2-groups


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

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

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

Description from the website:

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

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

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

Provisional list of speakers:

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

The workshop portion will have talks by the speakers above (those who can make it), and any contributed talks.  The “school” portion is, roughly, aimed at graduate students in a field related to the topics, but not necessarily directly in them.  You don’t need to be a student to attend the school, of course, but they are the target audience.  The only course that has been officially announced so far will be given by Christopher Schommer-Pries, on TQFT.  We hope/expect to also have minicourses on Higher Gauge Theory, and Quantum Gravity as well, but details aren’t settled yet.

If you’re interested, the deadline to register is Jan 8 (hence the rush to announce).  Some funding is available for those who need it.

In the most recent TQFT Club seminar, we had a couple of talks – one was the second in a series of three by Marco Mackaay, which as promised previously I’ll write up together after the third one.

The other was by Björn Gohla, a student of João Faria Martins, giving an overview on the subject of “Tricategories and Trifunctors”, a mostly expository talk explaining some definitions.  Actually, this was a bit more specific than a general introduction – the point of it was to describe a certain kind of mapping space.  I’ve talked here before about representing the “configuration space” of a gauge theory as a groupoid: the objects are (optionally, flat) connections on a manifold M, and the morphisms are gauge transformations taking one connection to another.  The reason for the things Björn was talking about is analogous, except that in this case, the goal is to describe the configuration space of a higher gauge theory.

There are at least two ways I know of to talk about higher gauge theory.  One is in terms of categorical (or n-categorical) groups – which makes it a “categorification” of gauge theory in the sense of reproducing in \mathbf{Cat} (or \mathbf{nCat}) an analog of a sturcture, gauge theory, originally formulated in \mathbf{Set}.  Among other outlines, you might look at this one by John Baez and John Huerta for an introduction.  Another uses the lingo of crossed modules or crossed complexes.  In either case, the essential point is the same: there is some collection of groups (or groupoids, but let’s say groups to keep everything clear) which play the role of the single gauge group in ordinary gauge theory.

In the first language, we can speak of a “2-group”, or “categorical group” – a group internal to \mathbf{Cat}, or what is equivalent, a category internal to \mathbf{Grp}, which would have a group of objects and a group of morphisms (and, in higher settings still, groups of 2-morphisms, 3-morphisms, and so on).  The structure maps of the category (source, target, composition, etc.) have to live in the category of groups.

A crossed complex of groups (again, we could generalize to groupoids, but I won’t) is a nonabelian variation on a chain complex: a sequence of groups with maps from one to the next.  There are also a bunch more structures, which ultimately serve to reproduce all the kind of composition, source, and target maps in the n-categorical groups: some groups act on others, there are “bracket” operations on one group valued in another, and so forth.  This paper by Brown and Higgins explains how the two concepts are related when most of the groups are abelian, and there’s a lot more about crossed complexes and related stuff in Tim Porter’s “Crossed Menagerie“.

The point of all this right now is that these things play the role of the gauge group in higher gauge theory.  The idea is that in gauge theory, you have a connection.  Typically this is described in terms of a form valued in the Lie algebra of the gauge group.  Then a (thin) homotopy classes of curves, gets a holonomy valued in the group by integrating that form.  Alternatively, you can just think of the path groupoid of a manifold \mathcal{P}_1(M), where those classes of curves form the morphisms between the objects, which are just points of M.  Then a connection defines a functor \Gamma : \mathcal{P}_1(M) \rightarrow G, where G is the gauge group thought of as a category (groupoid in fact) with one object.  Or, you can just define a connection that way in the first place.  In higher gauge theory, a similar principle exists: begin with the n-path groupoid \mathcal{P}_n(M) where the morphisms are (thin homotopy classes of) paths, the 2-morphisms are surfaces (really homotopy classes of homotopies of paths), and so on, so the k-morphisms are k-dimensional bits of M.  Then you could define an n-connection as a n-functor into an n-group as defined above.  OR, you could define it in terms of a tower of differential k-forms valued in the crossed complex of Lie algebras associated to the crossed complex of Lie groups that replaces the gauge group.  You can then use an integral to get an element of the group at level k of the complex for any given k-morphism in \mathcal{P}_n(M), which (via the equivalence I mentioned) amounts to the same thing as the other definition of connection.

João Martins has done some work on this sort of thing when n is dimension 2 (with Tim Porter) and 3 (with Roger Picken), which I guess is how Björn came to work on this question.  The question is, roughly, how to describe the moduli space of these connections.  The gist of the answer is that it’s a functor n-category [\mathcal{P}_n(M),\mathcal{G}], where \mathcal{G} is the n-group.  A little more generally, the question is how to describe mapping spaces for higher categories.  In particular, he was talking about the case n=3, which is where certain tricky issues start to show up.  In particular every bicategory (the weakest form of 2-category) is (bi)equivalent to a strict 2-category, so there’s no real need to worry about weakening things like associativity so that they only work up to isomorphism – these are all equalities.  With 3-categories, this fails: the weakest kind of 3-category is a tricategory (introduced by Gordon, Power and Street, though also see the references beyond that link).  These are always tri-equivalent to something stricter than general, but not completely strict: Gray-categories.  The only equation from 2-categories which has to be weakened to an isomorphism here is the interchange law: given a square of four morphisms, we can either compose vertically first, and then horizontally, or vice versa.  In a Gray-category, there’s an “interchanger” isomorphism

I_{\alpha,\alpha ',\beta,\beta'} : (\alpha \circ \beta) \cdot (\alpha ' \circ \beta ') \Rightarrow (\alpha \cdot \alpha ') \circ (\beta \cdot \beta ')

where \cdot is vertical composition of 2-cells, and \circ is horizontal (i.e. the same direction as 1-cells).  This is supposed to satisfy a compatibility condition.  It’s essentially the only one you can come up with starting with (\alpha \cdot \alpha ') \circ \beta (and composing it in different orders by throwing in identities in various places).

There’s another way to look at things, as Björn explained, in terms of enriched category theory.  If you have a monoidal category (\mathcal{V},\otimes), then a (\mathcal{V},\otimes)-enriched category \mathbb{G} is one in which, for any two objects x,y, there is an object \mathbb{G}(x,y) \in \mathcal{V} of morphisms, and composition gives morphisms \circ_{x,y,z} : \mathbb{G}(y,z) \otimes \mathbb{G}(x,y) \rightarrow \mathbb{G}(x,z).  A strict 3-category is enriched in \mathbf{2Cat}, with its usual tensor product, dual to its internal hom [-,-] (which gives the mapping 2-category of functors, natural transformations, and modifications, between any two 2-categories).  A Gray category is similar, except that it is enriched in \mathbf{Gray}, a version of \mathbf{2Cat} with a different tensor product, dual to the hom functor [-,-]' which gives the mapping 2-category with pseudonatural transformations (the weak version of the concept, where the naturality square only has to commute up to a specified 2-cell) as morphisms.  These are not the same, which is where the unavoidability of weakening 3-categories “really” comes from.   The upshot of this is as above: it matters which order we compose things in.

Having defined Gray-categories, let’s say A and B (which, in the applications I mentioned above, tend to actually be Gray-groupoids, though this doesn’t change the theory substantially), the point is to talk about “mapping spaces” – that is, Gray-categories of Gray-functors (etc.) from A to B.

Since they’ve been defined terms of enriched category theory, one wants to use the general theory of enriched functors, transformations, and so forth – which is a lot easier than trying to work out the correct definitions from scratch using a low-level description.  So then a Gray-functor F : A \rightarrow B has an object map F_0 : A_0 \rightarrow B_0, mapping objects of A to objects of B, and then for each x,y \in A_0, a morphism in \mathbf{Gray} (which is our \mathcal{V}), namely F_{x,y} : A(x,y) \rightarrow B(F(x),F(y)).  There are a bunch of compatibility conditions, which can be expressed for any monoidal category \mathcal{V} (since they involve diagrams with the map \circ_{x,y,z} for any triple, and the like).  Similar comments apply to defining \mathcal{V}-natural transformations.

There is a slight problem here, which is that in this case, \mathcal{V} = \mathbf{Gray} is a 2-category, so we really need to use a form of weakly enriched categories…  All the compatibility diagrams should have 2-cells in them, and so forth.  This, too, gets complicated.  So Björn explained is a shortcut from drawing n-dimensional diagrams for these mapping n-categories in terms of the arrow category \vec{B}. This is the category whose objects are the morphisms of B, and whose morphisms are commuting squares, or when B is a 2-category, squares with a 2-cell, so a morphism in \vec{B} from f: x \rightarrow y to f' : x' \rightarrow y' is a triple g = (g_x,g_y,g_f) like so:

Morphism in arrow category

The 2-morphisms in \vec{B} are commuting “pillows”, where the front and back face are morphisms like the above. So \beta : g \Rightarrow g' is \beta = (\beta_x,\beta_y), where \beta_x : g_x \Rightarrow g_{x'} is a 2-cell, and the whole “pillow” commutes.  When B is a tricategory, then we need to go further – these 2-morphsims should be triples including a 3-cell \beta_f filling the “pillow”, and then 3-morphisms are commuting structures between these. These diagrams get hard to draw pretty quickly. This is the point of having an ordinary 2D diagram with at most 1-dimensional cells: pushing all the nasty diagrams into these arrow categories, we can replace a 2-cell representing a natural transformation with a diagram involving the arrow category.

This uses that there are source and target maps (which are Gray-functors, of course) which we’ll call d_0, d_1: \vec{B} \rightarrow B. So then here (in one diagram) we have two ways of depicting a natural transformation \alpha :  F \rightarrow G between functors F,G : A \Rightarrow B:

One is the 2-cell, and the other is the functor into \vec{B}, such that d_0 \circ \alpha = F and d_1 \circ \alpha = G.
To depict a modification between natural transformations (a 3-cell between 2-cells) just involves building the arrow category of \vec{B}, say \vec{\vec{B}}, and drawing an arrow from A into it. And so on: in principle, there is a tower above B built by iterating the arrow category construction, and all the different levels of “functor”, “natural transformation”, “modification”, and all the higher equivalents are just functors into different levels of this tower.  (The generic term for the k^{th} level of maps-between-maps-etc between n-categories is “(n,k)-transfor“, a handy term coined here.)
The advantage here is that at least the general idea can be extended pretty readily to higher values of n than 3.  Naturally, no matter which way one decides to do it, things will get complicated – either there’s a combinatorial explosion of things to consider, or one has to draw higher-dimensional diagrams, or whatever.  This exploding complexity of n-categories (in this case, globular ones) is one of the reasons why simplicial appreaches – quasicategories or \infty-categories – are good.  They allow you to avoid talking about those problems, or at least fold them into fairly well-understood aspects of simplicial sets.  A lot of things – limits, colimits, mapping spaces, etc. are pretty well understood in that case (see, for instance, the first chapter of Joshua Nicholls-Barrer’s thesis for the basics, or Jacob Lurie’s humongous book for something more comprehensive).  But sometimes, as in this case, they just don’t happen to be the things you want for your application.  So here we have some tools for talking about mapping spaces in the world of globular n-categories – and as the work by Martins/Porter/Picken show, it’s motivated by some fairly specific work about invariants of manifolds, differential geometry, and so on.

It’s been a while since I posted last, but in there I described some issues related to talks I gave in Portugal recently. I’m beginning a postdoc at the Instituto Superior Tecnico, in Lisbon, in less than a month’s time. In the meantime, I’ve been two weeks in Portugal, including a conference and apartment hunting.  Then, last week, I got married. So not surprisingly, I’ve been a bit slow in updating.

The talks I gave are this one, which I gave at IST and this one at the XIX Oporto Meeting on Geometry, Topology and Physics which was held this year in Faro, which this year was a conference on the theme of Categorification!  These talks also appear on my new website, which I got because my hosting at UWO will expire sooner or later, and I wanted something portable (and a portable email address came with it).

Lisbon

Lisbon is an interesting city.  I’ve visited Europe before for conferences and travel and so on, but never for long, and have only lived in North America, where most urban areas are much newer and ancient history more poorly documented.  This is even more so in the southern parts of Europe that were part of the Roman Empire (and even more so in areas of India I’ve travelled in).  I’m looking forward to getting more familiar with the place, which has an exciting and under-appreciated history.  At least I assume it’s underappreciated, since a majority of people in Canada who ask me where I’m moving have never even heard of Lisbon, which I find surprising.

Human settlement in Portugal actually pre-dates homo sapiens, going back to Neanderthals (we often forget there’ve been a few dozen human species before ours. and our era is unusual in human history for having just the one).  Among Sapiens, there have been various periods, most recently the ancient megalith-building cultures, Phoenecians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, and then the kingdom (now a republic) of Portugal, established during the Christian reconquest of Iberia.  Lisbon itself dates back at least to Roman times. The oldest surviving areas of Lisbon date back (in streetplan, if not actual buildings) to the Moorish kingdom, when Iberia was known as al-Andalus, some 800 years ago.  Lisbon’s downtown, immediately below this area, couldn’t be more different, being one of the first urban areas planned on a grid – this followed the original area being destroyed in an earthquake and resulting tsunami in 1755.  As the capital of Europe’s first overseas empire, which had reached Japan and Brazil by well over 400 years ago, Lisbon has been a “global city” for at least that long, with spells of boom and bust, and more recently, dictatorship and revolution.  Its location means it was historically a hub that linked the older Mediterranean trading world and the larger Atlantic and Indian Ocean world.

Here is a picture of the main pavillion on the IST campus:

And here is a picture of the neighborhood where I’ll be living, about 10-15 minutes’ walk or two metro stops away:

my new hood

As you can also see from these pictures, Lisbon contains a number of hills.  It is occasionally reminiscent of San Francisco in that way, and the style of buildings, which also resembles New Orleans occasionally.  And of course, since this is Europe, public spaces that look like this:

And so on.

Visit at IST

Anyway, in the visit at IST, we also had a little mini-conference on categorification, featuring some people who also spoke at Faro (including me) giving longer and more elaborate versions of our talks.  I already commented on mine, so I’ll mention the others:

Rafael Diaz gave a talk about how to categorify noncommutative or “quantum” algebras, in the sense of algebras of power series in noncommuting variables, using ideas similar to the way commutative polynomial algebras can be “categorified” by Joyal’s species.  This “quantum species” idea is laid out partially in this paper. This leads on into ideas about categorifying deformation quantization.

The basic point is to think of “a categorification of a ring R” as a distributive category (C,\oplus,\otimes) whose Burnside ring (the ring of isomorphism classes of objects, with algebraic operations from \oplus and \otimes) is R, or more generally has a “valuation” valued in R that is surjective and gets along with the algebra operations.

The category chosen to describe a deformation of R is then the category of functors from FinSet_0^k into C.  The main point is then to find a noncommutative product operation \star, in place of the obvious one derived from \otimes, which gives a categorification of a polynomial ring.  This has to do with sticking structured sets together, where some elements of the set can form “links” between the elements of sets – this uses three-“coloured” sets, where one “colour” denotes elements associated to links.

Yazuyoshi Yonezawa gave a talk about some stuff related to link homology invariants such as Khovanov homology.  Such invariants are a major theme for people interested in categorification these days, for various specific reasons, but in general because tangle categories have some nice universal properties, so doing certain kinds of universal higher-dimensional algebra naturally has applications to studying tangles, hence links, hence knots.  In particular, invariants like the Jones, HOMFLY, and HOMFLYPT polynomials, and Reshitikhin-Turaev invariants.  Yazuyoshi’s talk was about an approach to these things based on – as I understood it – some representation theory of quantum \mathfrak{sl}_n, and a diagrammatic calculus that goes with it, for assigning data to strands and crossings of a knot.  (This sort of thing gives a knot invariant as long as it’s invariant under Reidemeister moves – that is, is unaffected by changing the presentation of the knot.  Many of the knot invariants that come up here arise from treating the knot using some sort of diagrammatic calculus – which is where the category theory comes in.)

Aleksandar Mikovic gave a talk about higher gauge theory in the form of 2-BF theory – also known as BFCG theory, this is sort of the “categorified” equivalent of the theory of a flat connection, now taking values in a Lie 2-group.  Actually, he speaks about these in terms of Lie crossed modules, which is a rather nice language for talking about higher-algebraic group-like gadgets in terms of chains of groups with some extra structure (actions of lower groups on higher, and some other things) – see Tim Porter’s “Crossed Menagerie” for a comprehensive look.  The talk was related to finding gauge invariant actions for theories of this sort – the paper it’s based on is one with Joao Faria Martins.

XIX Oporto Meeting

The Oporto meeting on geometry and physics, specifically devoted this year to categorification, was very interesting, with a range of good speakers. Unfortunately, Faro is not optimal as a conference site: the accomodations are a half-hour bus ride from the campus where the conference is held, and the buses come only about once per hour and as a result (of that, and jet-lag, which could happen anyway), I missed some of the talks. Otherwise, it’s a pleasant town with a nice atmosphere, and it was interesting to see some of the variety of people working on categorification.  In particular, a lot of people are working on categorifying aspects of representation theory, which in turn is interesting to topologists, and knot theorists in particular.

One bunch of ideas about categorical representations which was referred to a lot is due to Chuang and Rouquier, substantially described in a paper from a few years ago – here is a post from the Secret Blogging Seminar a few years back describing some of the ideas a bit more succinctly.  The basis for the most popular program being discussed, and the big idea in recent years, is due to Khovanov and Lauda – see the bottom section of this post.

Now, the main invited speakers each gave a series of three hour-long classes on their topic in the mornings, while in the afternoons the other speakers gave 20-minute talks.  The main speakers were these:

Mikhail Khovanov wasn’t able to attend for personal reasons, but there was a great deal of discussion about work that builds on his categorification of quantum groups with Aaron Lauda, who however was there and gave a nice series of talks introducing the ideas (though I missed some because of the unfortunate bus infrastructure). Aaron collects a bunch of resources on this subject here, and I’ll explain a bit of this below.

Sabin Cautis talked about the categorification of sl_2 in terms of geometric representation theory; the idea here is that there are certain spaces that carry natural representations.  These are flag varieties – the simplest example being Grassmanians – spaces whose points are the k-dimensional subspaces of some fixed V. In general, flag varieties are spaces whose points consist of a nested sequence of subspaces V_0 \subset V_1 \subset \dots \subset V_k = V (the terminology “flag” suggests a flagpole with a 2D rectangle, suspended from a 1D pole, rooted at a 0D point).  The talk was an overview of how to use this to categorify some representation theory.  Here is a recent related paper by Cautis, including Joel Kamnitzer, (I blogged his talk here at UWO a while ago on a similar subject in some more detail), and Anthony Licata.  The basic point is that categories of sheaves on such spaces carry a categorical representation of \mathfrak{sl}_2.

One thing I found interesting – this time, as with Joel’s talk, is that span constructions turn up in this stuff quite naturally, but there is both a similarity and a difference in how they’re used.  In particular, given a flag V_0 \subset \dots \subset V_i \subset \dots \subset V_k, we can project to a flag with one fewer entries just by omitting V_i.  So the various flag varieties associated to V are connected by a bunch of projections.  Taking two different projections (dropping, say V_i and V_j), we get a span of varieties – that is, one object with two maps out of it.  We’re talking about spaces of functions on these varieties, so pushing these through spans is of interest.  Lifting a function (by pre-composition – assign a flag the value of the function at its image) is easy – pushing forward is harder.  This involves taking a sum over the function values over the preimage – all the long flags that project to a given short one (to make sure this is tractable, we consider only constructible functions, with finitely many values).  But this sum is weighted.  In the groupoidification program, something similar happens, but the weight there is the groupoid cardinality of the preimage.  Here, it is the Euler characteristic of the preimage (or rather, for each function value, the part of the preimage taking a given value contributes its Eular char. as the weight for that value).  Since groupoid cardinality is like a multiplicative sort of Euler characteristic, there seems to be a close analog here I’d like to understand better.

Catharina Stroppel talked about how the subject relates to Soergel bimodules, and led up to categorifying 3j-symbols.  Soergel bimodules showed up in several different talks about this stuff.  These are the irreducible summands in the bimodule that comes from applying induction functions between module categories Ind: R^{\lambda'}-mod \rightarrow R^{\lambda}-mod finitely many times.

Here, the R^{\lambda} are  rings of functions invariant under S_{\lambda}, which is the subgroup of the permutation group S_n which respects a particular composition \lambda of n (like a partition, but with order – compositions also specify flag varieties, by specifying the codimensions at each inclusion).  The point is that, if S_{\lambda'} < S_{\lambda}, we get inclusions of the rings of invariant functions, and then we can induce representations along those inclusions.  (Notice, by the way, that the correspondence between compositions and the signature of a flag means that this is actually much the same as the inclusions I just described under Sabin Cautis’ talk).  Then doing a finite chain of such inductions gives a functor between module categories.  This can be described by tensoring with some (R^{\lambda'},R^{\lambda}) bimodule – the direct summands in this are the Soergel bimodules.  So these are central in talking about these categorical actions and categorified representation theory.  This in turn ended up, in this series of talks, at a categorification of 3j-symbols (which can be built using representations and intertwiners).

Ben Webster talked about how diagrammatic methods used in the Khovanov-Lauda program can be used to categorify algebra representations, and through that, the Reshitikhin-Turaev invariant; the key diagrammatic element turns out to be marking special “red” lines with special rules allowing strands to “act” on them by concatenation.  I must admit Ben Webster’s talks, which ended up rather technical, went far enough over my head that I’m reluctant to summarize, since I was still catching up on the KL program, and this was carrying it quite a bit further.  I do recall that there was much discussion of cyclotomic quotients (partly because Alex Hoffnung later came back to the matter and I had a chance to talk to him about it briefly) – that is, the quotients imposing the relations forcing something to be a root of unity, which isn’t surprising since quantum groups at q a root of unity are important and special.  Luckily for the reader who is more up on this stuff than I, the slides can be found here and here.

Dylan Thurston spoke on Heegard-Floer homology (slides here, here, and here – full of great pictures, by the way), which is a homology theory for 3-manifolds (then an invariant for a closed 4-manifold), due to Oszvath and Szabo.  It’s a bi-graded homology theory (i.e. homology theories give complexes for spaces – this gives a bicomplex, with grading in two directions).  This theory gives back the (Conway-)Alexander polynomial for a knot when you take the Euler characteristic of the bicomplex.  That is: there are two directions this complex is graded in: one (columns, say) will correspond to the degree of the variable t in the Alexander polynomial; for each k, the coefficient of t^k is the Euler characteristic (alternating sum of dimensions) of the entries in that column.  So this is a categorification of this polynomial, in somewhat the way that Khovanov homology categorifies the Jones polynomial.

HF homology can be defined for a knot can be defined in a combinatorial way: a 3-manifold can be represented by a “Heegard diagram” – a 2D surface marked with (coloured) curves, which is a way of keeping track of how a 3-manifold is built by splitting it into parts.  From this diagram, one gets “grid diagrams”, and by a combinatorial process (see the slides for more details) generates the complex.

Others.  I didn’t manage to attend all the other talks (partly because of aforementioned bus issues, and partly because I was still working on mine, having taken a lot of time in Lisbon doing useless things like finding a place to live), but among those I did, there were several that were based on the Khovanov-Lauda program for categorified quantum groups: Anna Beliakova in particular worked with them on categorifying the Casimir (generator of the centre) of the categorified quantum group; people working with Soergel bimodules and categorified Hecke algebras such as Ben Elias and Nicholas Liebedinski.  Then there were the connections to link homology: Christian Blandet and Geordie Williamson talked about things related to the HOMFLYPT polynomial; Krystof Putyra and Emmanuel Wagner gave talks related to Khovanov homology and link homology.  Alex Hoffnung talked about a combinatorial approach for dealing with categorification of cyclotomic quotients as discussed by Ben Webster.

Categorification of Quantum Groups

The reason for categorifying quantum groups, at least in this context, has to do with the manifold invariants associated to them.  Often these come from categories of representations of groups or quantum groups – more generally ones with similar formal properties, meaning roughly monoidal categories with duals (and possibly more structure).  These give state sum invariants, by assigning data from the category to a triangulation of a manifold – objects on edges and morphisms on triangles, say.   The categorification of quantum groups means we pass from having a monoidal category with duals (of representations), to a monoidal 2-category with duals (of representations).  This would mean the state-sum invariants it’s natural to construct are now for 4-manifolds, rather than 3-manifolds.  This is the premise behind spin foam models in gravity, but also has its own life within quantum topology as tools for classifying manifolds, whether or not it accurately describes anything physical.  Marco Mackaay, one of the conference organizers (among several others), has written a bunch on this – for example, this constructs a state-sum invariant given any “spherical” 2-category (a property of certain monoidal 2-categories – see inside for details), and this gives a specific consstruction using the Khovanov-Lauda categorification of \mathfrak{sl}_3.

The Khovanov-Lauda approach to categorifying quantum groups (in particular, deformations of envelopoing algebras of classical Lie algebras, within the category of Hopf algebras)  is most basically about “categorifying” the presentation of an algebra in terms of generators and relations.  That is, we describe a set with some operations in terms of some elements of the set (generators), and some equations (relations) which they satisfy involving the operations.  The presentation used for U_q(\mathfrak{sl}_n) is the standard one based on an n-vertex (type-A) Dynkin diagram: basically, n dots in a row.  There’s a generator e_i for the i^{th} vertex; the generators for non-adjacent vertices all commute, and for adjacent generators, we have (q + q^{-1}) e_i e_j e_i = e_j e_i e_j.  (The factor involving q is the quantum integer [2]_q, and becomes 2 in the limit).

To categorify this, we still give generators, but the equations are replaced with isomorphisms – this means we need to be working in some category R, hence one essential task is to describe the morphisms.  So: the objects are just rows of dots, labelled by vertices of the Dynkin diagram.  The morphisms are (linearly generated by) isotopy classes of braids from one row to another.  The essential thing is that we have to carefully define “isotopy” here to ensure we get the categorified version of the relations above.  So for non-adjacent-vertex labels, we have the usual Reidemeister moves (the key ones being: we can slide a strand past a crossing, straighten out two complementary crossings); for adjacent-vertex labels, though, we have to tweak this, imposing some relations on strands involving the factors of q.  The relations take up a few slides in the talk, but essentially are chosen so that:

Theorem (Khovanov-Lauda): There is an isomorphism of twisted bialgebras between the positive part of U_q(\mathfrak{sl}_n) and the Grothendieck ring K_0(R), where multiplication and comultiplication are given by the image of induction and restriction.

Obviously, much more could be said from a five-day conference, but this seems like a nice punchline.

There haven’t been many colloquium talks here this term, but there was one a week ago (Thursday) by Joel Kamnitzer from University of Toronto (and contributor to the Secret Blogging Seminar), who gave a talk called “Categorical sl_2 Actions and Equivalence of Categories”.

As it turns out, I have at least two things in common with Joel Kamnitzer. First, we were both President of the University of Waterloo Pure Math Club (which became the Pure Math, Applied Math, and Combinatorics and Optimization club ’round about my time, when we noticed the other two math faculties at Waterloo no longer had their own undergraduate clubs). Second, we both did math Ph.D’s in California.  And while that’s probably a coincidence, there were several themes in the talk that overlap things I’ve talked about here.

The basic idea behind the talk was roughly this: when there’s an action of the Lie algebra sl_2(\mathbb{C}) (i.e. trace-zero 2-by-2 matrices) on a space, that space can be decomposed into some eigenspaces, and one can get isomorphisms between certain pairs of them. So the question is whether this can be categorified: if there’s an action of a categorical sl_2 on a category, can it be decomposed into subcategories which generate it, such that certain pairs can be shown to be equivalent?

So first he reminded/informed us of some of the non-categorified examples. The main thing is to show an equivalent way of describing an sl_2 action. This uses that sl_2 is generated by three matrices:

e = \begin{pmatrix} 0 & 1 \\ 0 & 0 \end{pmatrix} and f = \begin{pmatrix} 0 & 0 \\ 1 & 0 \end{pmatrix} and h = \begin{pmatrix} 1 & 0 \\ 0 & -1 \end{pmatrix}

These satisfy some commutation relations: (e,f) = h, (e,h) = 2e and (f,h) = -2f. These relations specify sl_2 up to isomorphism, so one can describe an action on a set by specifying what e, f, and h do (satisfying the commutation relations, of course).  It’s a classical fact from Lie theory that representations of sl_2 all look similar: they’re direct sums \bigoplus_r V(r) of eigenspaces of the generator h (for integer eigenvalues r), and the generators e and f act as “raising” and “lowering” operators, e: V(r) \rightarrow V(r+2) and f : V(r) \rightarrow V(r-2).  (All of which is key to describing spins of fundamental particles, due to SL_2(\mathbb{C}) being the cover of the Lorentz group SO(3,1; \mathbb{R}), though that’s beside the point just at the moment.

We heard three examples, of which for me the most intuitively nice involves an action on the vector space V_X = \mathbb{C}^{P(X)} generated by the power set of a fixed finite set X of size n.  Then h is a (modified) counting operator – its eigenspaces are the subspaces V(r) generated by subsets of size k (where r = 2k -n).  The operator e takes a set A \subset X of size k and maps it to the sum \sum B over all A \subset B with B of size (k+1) (all ways to “add one element” to A);  f takes A to the sum of all subsets of size (k-1) contained in A (all ways to “remove one element” from B.  (This all seems very familiar to me from the combinatorial interpretation of the Weyl algebra, which I talk about here.)  These satisfy the commutation relations ef - fe = h.

Now, the “equivalences” in the talk will be categorified versions of some obvious isomorphisms here, namely V(r) \cong V(-r) (that is, k subsets are in bijection with (n-k)-subsets).  These turn out to be imposed by the fact that we have a representation of sl_2, which lifts to a representation of SL_2(\mathbb{C}) in GL(V).  The isomorphism is given by restricting the action of \begin{pmatrix} 0 & 1 \\ -1 & 0 \end{pmatrix} to V(r).

There is a more algebraic-geometry version of this example which replaces the power set of a set with the union of the Grassman varieties of subspaces of \mathbb{C}^n.  Instead of the vector space generated by subsets of size k, one builds V out of the cohomology of the tangent bundle to the variety, with V(r) = H^{\bullet} ( T^{\star}Gr(k,\mathbb{C}^n)).

Now, the thing I find interesting about this picture is that, as with the Weyl algebra setup I mention above, it represets the raising and lowering operators in terms of transfer through a span.  Since this seems to pop up everywhere, it’s important enough to think on for a moment.  The span in question goes from T^{\star}Gr(k,\mathbb{C}^n) to T^{\star}Gr(k+1,\mathbb{C}^n).

To say what goes in the middle, we use the fact that an element of the cotangent bundle T^{\star}Gr(k,\mathbb{C}^n amounts to a pair (W,X), where W < \mathbb{C}^n is a k-dimensional subspace (a point on Gr(k,\mathbb{C}^n)) and X is a tangent vector at W.  As it turns out X amounts to a map X : \mathbb{C}^n \rightarrow W which annihilates W itself.  So then we have the variety I = \{ (X,W_k,W_{k+1}) \} where W_k < W_{k+1}, and (X,W_k) and (X,W_{k+1}) are cotangent vectors.  This has projection maps to the two cotangent bundles: T^{\star}(Gr(k,\mathbb{C}^n)) \stackrel{\pi_k}{\leftarrow} I \stackrel{\pi_{k+1}}{\rightarrow} T^{\star}(Gr(k,\mathbb{C}^n)).

Then the point is that the cohomology spaces H^{\bullet}(T^{\star}(Gr(k,\mathbb{C}^n)) are build from maps into \mathbb{C}^n, so we call “pull-push” them through the span by e = (\pi_{k+1})_{\star} \circ \pi_k^{\star}.  This defines e, and f is similar, going the other way.

So much for actions of “old-school” sl_2: what about “categorical” sl_2?  To begin with, what does that even mean?  Well, Aaron Lauda has described a “categorified” version of sl_2 (actually, of Lusztig’s presentation of the enveloping algebra U_q(sl_2) – a quantum version, though that won’t enter into this).  This is a categorification of the generators E, F, and H, and of their commutation relations (which now become isomorphisms, which may have to satisfy some coherence laws – the details here being incredibly important, but not very enlightening at first).  These E, F and H are now functors, rather than maps.

As a side note, this is not precisely a categorification of the Lie algebra sl_2, but actually a categorification of a particular presentation of sl_2.  Though, since I’m mentioning this, I’ll remark it’s much more like the categorification of the Weyl algebra which is involved in the groupoidification of the quantum harmonic oscillator.

In any case, Joel went on to describe categorical actions of sl_2.  Actually, he distinguished “weak” and “strong” versions, which is apparently a common usage, though not the one I’m used to.  “Weak” means things are specified up to unspecified isomorphisms required to exist, and “strong” means things are defined up to specified (presumably coherent) isomorphisms (which is what I usually understand “weak” to mean).  The strong ones are the ones which give the equivalences we’re looking for, though.

It turns out that an action of the categorical sl_2 on an additive category D gives: (1) a way to split up D = \bigoplus_r D(r) for integers -n \leq r n, and (2) the action of the generators E and F with E : D(r) \rightarrow D(r+2) and F : D(r) \rightarrow D(r-2), such that (3) there are commutation isomorphisms analogous to the commutator identities for regular sl_2.  I note that algebraic geometers prefer to use additive categories – where the hom-sets are abelian groups, rather than vector spaces, which is what they would be in a 2-vector space.  In fact, later in the talk we heard about generalizations to triangulated categories – even a weaker condition.  In the special case where the additive category happened to be a 2-vector space, we’d have a “2-linear representation of a 2-algebra”.

Now, the main example was similar to the one above involving Grassman varieties.  The difference is that one doesn’t of cooking up a vector space from T^{\star}(Gr(k,\mathbb{C}^n)) from the cohomology of its cotangent bundle, one cooks up an abelian category.  This is D(r) = D Coh(T^{\star}(Gr(k,\mathbb{C}^n)) where, again, r = 2k - n, for r = -n ... n.  This is the derived category of coherent sheaves on the cotangent bundle.  There seems to be some analogy between the two: cohomology involves maps into $\mathbb{C}$ (and the exterior algebra of forms), while coherent sheaves might be thought of as (algebraic) vector-space valued functions, a categorified version of functions.  Also, while the cohomology is a chain complex, the objects of the derived category are themselves chain complexes.  Exactly how the analogy works is something I can’t explain just now.

Anyway, the key result, due to Chuang and Rouqier, says that from a “strong” categorical sl_2 action (in the sense above) and the E and F are exact functors (in 2-vector spaces, they’d be “2-linear maps”), then there is an equivalence (given in terms of the E and F) between the categories of complexes on D(-r) and D(r).  This isn’t quite what was wanted (we wanted an equivalence D(-r) \cong D(r)), so for the remainder of the talk we heard about work directed at this question: cases where it works, counterexamples when it doesn’t, some generalizations, and so on.

I’m going to be giving a talk on extended TQFT stuff and quantum gravity at Perimeter Institute next thursday, and then in mid-March I’ll be heading to UC Davis to give the same/similar talk for the String Theory and Quantum Gravity seminar being run by Derek Wise. So I have a bunch of things on my mind right now. However, before heading to Davis, I wanted to go back and look at some of the stuff Derek has done having to do with Cartan geometry, which I was following somewhat at the time, and blog about it a bit here. Before that, I’d like to wrap up this presentation of the talks I gave here about representation theory of the Poincaré 2-group, \mathbf{Poinc}.

As a side note, thanks to Dan for pointing out these notes on representations of the (normal, uncategorified) Poincaré group, including some general comments on representations of semidirect products. It’s interesting to consider how this relates to the more general picture of 2-group representations – but I won’t do so here and now.

In Part 1 I talked about what representations 2-categories of 2-groups are like in general, and in Part 2 a fairly concrete description of \mathbf{Poinc}. Here I’ll wrap up by summarizing the results of Crane and Sheppeard about what Rep(\mathbf{Poinc}) looks like concretely.

It has three parts: the objects are representations (also known as functors from \mathbf{Poinc} as a 2-category with one object, into \mathbf{Meas}); the morphisms are 1-intertwiners (a.k.a. natural transformations) between reps; and the 2-morphisms are 2-intertwiners (a.k.a. modifications) between 1-intertwiners.

1) Representations: A functor

\mathbf{Poinc} \rightarrow \mathbf{Meas}

will pick out some measurable space X = F(\star) for the lone object of the 2-group – or rather, Meas(X), the 2-vector space of all measurable fields of Hilbert spaces on X. (This is a matter of taste since to know the one is to know the other.) Then for the morphisms and 2-morphisms of \mathbf{Poinc} we get, respectively, 2-linear maps from Meas(X) to itself, and natural transformations between them.

The morphisms of \mathbf{Poinc} are just the group G in the crossed-module picture I described in Part 2. For the usual Poincaré 2-group, this is SO(p,q). For each such element, we’re supposed to get an invertible 2-linear map from Meas(X) to itself – that is, a measurable field of Hilbert spaces on X \times X (together with measures to do “matrix multiplication” with by direct integrals). This can only be invertible if the only Hilbert spaces which appear are 1-dimensional (since these maps compose by a “matrix multiplication” involving direct sums of tensor products of the components – and the discreteness of dimensions means that if any dimension is higher than 1, you’ll never get back the identity).

So any representation turns out to give what amounts to an action of SO(p,q) on X – the component F(g)(x_1,x_2) is \mathbb{C} if x_2 = g \triangleright x_1 and 0 otherwise. An irreducible representation gives an X with a transitive action (otherwise, you can decompose it into orbits, each of which corresponds to a subrepresentation). Crane and Sheppeard classify several kinds of these, associated to various subgroups of SO(p,q), but an easy example would be a mass shell in Minkowski space – a sphere or hyperboloid (depending on (p,q)) that is the full orbit of some point under rotations and boosts (a “mass shell” because it gives all the possible momenta for a particle of a given mass, as seen by an observer in some inertial frame).

The 2-morphism part of \mathbf{Poinc} gives a homomorphism from \mathbb{R}^{p+q} \rightarrow Mat_1(\mathbb{C}) at each of these points. Now, one-by-one matrices of complex numbers are just complex numbers, so what we have here is a character of \mathbb{R}^{p+q} – at each point on X. To be functorial, this has to be done in an equivariant way (so that acting on the point x \in X by g \in SO(p,q) affects the character by acting on \mathbb{R}^{p+q} by the same g).

2) 1-Intertwiners:

If representations F and F' correspond to actions of SO(p,q) on spaces X and X' respectively, with characters h, h', then what is a 1-intertwiner \phi : F \rightarrow F'? Remember from Part 1 that it’s a natural transformation: to the object \star of \mathbf{Poinc} it assigns a specific 2-linear map

\phi(\star) : F(\star) \rightarrow F'(\star)

To each g \in SO(p,q) (object of \mathbf{Poinc}) it gives a transformation

\phi(g) : \phi(\star) \circ F(g) \rightarrow F'(g) \circ \phi(\star)

This is a specified map which replaces the naturality square in the old definition of an intertwiner. It has to make a certain “pillow” diagram commute (Part 1).

Now, back in the posts on 2-Hilbert spaces, I explained that a 2-linear map \phi(\star) is given by some field of Hilbert spaces \mathcal{K} on X \times X' (a “matrix” of Hilbert spaces, though of course X, X' needn’t be finite), along with a family of measures on X indexed by X' (which allow us to do integration when doing the sum in “matrix multiplication”). The transformations \phi(g) also can be written in components, so that

\phi(g)_{(x,y)} : \mathcal{K}_{(F(g)^{-1}(x),y)}\rightarrow \mathcal{K}_{(x,F'(g)(y))}

(Note this uses the two actions given by F,F' on X,X' – one forward, and one backward. This is the current form of what, in uncategorified representation theory, would be a naturality condition.)

What does this all amount to? One way to think of it is as a representation of SO(p,q) \ltimes R^{p+q} itself! In particular, it’s a representation on the direct sum of all the Hilbert spaces which appear as components of \phi(\star). This is since the maps given by the \phi(g) have to satisfy a condition which says that composition is preserved (as long as you’re careful about indexing things):

\phi(gg')_{(x,y)} = \phi(g)_{F(g')x,G(g')y)} \circ \phi(g')_{(x,y)}

To get a representation of the group, we can say that elements (g,h) \in G shuffle vector spaces over points in X by the action of g and then act within vector spaces by h. So then \phi has both intertwiner-like and representation-like properties.

The “intertwiner-ness” of \phi has to do with how it interpolates between two actions on X,X' by turning them into an action on the product X \times X' – but it also has some “representation-ness”, by giving this action of a (semidirect product) group on a big vector space.

3) 2-intertwiners

If a 1-intertwiner can be thought of as a representation of G \ltimes H, it shouldn’t be too surprising that a 2-intertwiner between 1-intertwiners \phi, \phi' ends up being an intertwiner between the associated representations. If 1-intertwiners have some qualities of both reps and intertwiners, the 2-intertwiners are more single-minded.

In particular, a 2-intertwiner m : \phi \rightarrow \phi' assigns to the only object of \mathbf{Poinc} a 2-morphism in \mathbf{2Vect} (that is, a field of linear maps between the vector spaces which are the components of \phi, \phi'), which satisfies some “pillow” diagram. When we form the big rep. by taking a direct integral of all those spaces, the field of linear maps turns into one big linear map, and the diagram it satisfies just collapses into the condition that it be an intertwiner.

So the representation theory of this interesting 2-group looks a lot like the representation theory of the group of 2-morphisms. The extra structure involving actions on measurable spaces by G = SO(p,q) would be mostly invisible if you just thought about irreducible reps of the group, since the space would be just a single point.

This phenomenon where a lower-order structure turns up in some form at the top level of morphisms of its categorified version has cropped up before in this blog – namely, when extended TQFT’s turn out to contain normal TQFT’s in individual components. In these examples, categorification is less a matter of building more floors “on top” of structures we already know, as “higher morphisms” suggests, but excavating additional floors of subbasement – interpreting what were objects as morphisms.

It’s been a while since I wrote the last entry, on representation theory of n-groups, partly because I’ve been polishing up a draft of a paper on a different subject. Now that I have it at a plateau where other people are looking at it, I’ll carry on with a more or less concrete description of the situation of a 2-group. For higher values of n, describing things concretely would get very elaborate quite quickly, but interesting things already happen for n=2. In particular, the case that I gave the talk about, a while back, was mostly the Poincaré 2-group, since this is the one Crane, Sheppeard, and Yetter talk about, and probably the one most interesting to physicists.  It was first described by John Baez.

So what’s the Poincaré 2-group? To begin with, what’s a 2-group again?

I already said that a 2-group \mathbb{G} is a 2-category with only one object, and all morphisms and 2-morphisms invertible. That’s all very good for summing up the representation theory of \mathbb{G} as I described last time, but it’s sometimes more informative to describe the structure of \mathbb{G} concretely. A good tool for doing this is a crossed module. (A lot more on 2-groups can be found in Baez and Lauda’s HDA V, and there are some more references and information in this page by Ronald Brown, who’s done a lot to popularize crossed modules).

A crossed module has two layers, which correspond to the morphisms and 2-morphisms of \mathbb{G}. These can be represented as (G,H,\triangleright, \partial), where G is the group of morphisms in \mathbb{G}, H consists of the 2-morphisms ending at the identity of G (a group under horizontal composition).

There has to be an action \triangleright : G \rightarrow End(H) of G on H (morphisms can be composed “horizontally” with 2-morphisms), and a map \partial : H \rightarrow G (which picks out the source of the 2-morphism). The data (G,H,\triangleright,\partial) have to fit together a certain way, which amounts to giving the axioms for a 2-category.

A handy way to remember the conditions is to realize that the action \triangleright : G \rightarrow End(H) and the injection \partial : H \rightarrow G give ways for elements of G to act on each other and for elements of H to act on each other. These amount to doing first \triangleright and then \partial or vice versa, and both of these must amount to conjugation. That is:

\partial(g \triangleright h) = g (\partial h) g^{-1}

and

(\partial h_1) \triangleright h_2 = h_1 h_2 h_2^{-1}

Both of these are simplified in the case that \partial maps everything in H to the identity of G – in this case, H can be interpreted as the group of 2-automorphisms of the identity 1-morphism of the sole object of \mathbb{G}. In this case, by the Eckmann-Hilton argument (the clearest explanation of which that I know being the one in TWF Week 100) it turns out that H has to be commutative, so the first condition is trivial since \partial h = 1, and the second is trivial since it follows from commutativity. This simpler situation is known as an automorphic 2-group.

In any case, given a 2-group represented as a crossed module, automorphic or not, the collection of all morphisms can be seen as a group in itself – namely the semidirect product G \ltimes H, which is to say G \times H with the multiplication (g_1,h_1) \cdot (g_2,h_2) = (g_1 g_2 , g_2 \triangleright h_1 h_2). “What?” you may ask, or maybe “Why?”

Maybe a concrete example would help, since we’d like one anyway: the Poincaré 2-group, which is an automorphic 2-group. There are versions of various signatures (p,q), in which case G = SO(p,q), and H = \mathbb{R}^{p+q}.

The group G, then, consists of metric-preserving transformations of Minkowski space R^{p+q} with the metric of signature (p,q) – rotations and boosts (if any). The (abelian) group H consists of translations of this space – in fact, being a vector space, it’s just a copy of it. Between them, they cover the basic types of transformation. Thinking of the translations as having a “projection” down to the identity rotation/boost may seem a bit artificial, except insofar as translations “don’t rotate” anything. More obvious is that rotations or boosts act on translations: the same translation can look differently in rotated/boosted coordinate systems – that is, to different observers.

So where does the Poincaré group SO(p,q) \ltimes \mathbb{R}^{p+q} come in? It’s the group of all metric-preserving transformations of Minkowski space, and is built from these two types: but how?

Well, the vector space H = \mathbb{R}^{p+q} is the group of transformations of the identity Lorentz transformation 1 \in G = SO(p,q), since the map \partial : H \rightarrow G is trivial. But suppose that there is another copy of H over each point in G. Then we have the set of points G \times H, but notice that to talk about this as a group, we’d want a way to act on an element h_1 of one copy of H over g_1 \in G by another h_2 over g_2. The obvious way is to just treat the whole set as a product of groups, but this misses the fundamental relation between G and H, which is that G can act on H, just as morphisms can act on 2-morphisms by “whiskering with the identity”. (Via Google books, here is the description of this in MacLane’s Categories for the Working Mathematician).

Concretely, this is the fact that there is a sensible way for both parts of (g_1,h_1) to affect the h_2, so we can say (g_2,h_2) \cdot (g_1,h_1) = (g_2 g_1, g_1 h_2 + h_1) (using additive notation for translations, since they’re abelian). The point is that the first rotation we do, g_1, changes coordinates, and therefore the definition of the translation h_2.

So that’s the construction of the Poincaré group from the Poincaré 2-group. What would be nice would be to have some clear description of some higher analog of Minkowski space where it makes sense to say the Poincaré 2-group acts as a 2-group. I don’t quite know how to set this up, but if anyone has thoughts, it would be interesting to hear them.

One reason is that, when describing representations of the 2-group, there’s an important role for spaces (or at least sets) with an action of the group G – which raises questions like whether there’s a role for 2-spaces with 2-group actions in representation theory of higher n-groups. Again – I don’t really know the answer to this. However, in Part 3 I’ll describe concretely how this works for 2-groups, and particularly the Poincaré 2-group.

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