a 2-group either as a 2-category with just one object $\star$, or as a 1-category with some structure – a group object in $\mathbf{Cat}$, which we’ll call $C(\mathcal{G})$ if it comes from a given 2-group. (In our paper, we keep these distinct by using the term “categorical group” for the second. The group axioms amount to saying that we have a monoidal category $(\mathcal{G}, \otimes, I)$. Its objects are the morphisms of the 2-group, and the composition becomes the monoidal product $\otimes$.)

(In fact, we often use a third equivalent definition, that of crossed modules of groups, but to avoid getting into that machinery here, I’ll be changing our notation a little.)

### 2-Group Actions

So, again, there are two ways to talk about an action of a 2-group on some category $\mathbf{C}$. One is to define an action as a 2-functor $\Phi : \mathcal{G} \rightarrow \mathbf{Cat}$. The object being acted on, $\mathbf{C} \in \mathbf{Cat}$, is the unique object $\Phi(\star)$ – so that the 2-functor amounts to a monoidal functor from the categorical group $C(\mathcal{G})$ into $Aut(\mathbf{C})$. Notice that here we’re taking advantage of the fact that $\mathbf{Cat}$ is closed, so that the hom-“sets” are actually categories, and the automorphisms of $\mathbf{C}$ – invertible functors from $\mathbf{C}$ to itself – form the objects of a monoidal category, and in fact a categorical group. What’s new, though, is that there are also 2-morphisms – natural transformations between these functors.

To begin with, then, we show that there is a map $\hat{\Phi} : \mathcal{G} \times \mathbf{C} \rightarrow \mathbf{C}$, which corresponds to the 2-functor $\Phi$, and satisfies an action axiom like the square above, with $\otimes$ playing the role of group multiplication. (Again, remember that we’re only talking about the version where this square commutes strictly here – in an appendix of the paper, we talk about the weak version of all this.) This is an intuitive generalization of the situation for groups, but it is slightly more complicated.

The action $\Phi$ directly gives three maps. First, functors $\Phi(\gamma) : \mathbf{C} \rightarrow \mathbf{C}$ for each 2-group morphism $\gamma$ – each of which consists of a function between objects of $\mathbf{C}$, together with a function between morphisms of $\mathbf{C}$. Second, natural transformations $\Phi(\eta) : \Phi(\gamma) \rightarrow \Phi(\gamma ')$ for 2-morphisms $\eta : \gamma \rightarrow \gamma'$ in the 2-group – each of which consists of a function from objects to morphisms of $\mathbf{C}$.

On the other hand, $\hat{\Phi} : \mathcal{G} \times \mathbf{C} \rightarrow \mathbf{C}$ is just a functor: it gives two maps, one taking pairs of objects to objects, the other doing the same for morphisms. Clearly, the map $(\gamma,x) \mapsto x'$ is just given by $x' = \Phi(\gamma)(x)$. The map taking pairs of morphisms $(\eta,f) : (\gamma,x) \rightarrow (\gamma ', y)$ to morphisms of $\mathbf{C}$ is less intuitively obvious. Since I already claimed $\Phi$ and $\hat{\Phi}$ are equivalent, it should be no surprise that we ought to be able to reconstruct the other two parts of $\Phi$ from it as special cases. These are morphism-maps for the functors, (which give $\Phi(\gamma)(f)$ or $\Phi(\gamma ')(f)$), and the natural transformation maps (which give $\Phi(\eta)(x)$ or $\Phi(\eta)(y)$). In fact, there are only two sensible ways to combine these four bits of information, and the fact that $\Phi(\eta)$ is natural means precisely that they’re the same, so:

$\hat{\Phi}(\eta,f) = \Phi(\eta)(y) \circ \Phi(\gamma)(f) = \Phi(\gamma ')(f) \circ \Phi(\eta)(x)$

Given the above, though, it’s not so hard to see that a 2-group action really involves two group actions: of the objects of $\mathcal{G}$ on the objects of $\mathbf{C}$, and of the morphisms of $\mathcal{G}$ on objects of $\mathbf{C}$. They fit together nicely because objects can be identified with their identity morphisms: furthermore, $\Phi$ being a functor gives an action of $\mathcal{G}$-objects on $\mathbf{C}$-morphisms which fits in between them nicely.

But what of the transformation groupoid? What is the analog of the transformation groupoid, if we repeat its construction in $\mathbf{Cat}$?

### The Transformation Double Category of a 2-Group Action

The answer is that a category (such as a groupoid) internal to $\mathbf{Cat}$ is a double category. The compact way to describe it is as a “category in $\mathbf{Cat}$“, with a category of objects and a category of morphisms, each of which of course has objects and morphisms of its own. For the transformation double category, following the same construction as for sets, the object-category is just $\mathbf{C}$, and the morphism-category is $\mathcal{G} \times \mathbf{C}$, and the target functor is just the action map $\hat{\Phi}$. (The other structure maps that make this into a category in $\mathbf{Cat}$ can similarly be worked out by following your nose).

This is fine, but the internal description tends to obscure an underlying symmetry in the idea of double categories, in which morphisms in the object-category and objects in the morphism-category can switch roles, and get a different description of “the same” double category, denoted the “transpose”.

A different approach considers these as two different types of morphism, “horizontal” and “vertical”: they are the morphisms of horizontal and vertical categories, built on the same set of objects (the objects of the object-category). The morphisms of the morphism-category are then called “squares”. This makes a convenient way to draw diagrams in the double category. Here’s a version of a diagram from our paper with the notation I’ve used here, showing what a square corresponding to a morphism $(\chi,f) \in \mathcal{G} \times \mathbf{C}$ looks like:

The square (with the boxed label) has the dashed arrows at the top and bottom for its source and target horizontal morphisms (its images under the source and target functors: the argument above about naturality means they’re well-defined). The vertical arrows connecting them are the source and target vertical morphisms (its images under the source and target maps in the morphism-category).

### Horizontal and Vertical Slices of $\mathbf{C} // \mathcal{G}$

So by construction, the horizontal category of these squares is just the object-category $\mathbf{C}$.  For the same reason, the squares and vertical morphisms, make up the category $\mathcal{G} \times \mathbf{C}$.

On the other hand, the vertical category has the same objects as $\mathbf{C}$, but different morphisms: it’s not hard to see that the vertical category is just the transformation groupoid for the action of the group of $\mathbf{G}$-objects on the set of $\mathbf{C}$-objects, $Ob(\mathbf{C}) // Ob(\mathcal{G})$. Meanwhile, the horizontal morphisms and squares make up the transformation groupoid $Mor(\mathbf{C}) // Mor(\mathcal{G})$. These are the object-category and morphism-category of the transpose of the double-category we started with.

We can take this further: if squares aren’t hip enough for you – or if you’re someone who’s happy with 2-categories but finds double categories unfamiliar – the horizontal and vertical categories can be extended to make horizontal and vertical bicategories. They have the same objects and morphisms, but we add new 2-cells which correspond to squares where the boundaries have identity morphisms in the direction we’re not interested in. These two turn out to feel quite different in style.

First, the horizontal bicategory extends $\mathbf{C}$ by adding 2-morphisms to it, corresponding to morphisms of $\mathcal{G}$: roughly, it makes the morphisms of $\mathbf{C}$ into the objects of a new transformation groupoid, based on the action of the group of automorphisms of the identity in $\mathcal{G}$ (which ensures the square has identity edges on the sides.) This last point is the only constraint, and it’s not a very strong one since $Aut(1_G)$ and $G$ essentially determine the entire 2-group: the constraint only relates to the structure of $\mathcal{G}$.

The constraint for the vertical bicategory is different in flavour because it depends more on the action $\Phi$. Here we are extending a transformation groupoid, $Ob(\mathbf{C}) // Ob(\mathcal{G})$. But, for some actions, many morphisms in $\mathcal{G}$ might just not show up at all. For 1-morphisms $(\gamma, x)$, the only 2-morphisms which can appear are those taking $\gamma$ to some $\gamma '$ which has the same effect on $x$ as $\gamma$. So, for example, this will look very different if $\Phi$ is free (so only automorphisms show up), or a trivial action (so that all morphisms appear).

In the paper, we look at these in the special case of an adjoint action of a 2-group, so you can look there if you’d like a more concrete example of this difference.

### Speculative Remarks

The starting point for this was a project (which I talked about a year ago) to do with higher gauge theory – see the last part of the linked post for more detail. The point is that, in gauge theory, one deals with connections on bundles, and morphisms between them called gauge transformations. If one builds a groupoid out of these in a natural way, it turns out to result from the action of a big symmetry group of all gauge transformations on the moduli space of connections.

In higher gauge theory, one deals with connections on gerbes (or higher gerbes – a bundle is essentially a “0-gerbe”). There are now also (2-)morphisms between gauge transformations (and, in higher cases, this continues further), which Roger Picken and I have been calling “gauge modifications”. If we try to repeat the situation for gauge theory, we can construct a 2-groupoid out of these, which expresses this local symmetry. The thing which is different for gerbes (and will continue to get even more different if we move to $n$-gerbes and the corresponding $(n+1)$-groupoids) is that this is not the same type of object as a transformation double category.

Now, in our next paper (which this one was written to make possible) we show that the 2-groupoid is actually very intimately related to the transformation double category: that is, the local picture of symmetry for a higher gauge theory is, just as in the lower-dimensional situation, intimately related to a global symmetry of an entire moduli 2-space, i.e. a category. The reason this wasn’t obvious at first is that the moduli space which includes only connections is just the space of objects of this category: the point is that there are really two special kinds of gauge transformations. One should be thought of as the morphisms in the moduli 2-space, and the other as part of the symmetries of that 2-space. The intuition that comes from ordinary gauge theory overlooks this, because the phenomenon doesn’t occur there.

Physically-motivated theories are starting to use these higher-categorical concepts more and more, and symmetry is a crucial idea in physics. What I’ve sketched here is presumably only the start of a pattern in which “symmetry” extends to higher-categorical entities. When we get to 3-groups, our simplifying assumptions that use “strictification” results won’t even be available any more, so we would expect still further new phenomena to show up – but it seems plausible that the tight relation between global and local symmetry will still exist, but in a way that is more subtle, and refines the standard understanding we have of symmetry today.

## 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.

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.

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