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Category: absolute

Toposes alive and kicking at IHES

After 50 years, vivid interest in topos theory seems to have returned to one of the most prestigious research institutes, the IHES. Last november, there was the meeting Topos a l’IHES.

At the meeting, Celine Loozen filmed a documentary which is supposed to have as its title “Unifying Worlds”. Its very classy trailer is now on YouTube (via +David Roberts).

How did topos theory, a topic considered by most to be far too abstract to be useful to main stream mathematics, suddenly return in such force?

It always helps when a couple of world-class mathematicians become interest in the topic, for their own particular reasons. Clearly, the topic gathers considerable momentum if these people are all permanent members of the IHES.

A lot of geometric information is contained in the category of all sheaves on the geometric object. Topos theory offers a way to construct ‘geometries’ out of nothing, that is, out of arbitrary categories.

Take your favourite category $\mathbf{C}$, then “presheaves” on $\mathbf{C}$ are defined to be contravariant functors $\mathbf{C} \rightarrow \mathbf{Sets}$. For any Grothendieck topology on $\mathbf{C}$ one can then restrict to the sub-category of “sheaves” for this topology, and that’s your typical topos.

Alain Connes got interested in topos theory because he observed that even for the most trivial of categories, such as the monoid category with just one object and endomorphisms the multiplicative semigroup $\mathbb{N}_{\geq 1}^{\times}$, and taking the coarsest of all Grothendieck topologies, one gets interesting objects of baffling complexity.

One of the ‘invariants’ one can associate to a topos is its collection of “points”. Together with Katia Consani, Connes computed in Geometry of the Arithmetic Site that the collection of points of this simple presheaf topos is exactly the set of adele classes $\mathbb{Q}^{\ast}_+ \backslash \mathbb{A}^f_{\mathbb{Q}} / \hat{\mathbb{Z}}^{\ast}$.

Here’s what Connes himself said about this revelation (followed by an attempted translation):



And,in this example, we saw the wonderful notion of a topos, developed by Grothendieck.

It was sufficient for me to open SGA4, a book written at the beginning of the 60ties or the late fifties.

It was sufficient for me to open SGA4 to see that all the things that I needed were there, say, how to construct a cohomology on this site, how to develop things, how to see that the category of sheaves of Abelian groups is an Abelian category, having sufficient injective objects, and so on … all those things were there.

This is really remarkable, because what does it mean?

It means that the average mathematician says: “topos = a generalised topological space and I will never need to use such things. Well, there is the etale cohomology and I can use it to make sense of simply connected spaces and, bon, there’s the chrystaline cohomology, which is already a bit more complicated, but I will never need it, so I can safely ignore it.”

And (s)he puts the notion of a topos in a certain category of things which are generalisations of things, developed only to be generalisations…

But in fact, reality is completely different!

In our work with Katia Consani we saw not only that there is this epicyclic topos, but in fact, this epicyclic topos lies over a site, which we call the arithmetic site, which itself is of a delirious simplicity.

It relies only on the natural numbers, viewed multiplicatively.

That is, one takes a small category consisting of just one object, having this monoid as its endomorphisms, and one considers the corresponding topos.

This appears well … infantile, but nevertheless, this object conceils many wonderful things.

And we would have never discovered those things, if we hadn’t had the general notion of what a topos is, of what a point of a topos is, in terms of flat functors, etc. etc.



Pierre Cartier has a very wide interest in mathematical theories, the wilder the better: Witt rings, motifs, cosmic Galois groups, toposes…

He must have been one of the first people to speak about toposes at the Bourbaki seminar. In february 1978 he gave the talk Logique, categories et faisceaux, d’apres F. Lawvere et M. Tierney (and dedicated to Grothendieck’s 50th birthday).

He also gave the opening lecture of the Topos a l’IHES conference.

In this fragment of an interview with Stephane Dugowson and Anatole Khelif in 2014 he plays down his own role in the development of topos theory, compared to his contributions in other fields, such as motifs.



Well, I didn’t invest much time in topos theory.

Except, I once gave a talk at the Bourbaki seminar on the use of topos theory in logic, such as the independence of the axiom of choice, that is, on the idea of forcing.

But, it was just this talk, I didn’t do anything original in it.

Then there is nonstandard analysis, where one can formulate certain things in terms of topos theory. When I got interested in nonstandard analysis, I had this possible application of topos theory in mind.

At the moment when you have a nonstandard model of the integers or more generally of set theory, then one has two models of set theory, that is two different toposes, and then one obviously tries to compare them.

In that sense, I was completely aware of the fact that everything I was doing could be expressed in the language of toposes,or at least in the philosophy of toposes.

I haven’t made any important contributions in that theory, for me it merely remained a tool.



Laurent Lafforgue says he spend hundredths and hundredths of hours talking to Olivia Caramello about topos theory.

She must have been quite convincing. The last couple of years Lafforgue is a fierce advocate of Caramello’s work.

Her basic idea is that the same topos can arise from two very different mathematical settings (that is, two different categories with Grothendieck topologies can have equivalent categories of sheaves).

The hope then is to translate results from one theory to the other, or as she expresses it, toposes can be used as “bridges” between different mathematical topics.

At the moment though, is seems a bit far fetched for this idea to be relevant to the Langlands programme.

Caramello and Lafforgue have just a paper out: Sur la dualit´e des topos et de leurs pr´esentations et ses applications : une introduction.

The paper is based on a lecture Lafforgue gave in April in Nantes. Here’s the video:

In the introduction they write:

“It is our conviction that the theory of toposes and their representations, with its essential and structural ambiguity, is destined to have an impact on mathematics comparable to the impact group theory has had from the moment, some decades after its discovery by Galois, the mathematical community began to understand it.”

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The group algebra of all algebraic numbers

Some weeks ago, Robert Kucharczyk and Peter Scholze found a topological realisation of the ‘hopeless’ part of the absolute Galois group $\mathbf{Gal}(\overline{\mathbb{Q}}/\mathbb{Q})$. That is, they constructed a compact connected space $M_{cyc}$ such that etale covers of it correspond to Galois extensions of the cyclotomic field $\mathbb{Q}_{cyc}$. This gives, at least in theory, a handle on the hopeless part of the Galois group $\mathbf{Gal}(\overline{\mathbb{Q}}/\mathbb{Q}_{cyc})$, see the previous post in this series.

Here, we will get halfway into constructing $M_{cyc}$. We will try to understand the topology of the prime ideal spectrum $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}])$ of the complex group algebra of the multiplicative group $\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}$ of all non-zero algebraic numbers.

[section_title text=”Pontryagin duals”]

Take an Abelian locally compact group $A$ (for example, an Abelian group equipped with the discrete topology), then its Pontryagin dual $A^{\vee}$ is the space of all continuous group morphisms $A \rightarrow \mathbb{S}^1$ to the unit circle $\mathbb{S}^1$ endowed with the compact open topology.

There are these topological properties of the locally compact group $A^{\vee}$:

– $A^{\vee}$ is compact if and only if $A$ has the discrete topology,

– $A^{\vee}$ is connected if and only if $A$ is a torsion free group,

– $A^{\vee}$ is totally disconnected if and only if $A$ is a torsion group.

If we take the additive group of rational numbers with the discrete topology, the dual space $\mathbb{Q}^{\vee}$ is the one-dimensional solenoid

It is a compact and connected group, but is not path connected. In fact, it path connected components can be identified with the finite adele classes $\mathbb{A}_f/\mathbb{Q} = \widehat{\mathbb{Z}}/\mathbb{Z}$ where $\widehat{\mathbb{Z}}$ is the ring of profinite integers.

Keith Conrad has an excellent readable paper on this fascinating object: The character group of $\mathbb{Q}$. Or you might have a look at this post.

[section_title text=”The multiplicative group of algebraic numbers”]

A torsion element $x$ in the multiplicative group $\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}$ of all algebraic numbers must satisfy $x^N=1$ for some $N$ so is a root of unity, so we have the exact sequence of Abelian groups

$0 \rightarrow \pmb{\mu}_{\infty} \rightarrow \overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times} \rightarrow \overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}_{tf} \rightarrow 0$

where the last term is the maximal torsion-free quotient of $\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}$. By Pontryagin duality this gives us an exact sequence of compact topological groups

$0 \rightarrow (\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}_{tf})^{\vee} \rightarrow (\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times})^{\vee} \rightarrow \pmb{\mu}^{\vee}_{\infty} \rightarrow 0$

Here, the left-most space is connected and $\pmb{\mu}^{\vee}_{\infty}$ is totally disconnected. That is, the connected components of $(\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times})^{\vee}$ are precisely the translates of the connected subgroup $(\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}_{tf})^{\vee}$.

[section_title text=”Prime ideal spectra”]

The short exact sequence of Abelian groups gives a short exact sequence of the corresponding group schemes

$0 \rightarrow \mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}_{tf}]) \rightarrow \mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}] \rightarrow \mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[\pmb{\mu}_{\infty}]) \rightarrow 0$

The torsion free abelian group $\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}_{tf}$ is the direct limit $\underset{\rightarrow}{lim}~M_i$ of finitely generated abelian groups $M_i$ and as the corresponding group algebra $\mathbb{C}[M_i] = \mathbb{C}[x_1,x_1^{-1},\cdots, x_k,x_k^{-1}]$, we have that $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[M_i])$ is connected. But then this also holds for

$\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}_{tf}]) = \underset{\leftarrow}{lim}~\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[M_i])$

The underlying group of $\mathbb{C}$-points of $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[\pmb{\mu}_{\infty}])$ is $\pmb{\mu}_{\infty}^{\vee}$ and is therefore totally disconnected. But then we have

$\pi_0(\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}]) \simeq \pi_0(\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[\pmb{\mu}_{\infty}]) \simeq \pmb{\mu}_{\infty}^{\vee}$

and, more importantly, for the etale fundamental group

$\pi_1^{et}(\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}],x) \simeq \pi_1^{et}(\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}_{tf}],y)$

So, we have to compute the latter one. Again, write the torsion-free quotient as a direct limit of finitely generated torsion-free Abelian groups and recall that connected etale covers of $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[M_i])=\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[x_1,x_1^{-1},\cdots,x_k,x_k^{-1}])$ are all of the form $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[N])$, where $N$ is a subgroup of $M_i \otimes \mathbb{Q}$ that contains $M_i$ with finite index (that is, adjoining roots of the $x_i$).

Again, this goes through the limit and so a connected etale cover of $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}_{tf}])$ would be determined by a subgroup of the $\mathbb{Q}$-vectorspace $\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}_{tf} \otimes \mathbb{Q}$ containing $\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}_{tf}$ with finite index.

But, $\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}_{tf}$ is already a $\mathbb{Q}$-vectorspace as we can take arbitrary roots in it (remember we’re using the multiplicative structure). That is, $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}])$ is simply connected!

[section_title text=”Bringing in the Galois group”]

Now, we’re closing in on the mysterious space $M_{cyc}$. Clearly, it cannot be the complex points of $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{C}[\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}])$ as this has no proper etale covers, but we still have to bring the Galois group $\mathbf{Gal}(\overline{\mathbb{Q}}/\mathbb{Q}_{cyc})$ into the game.

The group algebra $\mathbb{C}[\overline{\mathbb{Q}}^{\times}]$ is a commutative and cocommutative Hopf algebra, and all the elements of the Galois group act on it as Hopf-automorphisms, so it is natural to consider the fixed Hopf algebra


This Hopf algebra has an interesting alternative description as a subalgebra of the Witt ring $W(\mathbb{Q}_{cyc})$, bringing it into the realm of $\mathbb{F}_1$-geometry.

This ring of Witt vectors has as its underlying set of elements $1 + \mathbb{Q}_{cyc}[[t]]$ of formal power series in $\mathbb{Q}_{cyc}[[t]]$. Addition on this set is defined by multiplication of power series. The surprising fact is that we can then put a ring structure on it by demanding that the product $\odot$ should obey the rule that for all $a,b \in \mathbb{Q}_{cyc}$ we have

$(1-at) \odot (1-bt) = 1 – ab t$

In this mind-boggling ring the Hopf algebra $H_{cyc}$ is the subring consisting of all power series having a rational expression of the form

$\frac{1+a_1t+a_2t^2+ \cdots + a_n t^n}{1+b_1 t + b_2 t^2 + \cdots + b_m t^m}$

with all $a_i,b_j \in \mathbb{Q}_{cyc}$.

We can embed $\pmb{\mu}_{\infty}$ by sending a root of unity $\zeta$ to $1 – \zeta t$, and then the desired space $M_{cyc}$ will be close to

$\mathbf{Spec}(H_{cyc} \otimes_{\mathbb{Z}[\pmb{\mu}_{\infty}]} \mathbb{C})$

but I’ll spare the details for another time.

In case you want to know more about the title-picture, quoting from John Baez’ post The Beauty of Roots:

“Sam Derbyshire decided to to make a high resolution plot of some roots of polynomials. After some experimentation, he decided that his favorite were polynomials whose coefficients were all 1 or -1 (not 0). He made a high-resolution plot by computing all the roots of all polynomials of this sort having degree ≤ 24. That’s $2^{24}$ polynomials, and about $24 \times 2^{24}$ roots — or about 400 million roots! It took Mathematica 4 days to generate the coordinates of the roots, producing about 5 gigabytes of data.”


Topology and the symmetries of roots

We know embarrassingly little about the symmetries of the roots of all polynomials with rational coefficients, or if you prefer, the absolute Galois group $Gal(\overline{\mathbb{Q}}/\mathbb{Q})$.

In the title picture the roots of polynomials of degree $\leq 4$ with small coefficients are plotted and coloured by degree: blue=4, cyan=3, red=2, green=1. Sums and products of roots are again roots and by a symmetry we mean a map on all roots, sending sums to sums and products to products and leaving all the green dots (the rational numbers) fixed.

John Baez has an excellent post on the beauty of roots, including a picture of all polynomials of degree $\leq 5$ with integer coefficients between $-4$ and $4$ and, this time, colour-coded by: grey=2, cyan=3, red=4 and black=5.

beauty of roots

In both pictures there’s a hint of the unit circle, black in the title picture and spanning the ‘white gaps’ in the picture above.

If we’d only consider the sub-picture of all (sums and products of) roots including the rational numbers on the horizontal axis and the roots of unity on the unit circle we’d get the cyclotomic field $\mathbb{Q}_{cyc} = \mathbb{Q}(\mu_{\infty})$. Here we know all symmetries: they are generated by taking powers of the roots of unity. That is, we know all about the Galois group $Gal(\mathbb{Q}_{cyc}/\mathbb{Q})$.

The ‘missing’ symmetries, that is the Galois group $Gal(\overline{\mathbb{Q}}/\mathbb{Q}_{cyc})$ remained a deep mystery, until last week…

[section_title text=”The oracle speaks”]

On september 15th, Robert Kucharczyk and Peter Scholze (aka the “oracle of arithmetic” according to Quanta-magazine) arXived their paper Topological realisations of absolute Galois groups.

Peter Scholze

They discovered a concrete compact connected Hausdorff space $M_{cyc}$ such that Galois extensions of $\mathbb{Q}_{cyc}$ correspond to connected etale covers of $M_{cyc}$.

Let’s look at a finite field $\mathbb{F}_p$. Here, Galois extensions of $\mathbb{F}_p$ (and there is just one such extension of degree $n$, upto isomorphism) correspond to connected etale covers of the circle $S^1$.

An etale map $X \rightarrow S^1$ is such that every circle point has exactly $n$ pre-images. Here again, up to homeomorphism, there is a unique such $n$-fold cover of $S^1$ (the picture on the left gives the cover for $n=2$).


If we replace $\mathbb{F}_p$ by the cyclotomic field $\mathbb{Q}_{cyc}$ then the compact space $M_{cyc}$ replaces the circle $S^1$. So, if we take a splitting polynomial of degree $n$ with coefficients in $\mathbb{Q}_{cyc}$, then there is a corresponding etale $n$-fold cover $X \rightarrow M_{cyc}$ such that for a specific point $p$ in $M_{cyc}$ its pre-images correspond to the roots of the polynomial. Nice!

Sadly, there’s a catch. Even though we have a concrete description of $M_{cyc}$ it turns out to be a horrible infinite dimensional space, it is connected but not path-connected, and so on.

Even Peter Scholze says it’s unclear whether new results can be proved from this result (see around 39.15 in his Next Generation Outreach Lecture).

Btw. if your German is ok, this talk is a rather good introduction to classical Galois theory and etale fundamental groups, including the primes=knots analogy.

[section_title text=”the imaginary field with one element”]

Of course there’s no mention of it in the Kucharczyk-Scholze paper, but this result is excellent news for those trying to develop a geometry over the imaginary field with one element $\mathbb{F}_1$ and hope to apply this theory to problems in number theory.

As a side remark, some of these people have just published a book with the EMS Publishing House: Absolute arithmetic and $\mathbb{F}_1$-geometry

The basic idea is that the collection of all prime numbers, $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z})$ is far too large an object to be a terminal object (as it is in schemes). One should therefore extend the setting of schemes to so called $\mathbb{F}_1$-schemes, in which $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z})$ is some higher dimensional object.

Initially, one hoped that $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z})/\mathbb{F}_1$ might look like a curve, so that one could try to mimick Weil’s proof of the Riemann hypothesis for curves to prove the genuine Riemann hypothesis.

But, over the last decade it became clear that $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z})/\mathbb{F}_1$ looks like an infinite dimensional space, a bit like the space $M_{cyc}$ above.

I’ll spare this to a couple of follow-up posts, but for now I’ll leave you with the punchline:

The compact connected Hausdorff space $M_{cyc}$ of Kucharczyk and Scholze is nothing but the space of complex points of $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{Q}_{cyc})/\mathbb{F}_1$!

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The Log Lady and the Frobenioid of $\mathbb{Z}$

“Sometimes ideas, like men, jump up and say ‘hello’. They introduce themselves, these ideas, with words. Are they words? These ideas speak so strangely.”

“All that we see in this world is based on someone’s ideas. Some ideas are destructive, some are constructive. Some ideas can arrive in the form of a dream. I can say it again: some ideas arrive in the form of a dream.”

Here’s such an idea.

It all started when Norma wanted to compactify her twisted-prime-fruit pies. Norma’s pies are legendary in Twin Peaks, but if you never ate them at Double R Diner, here’s the concept.

Start with a long rectangular strip of pastry and decorate it vertically with ribbons of fruit, one fruit per prime, say cherry for 2, huckleberry for 3, and so on.

For elegance, I argued, the $p$-th ribbon should have width $log(p)$.

“That may very well look natural to you,” she said, “but our Geometer disagrees”. It seems that geometers don’t like logs.

Whatever. I won.

That’s Norma’s basic pie, or the $1$-pie as we call it. Next, she performs $n$ strange twists in one direction and $m$ magical operations in another, to get one of her twisted-pies. In this case we would order it as her $\frac{m}{n}$-pie.

Marketing-wise, these pies are problematic. They are infinite in length, so Norma can serve only a finite portion, limiting the number of fruits you can taste.

That’s why Norma wants to compactify her pies, so that you can hold the entire pastry in your hands, and taste the infinite richness of our local fruits.

“Wait!”, our Geometer warned, “You can never close them up with ordinary scheme-dough, the laws of scheme-pastry prohibit this!” He suggested to use a ribbon of marzipan, instead.

“Fine, then… Margaret, before you start complaining again, how much marzipan should I use?”, Norma asked.

“Well,” I replied, “ideally you’d want it to have zero width, but that wouldn’t close anything. So, I’d go for the next best thing, the log being zero. Take a marzipan-ribbon of width $1$.”

The Geometer took a $1$-pie, closed it with marzipan of width $1$, looked at the pastry from every possible angle, and nodded slowly.

“Yes, that’s a perfectly reasonable trivial bundle, or structure sheaf if you want. I’d sell it as $\mathcal{O}_{\overline{\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z})}}$ if I were you.”

“In your dreams!  I’ll simply call this  a $1$-pastry, and an $\frac{m}{n}$-pie closed with a $1$-ribbon of marzipan can be ordered from now on as an $\frac{m}{n}$-pastry.”

“I’m afraid this will not suffice,” our Geometer objected, ” you will have to allow pastries having an arbitrary marzipan-width.”

“Huh? You want me to compactify an $\frac{m}{n}$-pie  with marzipan of every imaginable width $r$ and produce a whole collection of … what … $(\frac{m}{n},r)$-pastries? What on earth for??”

“Well, take an $\frac{m}{n}$-pastry and try to unravel it.”

Oh, here we go again, I feared.

Whereas Norma’s pies all looked and tasted quite different to most of us, the Geometer claimed they were all the same, or ‘isomorphic’ as he pompously declared.

“Just reverse the operations Norma performed and you’ll end up with a $1$-pie”, he argued.

So Norma took an arbitrary $\frac{m}{n}$-pastry and did perform the reverse operations, which was a lot more difficult that with pies as now the marzipan-bit produced friction. The end-result was a $1$-pie held together with a marzipan-ribbon of width strictly larger or strictly smaller than $1$, but never gave back the $1$-pastry. Strange!

“Besides”, the Geometer added, “if you take two of your pastries, which I prefer to call $\mathcal{L}$ and $\mathcal{M}$, rather than use your numerical system, then their product $\mathcal{L} \otimes \mathcal{M}$ is again a pastry, though with variable marzipan-width.

In the promotional stage it might be nice to give the product for free to anyone ordering two pastries.”

“And how should I produce such a product-pastry?”

“Well, I’m too lazy to compute such things, it must follow trivially from elementary results in Picard-pastry. Surely, our log lady will work out the details in your notation. No doubt it will involve lots of logs…”

And so I did the calculations in my dreams, and I wrote down all formulas in the Double R Diner log-book, for Norma to consult whenever a customer ordered a product, or power of pastries.

A few years ago we had a Japanese tourist visiting Twin Peaks. He set up office in the Double R Diner, consulted my formulas, observed Norma’s pastry production and had endless conversations with our Geometer.

I’m told he categorified Norma’s pastry-bizness, probably to clone the concept to the Japanese market, replacing pastries by sushi-rolls.

When he left, he thanked me for working out the most trivial of examples, that of the Frobenioid of $\mathbb{Z}$…

Added december 2015:

I wrote this little story some time ago.

The last couple of days this blog gets some renewed interest in the aftermath of the IUTT-Mochizuki-Fest in Oxford last week.

I thought it might be fun to include it, if only in order to decrease the bounce rate.

If you are at all interested in the maths, you may want to start with this google+ post, and work your way back using the links curated by David Roberts here.

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Two lecture series on absolute geometry

Absolute geometry is the attempt to develop algebraic geometry over the elusive field with one element $\mathbb{F}_1$. The idea being that the set of all prime numbers is just too large for $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z})$ to be a terminal object (as it is in the category of schemes).

So, one wants to view $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z})$ as a geometric object over something ‘deeper’, the “absolute point” $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{F}_1)$.

Starting with the paper by Bertrand Toen and Michel Vaquie, Under $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z})$, topos theory entered this topic.

First there was the proposal by Jim Borger to view $\lambda$-rings as $\mathbb{F}_1$-algebras. More recently, Alain Connes and Katia Consani introduced the arithmetic site.

Now, there are lectures series on these two approaches, one by Yuri I. Manin, the other by Alain Connes.


Yuri I. Manin in Ghent

On Tuesday, February 3rd, Yuri I. Manin will give the inaugural lectures of the new $\mathbb{F}_1$-seminars at Ghent University, organised by Koen Thas.

Coffee will be served from 13.00 till 14.00 at the Department of Mathematics, Ghent University, Krijgslaan 281, Building S22 and from 14.00 till 16.30 there will be lectures in the Emmy Noether lecture room, Building S25:

14:00 – 14:25: Introduction (by K. Thas)
14:30 – 15:20: Lecture 1 (by Yu. I. Manin)
15:30 – 16:20: Lecture 2 (by Yu. I. Manin)

Recent work of Manin related to $\mathbb{F}_1$ includes:

Local zeta factors and geometries under $\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z})$

Numbers as functions

Alain Connes on the Arithmetic Site

Until the beginning of march, Alain Connes will lecture every thursday afternoon from 14.00 till 17.30, in Salle 5 – Marcelin Berthelot at he College de France on The Arithmetic Site (hat tip Isar Stubbe).

Here’s a two minute excerpt, from a longer interview with Connes, on the arithmetic site, together with an attempt to provide subtitles:



And,in this example, we saw the wonderful notion of a topos, developed by Grothendieck.

It was sufficient for me to open SGA4, a book written at the beginning of the 60ties or the late fifties.

It was sufficient for me to open SGA4 to see that all the things that I needed were there, say, how to construct a cohomology on this site, how to develop things, how to see that the category of sheaves of Abelian groups is an Abelian category, having sufficient injective objects, and so on … all those things were there.

This is really remarkable, because what does it mean?

It means that the average mathematician says: “topos = a generalised topological space and I will never need to use such things. Well, there is the etale cohomology and I can use it to make sense of simply connected spaces and, bon, there’s the chrystaline cohomology, which is already a bit more complicated, but I will never need it, so I can safely ignore it.”

And (s)he puts the notion of a topos in a certain category of things which are generalisations of things, developed only to be generalisations…

But in fact, reality is completely different!

In our work with Katia Consani we saw not only that there is this epicyclic topos, but in fact, this epicyclic topos lies over a site, which we call the arithmetic site, which itself is of a delirious simplicity.

It relies only on the natural numbers, viewed multiplicatively.

That is, one takes a small category consisting of just one object, having this monoid as its endomorphisms, and one considers the corresponding topos.

This appears well … infantile, but nevertheless, this object conceils many wonderful things.

And we would have never discovered those things, if we hadn’t had the general notion of what a topos is, of what a point of a topos is, in terms of flat functors, etc. etc.



I will try to report here on Manin’s lectures in Ghent. If someone is able to attend Connes’ lectures in Paris, I’d love to receive updates!

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Quiver Grassmannians and $\mathbb{F}_1$-geometry

Reineke’s observation that any projective variety can be realized as a quiver Grassmannian is bad news: we will have to look at special representations and/or dimension vectors if we want the Grassmannian to have desirable properties. Some people still see a silver lining: it can be used to define a larger class of geometric objects over the elusive field with one element $\mathbb{F}_1$.

In a comment to the previous post Markus Reineke recalls motivating discussions with Javier Lopez Pena and Oliver Lorscheid (the guys responsable for the map of $\mathbb{F}_1$-land above) and asks about potential connections with $\mathbb{F}_1$-geometry. In this post I will ellaborate on Javier’s response.

The Kapranov-Smirnov $\mathbb{F}_1$-floklore tells us that an $n$-dimensional vectorspace over $\mathbb{F}_1$ is a pointed set $V^{\bullet}$ consisting of $n+1$ points, the distinguished point playing the role of the zero-vector. Linear maps $V^{\bullet} \rightarrow W^{\bullet}$ between $\mathbb{F}_1$-spaces are then just maps of pointed sets (sending the distinguished element of $V^{\bullet}$ to that of $W^{\bullet}$). As an example, the base-change group $GL_n(\mathbb{F}_1)$ of an $n$-dimensional $\mathbb{F}_1$-space $V^{\bullet}$ is isomorphic to the symmetric group $S_n$.

This allows us to make sense of quiver-representations over $\mathbb{F}_1$. To each vertex we associate a pointed set and to each arrow a map of pointed sets between the vertex-pointed sets. The dimension-vector $\alpha$ of quiver-representation is defined as before and two representations with the same dimension-vector are isomorphic is they lie in the same orbit under the action of the product of the symmetric groups determined by the components of $\alpha$. All this (and a bit more) has been worked out by Matt Szczesny in the paper Representations of quivers over $\mathbb{F}_1$.

Oliver Lorscheid developed his own approach to $\mathbb{F}_1$ based on the notion of blueprints (see also part 2 and a paper with Javier).

Roughly speaking a blueprint $B = A // \mathcal{R}$ is a commutative monoid $A$ together with an equivalence relation $\mathcal{R}$ on the monoid semiring $\mathbb{N}[A]$ compatible with addition and multiplication. Any commutative ring $R$ is a blueprint by taking $A$ the multiplicative monoid of $R$ and $\mathcal{R}(\sum_i a_i,\sum_j b_j)$ if and only if the elements $\sum_i a_i$ and $\sum_j b_j$ in $R$ are equal.

One can extend the usual notions of prime ideals, Zariski topology and structure sheaf from commutative rings to blueprints and hence define a notion of “blue schemes” which are then taken to be the schemes over $\mathbb{F}_1$.

What’s the connection with Reineke’s result? Well, for quiver-representations $V$ defined over $\mathbb{F}_1$ they can show that the corresponding quiver Grassmannians $Gr(V,\alpha)$ are blue projective varieties and hence are geometric objects defined over $\mathbb{F}_1$.

For us, old-fashioned representation theorists, a complex quiver-representation $V$ is defined over $\mathbb{F}_1$ if and only if there is an isomorphic representation $V’$ with the property that all its arrow-matrices have at most one $1$ in every column, and zeroes elsewhere.

Remember from last time that Reineke’s representation consisted of two parts : the Veronese-part encoding the $d$-uple embedding $\mathbb{P}^n \rightarrow \mathbb{P}^M$ and a linear part describing the subvariety $X \rightarrow \mathbb{P}^n$ as the intersection of the image of $\mathbb{P}^n$ in $\mathbb{P}^M$ with a finite number of hyper-planes in $\mathbb{P}^M$.

We have seen that the Veronese-part is always defined over $\mathbb{F}_1$, compatible with the fact that all approaches to $\mathbb{F}_1$-geometry allow for projective spaces and $d$-uple embeddings. The linear part does not have to be defined over $\mathbb{F}_1$ in general, but we can look at the varieties we get when we force the linear-part matrices to be of the correct form.

For example, by modifying the map $h$ of last time to $h=x_0+x_7+x_9$ we get that the quiver-representation

is defined over $\mathbb{F}_1$ and hence that Reineke’s associated quiver Grassmannian, which is the smooth plane elliptic curve $\mathbb{V}(x^3+y^2z+z^3)$, is a blue variety. This in sharp contrast with other approaches to $\mathbb{F}_1$-geometry which do not allow elliptic curves!

Oliver will give a talk at the 6th European Congress of Mathematics in the mini-symposium Absolute Arithmetic and $\mathbb{F}_1$-Geometry. Judging from his abstract,he will also mention quiver Grassmannians.

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Manin’s three-space-2000

Almost three decades ago, Yuri Manin submitted the paper “New dimensions in geometry” to the 25th Arbeitstagung, Bonn 1984. It is published in its proceedings, Springer Lecture Notes in Mathematics 1111, 59-101 and there’s a review of the paper available online in the Bulletin of the AMS written by Daniel Burns.

In the introduction Manin makes some highly speculative but inspiring conjectures. He considers the ring


where $\mathbb{Z}$ are the integers, the $\xi_i$ are the “odd” variables anti-commuting among themselves and commuting with the “even” variables $x_j$. To this ring, Manin wants to associate a geometric object of dimension $1+m+n$ where $1$ refers to the “arithmetic dimension”, $m$ to the ordinary geometric dimensions $(x_1,\ldots,x_m)$ and $n$ to the new “odd dimensions” represented by the coordinates $(\xi_1,\ldots,\xi_n)$. Manin writes :

“Before the advent of ringed spaces in the fifties it would have been difficult to say precisely what me mean when we speak about this geometric object. Nowadays we simply define it as an “affine superscheme”, an object of the category of topological spaces locally ringed by a sheaf of $\mathbb{Z}_2$-graded supercommutative rings.”

Here’s my own image (based on Mumford’s depiction of $\mathsf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z}[x])$) of what Manin calls the three-space-2000, whose plain $x$-axis is supplemented by the set of primes and by the “black arrow”, corresponding to the odd dimension.

Manin speculates : “The message of the picture is intended to be the following metaphysics underlying certain recent developments in geometry: all three types of geometric dimensions are on an equal footing”.

Probably, by the addition “2000” Manin meant that by the year 2000 we would as easily switch between these three types of dimensions as we were able to draw arithmetic schemes in the mid-80ties. Quod non.

Twelve years into the new millenium we are only able to decode fragments of this. We know that symmetric algebras and exterior algebras (that is the “even” versus the “odd” dimensions) are related by Koszul duality, and that the precise relationship between the arithmetic axis and the geometric axis is the holy grail of geometry over the field with one element.

For aficionados of $\mathbb{F}_1$ there’s this gem by Manin to contemplate :

“Does there exist a group, mixing the arithmetic dimension with the (even) geometric ones?”

Way back in 1984 Manin conjectured : “There is no such group naively, but a ‘category of representations of this group’ may well exist. There may exist also certain correspondence rings (or their representations) between $\mathsf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z})$ and $x$.”

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Prep-notes dump

Here are the scans of my crude prep-notes for some of the later seminar-talks. These notes still contain mistakes, most of them were corrected during the talks. So, please, read these notes with both mercy are caution!

Hurwitz formula imples ABC : The proof of Smirnov’s argument, but modified so that one doesn’t require an $\epsilon$-term. This is known to be impossible in the number-theory case, but a possible explanation might be that not all of the Smirnov-maps $q~:~\mathsf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z}) \rightarrow \mathbb{P}^1_{\mathbb{F}_1}$ are actually covers.

Frobenius lifts and representation rings : Faithfully flat descent allows us to view torsion-free $\mathbb{Z}$-rings with a family of commuting Frobenius lifts (aka $\lambda$-rings) as algebras over the field with one element $\mathbb{F}_1$. We give several examples including the two structures on $\mathbb{Z}[x]$ and Adams operations as Frobenius lifts on representation rings $R(G)$ of finite groups. We give an example that this extra structure may separate groups having the same character table. In general this is not the case, the magic Google search term is ‘Brauer pairs’.

Big Witt vectors and Burnside rings : Because the big Witt vectors functor $W(-)$ is adjoint to the tensor-functor $- \otimes_{\mathbb{F}_1} \mathbb{Z}$ we can view the geometrical object associated to $W(A)$ as the $\mathbb{F}_1$-scheme determined by the arithmetical scheme with coordinate ring $A$. We describe the construction of $\Lambda(A)$ and describe the relation between $W(\mathbb{Z})$ and the (completion of the) Burnside ring of the infinite cyclic group.

Density theorems and the Galois-site of $\mathbb{F}_1$ : We recall standard density theorems (Frobenius, Chebotarev) in number theory and use them in combination with the Kronecker-Weber theorem to prove the result due to James Borger and Bart de Smit on the etale site of $\mathsf{Spec}(\mathbb{F}_1)$.

New geometry coming from $\mathbb{F}_1$ : This is a more speculative talk trying to determine what new features come up when we view an arithmetic scheme over $\mathbb{F}_1$. It touches on the geometric meaning of dual-coalgebras, the Habiro-structure sheaf and Habiro-topology associated to $\mathbb{P}^1_{\mathbb{Z}}$ and tries to extend these notions to more general settings. These scans are unintentionally made mysterious by the fact that the bottom part is blacked out (due to the fact they got really wet and dried horribly). In case you want more info, contact me.

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On aliens and reality

October 21st : Dear Diary,

today’s seminar was fun, though a bit unconventional. The intention was to explain faithfully flat descent, but at the last moment i had the crazy idea to let students discover the main idea themselves (in the easiest of examples) by means of this thought experiment :

“I am an alien, and a very stubborn alien at that. To us, the only existing field is $\mathbb{C}$ and the only rings we accept are $\mathbb{C}$-algebras. We’ve heard rumours that you humans think there is some geometry hidden under $\mathbb{C}$, in particular we’ve heard that you consider something called real manifolds. Can you explain what an algebra over this non-existant field under $\mathbb{C}$ is in a way we can understand?”

The first hurdle was to explain the concept of complex conjugation, as the alien (me) was unwilling to decompose a number $c$ in two ‘ghost components’ $a+bi$. But, i had to concede that i knew about addition and multiplication and knew $1$ and that $-1$ had a square root which they called $i$.

‘Oh, but then you know what $\mathbb{Z}[i]$ is! You just add a number of times $1$’s and $i$’s.’

‘Why are you humans so focussed on counting? We do not count! We can’t! We have neither fingers nor toes!’

Admittedly a fairly drastic intervention, but i had to keep them on the path leading to Galois descent… After a while we agreed on a map, which they called conjugation, sending sums to sums and products to products and taking a root of unity to its inverse.

Next, they asked me to be a bit flexible and allow for ‘generalized’ fields such as consisting of all elements fixed under conjugation! Clearly, the alien refused : ‘We’re not going on the slippery road called generalization, we’ve seen the havock this has caused in human-mathematics.’

It took them a while to realize they would never be able to sell me an $\mathbb{R}$-algebra $A$, but could perhaps try to sell me the complex algebra $B= A \otimes_{\mathbb{R}} \mathbb{C}$.

Alien : ‘But, how do i recognize one of your algebras? Do they have a special property i can check?’

Humans : ‘Yes, they have some map (which we know to be the map $a \otimes c \mapsto a \otimes \overline{c}$, but you cannot see it) sending sums to sums, products to products and extending conjugation on $\mathbb{C}$.’

Alien : ‘But if i take a basis for any of my algebras and apply conjugation to all its coordinates, then all my algebras have this property, not?’

Humans : ‘No, such maps are good for sums, but not always for products. For example, take $\mathbb{C}[x]/(x^2-c)$ for $c$ a complex-number not fixed under conjugation.’

Alien : ‘Point taken. But then, your algebras are just a subclass of my algebras, right?’

Humans : ‘No! An algebra can have several of such additional maps. For example, take $B = \mathbb{C} \times \mathbb{C}$ then there is one sending $(a,b)$ to $(\overline{a},\overline{b})$ and another sending it to $(\overline{b},\overline{a})$. (because we know there are two distinct real algebras $\mathbb{R} \times \mathbb{R}$ and $\mathbb{C}$ of dimension two, tensoring both to $\mathbb{C} \times \mathbb{C}$.)’

By now, the alien and humans agreed on a dictionary : what to humans is the $\mathbb{R}$-algebra $A$ is to the alien the complex algebra $B=A \otimes \mathbb{C}$ together with a map $\gamma_B : B \rightarrow B$ sending sums to sums, products to products and extending conjugation on $\mathbb{C}$ (the extra structure, that is the map $\gamma_B$ is called the ‘descent data’).

Likewise, a human-observed $\mathbb{R}$-algebra morphism $\phi : A \rightarrow A’$ is to the alien the the $\mathbb{C}$-algebra morphism $\Phi = \phi \otimes id_{\mathbb{C}} : B \rightarrow B’$ which commutes with the extra structures, that is, $\Phi \circ \gamma_B = \gamma_{B’} \circ \Phi$.

Phrased differently (the alien didn’t want to hear any of this) : there is an equivalence of categories between the category $\mathbb{R}-\mathsf{algebras}$ of commutative $\mathbb{R}$-algebras and the category $\gamma-\mathsf{algebras}$ consisting of complex commutative algebras $B$ together with a ringmorphism $\gamma_B$ extending complex conjugation and with morphisms $\mathbb{C}$-algebra morphisms compatible with the $\gamma$-structure.

Further, what to humans is the base-extension (or tensor) functor

$- \otimes_{\mathbb{R}} \mathbb{C}~:~\mathbb{R}-\mathsf{algebras} \rightarrow \mathbb{C}-\mathsf{algebras}$

is (modulo the above equivalence) to the alien merely the forgetful functor

$\mathsf{Forget}~:~\gamma-\mathsf{algebras} \rightarrow \mathbb{C}-\mathsf{algebras}$

stripping off the descent-data.

After the break (yes, it took us that long to get here) we used this idea to invent rings living ‘under $\mathbb{Z}$’, or if you want, algebras over the field with one element $\mathbb{F}_1$.

Alien : ‘Ha-ha-ha a field with one element? Surely, you’re joking Mr. Human’

Note to self : Dare to waste more time like this in a seminar. It may very well be the only thing they will still remember next year.

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meanwhile, at angs+

We’ve had three seminar-sessions so far, and the seminar-blog ‘angs+’ contains already 20 posts and counting. As blogging is not a linear activity, I will try to post here at regular intervals to report on the ground we’ve covered in the seminar, providing links to the original angs+ posts.

This year’s goal is to obtain a somewhat definite verdict on the field-with-one-element hype.

In short, the plan is to outline Smirnov’s approach to the ABC-conjecture using geometry over $\mathbb{F}_1$, to describe Borger’s idea for such an $\mathbb{F}_1$-geometry and to test it on elusive objects such as $\mathbb{P}^1_{\mathbb{F}_1} \times_{\mathbb{F}_1} \mathsf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z})$ (relevant in Smirnov’s paper) and $\mathsf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z}) \times_{\mathbb{F}_1} \mathsf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z})$ (relevant to the Riemann hypothesis).

We did start with an historic overview, using recently surfaced material such as the Smirnov letters. Next, we did recall some standard material on the geometry of smooth projective curves over finite fields, their genus leading up to the Hurwitz formula relating the genera in a cover of curves.

Using this formula, a version of the classical ABC-conjecture in number theory can be proved quite easily for curves.

By analogy, Smirnov tried to prove the original ABC-conjecture by viewing $\mathsf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z})$ as a ‘curve’ over $\mathbb{F}_1$. Using the connection between the geometric points of the projective line over the finite field $\mathbb{F}_p$ and roots of unity of order coprime to $p$, we identify $\mathbb{P}^1_{\mathbb{F}_1}$ with the set of all roots of unity together with $\{ [0],[\infty] \}$. Next, we describe the schematic points of the ‘curve’ $\mathsf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z})$ and explain why one should take as the degree of the ‘point’ $(p)$ (for a prime number $p$) the non-sensical value $log(p)$.

To me, the fun starts with Smirnov’s proposal to associate to any rational number $q = \tfrac{a}{b} \in \mathbb{Q} – \{ \pm 1 \}$ a cover of curves

$q~:~\mathsf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z}) \rightarrow \mathbb{P}^1_{\mathbb{F}_1}$

by mapping primes dividing $a$ to $[0]$, primes dividing $b$ to $[\infty]$, sending the real valuation to $[0]$ or $[\infty]$ depending onw whether or not $b > a$ and finally sending a prime $p$ not involved in $a$ or $b$ to $[n]$ where $n$ is the order of the unit $\overline{a}.\overline{b}^{-1}$ in the finite cyclic group $\mathbb{F}_p^*$. Somewhat surprisingly, it does follow from Zsigmondy’s theorem that this is indeed a finite cover for most values of $q$. A noteworthy exception being the map for $q=2$ (which fails to be a cover at $[6]$) and of which Pieter Belmans did draw this beautiful graph

True believers in $\mathbb{F}_1$ might conclude from this graph that there should only be finitely many Mersenne primes… Further, the full ABC-conjecture would follow from a natural version of the Hurwitz formula for such covers.

(to be continued)

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