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Category: groups

Borcherds’ favourite numbers

Whenever I visit someone’s YouTube or Twitter profile page, I hope to see an interesting banner image. Here’s the one from Richard Borcherds’ YouTube Channel.

Not too surprisingly for Borcherds, almost all of these numbers are related to the monster group or its moonshine.

Let’s try to decode them, in no particular order.


John McKay’s observation $196884 = 1 + 196883$ was the start of the whole ‘monstrous moonshine’ industry. Here, $1$ and $196883$ are the dimensions of the two smallest irreducible representations of the monster simple group, and $196884$ is the first non-trivial coefficient in Klein’s j-function in number theory.

$196884$ is also the dimension of the space in which Robert Griess constructed the Monster, following Simon Norton’s lead that there should be an algebra structure on the monster-representation of that dimension. This algebra is now known as the Griess algebra.

Here’s a recent talk by Griess “My life and times with the sporadic simple groups” in which he tells about his construction of the monster (relevant part starting at 1:15:53 into the movie).


1729 is the second (and most famous) taxicab number. A long time ago I did write a post about the classic Ramanujan-Hardy story the taxicab curve (note to self: try to tidy up the layout of some old posts!).

Recently, connections between Ramanujan’s observation and K3-surfaces were discovered. Emory University has an enticing press release about this: Mathematicians find ‘magic key’ to drive Ramanujan’s taxi-cab number. The paper itself is here.

“We’ve found that Ramanujan actually discovered a K3 surface more than 30 years before others started studying K3 surfaces and they were even named. It turns out that Ramanujan’s work anticipated deep structures that have become fundamental objects in arithmetic geometry, number theory and physics.”

Ken Ono


There’s no other number like $24$ responsible for the existence of sporadic simple groups.

24 is the length of the binary Golay code, with isomorphism group the sporadic Mathieu group $M_24$ and hence all of the other Mathieu-groups as subgroups.

24 is the dimension of the Leech lattice, with isomorphism group the Conway group $Co_0 = .0$ (dotto), giving us modulo its center the sporadic group $Co_1=.1$ and the other Conway groups $Co_2=.2, Co_3=.3$, and all other sporadics of the second generation in the happy family as subquotients (McL,HS,Suz and $HJ=J_2$)

24 is the central charge of the Monster vertex algebra constructed by Frenkel, Lepowski and Meurman. Most experts believe that the Monster’s reason of existence is that it is the symmetry group of this vertex algebra. John Conway was one among few others hoping for a nicer explanation, as he said in this interview with Alex Ryba.

24 is also an important number in monstrous moonshine, see for example the post the defining property of 24. There’s a lot more to say on this, but I’ll save it for another day.


60 is, of course, the order of the smallest non-Abelian simple group, $A_5$, the rotation symmetry group of the icosahedron. $A_5$ is the symmetry group of choice for most viruses but not the Corona-virus.


3264 is the correct solution to Steiner’s conic problem asking for the number of conics in $\mathbb{P}^2_{\mathbb{C}}$ tangent to five given conics in general position.

Steiner himself claimed that there were $7776=6^5$ such conics, but realised later that he was wrong. The correct number was first given by Ernest de Jonquières in 1859, but a rigorous proof had to await the advent of modern intersection theory.

Eisenbud and Harris wrote a book on intersection theory in algebraic geometry, freely available online: 3264 and all that.


248 is the dimension of the exceptional simple Lie group $E_8$. $E_8$ is also connected to the monster group.

If you take two Fischer involutions in the monster (elements of conjugacy class 2A) and multiply them, the resulting element surprisingly belongs to one of just 9 conjugacy classes:

1A,2A,2B,3A,3C,4A,4B,5A or 6A

The orders of these elements are exactly the dimensions of the fundamental root for the extended $E_8$ Dynkin diagram.

This is yet another moonshine observation by John McKay and I wrote a couple of posts about it and about Duncan’s solution: the monster graph and McKay’s observation, and $E_8$ from moonshine groups.


163 is a remarkable number because of the ‘modular miracle’
e^{\pi \sqrt{163}} = 262537412640768743.99999999999925… \]
This is somewhat related to moonshine, or at least to Klein’s j-function, which by a result of Kronecker’s detects the classnumber of imaginary quadratic fields $\mathbb{Q}(\sqrt{-D})$ and produces integers if the classnumber is one (as is the case for $\mathbb{Q}(\sqrt{-163})$).

The details are in the post the miracle of 163, or in the paper by John Stillwell, Modular Miracles, The American Mathematical Monthly, 108 (2001) 70-76.

Richard Borcherds, the math-vlogger, has an entertaining video about this story: MegaFavNumbers 262537412680768000

His description of the $j$-function (at 4:13 in the movie) is simply hilarious!

Borcherds connects $163$ to the monster moonshine via the $j$-function, but there’s another one.

The monster group has $194$ conjugacy classes and monstrous moonshine assigns a ‘moonshine function’ to each conjugacy class (the $j$-function is assigned to the identity element). However, these $194$ functions are not linearly independent and the space spanned by them has dimension exactly $163$.

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Conway’s musical sequences

Before we’ll come to applications of quasicrystals to viruses it is perhaps useful to illustrate essential topics such as deflation, inflation, aperiodicity, local isomorphism and the cut-and project method in the simplest of cases, that of $1$-dimensional tilings.

We want to tile the line $\mathbb{R}^1$ with two kinds of tiles, short ($S$) and ($L$) long intervals, differing by a golden ratio factor $\tau=\tfrac{1}{2}(1+\sqrt{5}) \approx 1.618$.

Clearly, no two tiles may overlap and we impose a gluing restriction: there can be no two consecutive $S$-intervals in the tiling, and no three consecutive $L$-intervals.

The code of a tiling is a doubly infinite word in $S$ and $L$ such that there are no two consecutive $S$’s nor three consecutive $L$’s. For example
\sigma = \dots LSLLSLS\underline{L}LSLLSL \dots \]
We underline one tile to distinguish the sequence from shifts of it.

Conway’s musical sequences will be special codes (or tilings), allowing for the inverse operations of inflation and deflation, terms coined by John Conway in relation to Penrose tilings. The musical sequences are important to understand Conway’s worms (sometimes called “wormholes”) which are strings of Long and Short bow ties in a Penrose tiling, and to measure the distances between Amman bars. In fact, many of the properties of Penrose tilings and $3$-dimensional quasicrystals (for example, local isomorphism) have their counterparts for tilings having a musical sequence as code.

Conway’s investigations of Penrose tiles held up work on the ATLAS-project and caused some problems at home:

“In pursuing his investigations, he unsurped some of his wife Eileen’s territory, covering the dining table with an infinite nuisance of tiles. He cut them out himself, causing his right hand to hurt with cramps for days. To Eileen’s dismay, he studied the dining table mosaic for a year, relegating family meals to the kitchen and prohibiting dinner parties.”

From “Genius at Play – The curious mind of John Horton Conway” by Siobhan Roberts

Let’s investigate inflation and deflation of these tilings.

The point of the golden factor $\tau$ is to allow for deflation. That is, we can replace a tiling by another one with tiles $S$ and $L$ both a factor $\tfrac{1}{\tau}=\tau-1 \approx 0.618$ smaller than the original tiles. If the original $S$-tile has length $a$ (and the $L$-tile length $\tau a$), then the new tile $S$ wil have length $\tfrac{1}{\tau}a$ and the new $L$-tile length $a$.
We do this by replacing each old $S$-tile by a new $L$-tile, and to break up any old $L$-tile in a new $L$ and new $S$-tile, as $\tau a = a + \tfrac{1}{\tau}a$ (note that $\tau^2=\tau+1$)

To get the code of the deflated tiling we replace each letter $S$ by a letter $L$ and each $L$ by $LS$. The underlined letter will be the first letter of the deflated underlined letter in the original sequence. The deflated sequence of the one above is
def(\sigma) = \dots LSLLSLSLLSL\underline{L}SLSLLSLSLLS \dots \]
and it is easy to see that the deflated tiling satisfies again the gluing condition.

Certain of these tilings (not all!) allow for an inverse to deflation, called inflation, increasing the size of the tiles by a factor $\tau$.

Starting from a tiling we divide each $L$-tile in half and these mid-points will be end-points of the tiles in the new tiling, erasing all endpoints of the original one. The inflated tiling will have two sorts of tiles, a new short one $S$ of length $\tau a$ obtained from the end-half of an original $L$-tile, followed b the start-half of an original $L$-tile, and a new long tile $L$ of length $\tau^2 a = (\tau+1) a$, made of the end-half of an original $L$, followed by an original $S$, followed by the start-half of an original $L$.

We get the code of the inflated tiling by replacing first each $L$ by $ll$ and subsequently replace each word $lSl$ by a letter $L$ and each $ll$ by $S$. An example,
\sigma = \dots LSLLSLSLLSL\underline{L}SLSLLSLSLLS \dots \\
\dots llSllllSllSllllSlll\underline{l}SllSllllSllSllllS \dots \\
inf(\sigma) = \dots (l)LSLLSLS\underline{L}LSLLS(lS) \dots \]

But, the inflated tiling may no longer satisfy the gluing condition. An example
\dots LSLSLSL \dots \mapsto \dots llSllSllSll \dots \mapsto \dots (l)LLL(l) \dots \]

A Conway musical sequence is the code of a tiling $\sigma$ such that all its consecutive inflations $inf^n(\sigma)$ satisfy the gluing condition. For the corresponding Conway tiling $\sigma$ we have that
def(inf(\sigma))=\sigma=inf(def(\sigma)) \]

Let’s construct at least two such Conway tilings (later we’ll see that there are uncountably many). Take $C_n=def^n(LS\underline{L})$ and write it in a special form to highlight symmetries.
C_0 =& (L.S)\underline{L} \\
C_1 =& L(S.L)\underline{L}S \\
C_2 =& LSL(L.S)\underline{L}SL \\
C_3 =& LSLLSL(S.L)\underline{L}SLLS \\

The even terms have middle-part $(L.S)$ and the odd ones $(S.L)$. The remaing left and right parts are each others reflexion (or part of it). This is easily seen by induction as are the inclusions
C_0 \subset C_2 \subset C_4 \subset \dots \subset C_{even} \quad \text{and} \quad C_1 \subset C_3 \subset C_5 \subset \dots \subset C_{odd} \]

$C_{even}$ and $C_{odd}$ are special Conway musical sequences, called the middle $C$-sequences, and are each others inflation and deflation. If you are familiar with Penrose tilings, these are the $1$-dimensional counterparts of the cartwheel Penrose tiling (here with the $10$ Conway worms emanating from the center, and with the borders of the first few cartwheels drawn).

A direct consequence of inflation on Conway’s musical sequences is that the corresponding tiling is aperiodic, that is, it has no translation symmetry.

For, inflation only depends on the local configuration of tiles, so if translation by $R$ is a symmetry of a musical sequence $\sigma$ then it is also a symmetry of $inf(\sigma)$, and so also of $inf^n(\sigma)$. But for large $n$ we will have that $R < \tau^n a$ (with $a$ the size of the tiles in $\sigma$). But then a tile in $inf^n(\sigma)$ and its translation by $R$ must overlap which is impossible if $+R$ is a translation symmetry of $inf^n(\sigma)$. Done!

Returning to the middle C-sequences, what was the point of starting with $C_0 = LSL$? Well, it follows directly from the gluing restrictions that any letter in a musical sequence is part of a subword $LSL$ of $\sigma$. But then, every finite subword $W$ of $\sigma$ is also a subword of $C_{2n}$ for some large $n$.

For, let $d$ be the length of the interval corresponding to $W$ and choose $n$ such that $d > \tau^{2n} a$ then the interval of the line corresponding to $W$ is contained in a single tile in $inf^{2n}(\sigma)$ and this tile belongs to a subword $LSL$ of $inf^{2n}(\sigma)$. But then $W$ will be a subword of the $2n$-th deflation of that interval $LSL \subset inf^{2n}(\sigma)$, which is $C_{2n}$.

Or, as Conway would phrase it with respect to Penrose tilings (quote again from Siobhan Roberts’ book)

“Every points is in the cartwheel somewhere. If you jab your finger anywhere, on any point anywhere on teh pattern, you are part of a cartwheel. The whole ting is overlapping cartwheels.”

An immediate consequence is the local isomorphism theorem: Every subword of a musical sequence $\sigma$ appears infinitely many times as subword of any other musical sequence. That is, one cannot distinguish two tilings of the line with musical sequence codes from each other by looking at finite intervals!

The argument is similar to the one above. The finite interval corresponding to the subword lies in a unique tile of $inf^n(\sigma)$ for $n$ large enough. Now, take another musical sequence $\mu$ and consider any of the infinitely many tiles of the same type in $inf^n(\mu)$, then $def^n$ of such a tile will contain the subword in $\phi$.

Another time, we’ll see that musical sequences can be produced by the ‘cut-and-project’-method (what I called the ‘windows’-method before).
This time we will project parts of the standard $2$-dimensional lattice $\mathbb{Z}^2$ onto the line, which is a lot easier to visualise than de Bruijn’s projection from $\mathbb{R}^5$ to produce Penrose tilings or the projection from six dimensional space to harvest quasicrystals.

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GoV 2 : Viruses and quasi-crystals

If you look around for mathematical theories of the structure of viruses, you quickly end up with the work of Raidun Twarock and her group at the University of York.

We’ve seen her proposal to extend the Caspar-Klug classification of viruses. Her novel idea to distribute proteins on the viral capsid along Penrose-like tilings shouldn’t be taken too literally. The inherent aperiodic nature of Penrose tiles doesn’t go together well with perfect tilings of the sphere.

Instead, the observation that these capsid tilings resemble somewhat Penrose tilings is a side-effect of another great idea of the York group. Recently, they borrowed techniques from the theory of quasicrystals to gain insight in the inner structure of viruses, in particular on the interaction of the capsid with the genome.

By the crystallographic restriction theorem no $3$-dimensional lattice can have icosahedral symmetry. But, we can construct aperiodic structures (quasicrystals) which have local icosahedral structure, much like Penrose tilings have local $D_5$-symmetry

This is best explained by de Bruijn‘s theory of pentagrids (more on that another time). Here I’ll just mention the representation-theoretic idea.

The isometry group of the standard $5$-dimensional lattice $\mathbb{Z}^5$ is the group of all signed permutation $5 \times 5$ matrices $B_5$ (Young’s hyperoctahedral group). There are two distinct conjugacy classes of subgroups in $B_5$ isomorphic to $D_5$, one such subgroup generated by the permutation matrices
x= \begin{bmatrix}
0 & 1 & 0 & 0 & 0 \\
0 & 0 & 1 & 0 & 0 \\
0 & 0 & 0 & 1 & 0 \\
0 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 1 \\
1 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 0 \end{bmatrix} \qquad \text{and} \qquad
y = \begin{bmatrix} 1 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 0 \\
0 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 1 \\
0 & 0 & 0 & 1 & 0 \\
0 & 0 & 1 & 0 & 0 \\
0 & 1 & 0 & 0 & 0 \end{bmatrix} \]
The traces of $x,x^2$ and $y$, together with the character table of $D_5$ tell us that this $5$-dimensional $D_5$-representation splits as the direct sum of the trivial representation and of the two irreducible $2$-dimensional representations.
\mathbb{R}^5 = A \simeq T \oplus W_1 \oplus W_2 \]
with $T = \mathbb{R} d$, $W_1 = \mathbb{R} u_1 + \mathbb{R} u_2$ and $W_2 = \mathbb{R} w_1 + \mathbb{R} w_2$ where
(1,1,1,1,1)=d \\
(1,c_1,c_2,c_3,c_4)= u_1 \\
(0,s_1,s_2,s_3,s_4) = u_2 \\
(1,c_2,c_4,c1,c3)= w_1 \\
(0,s_2,s_4,s_1,s_3)= w_2
and $c_j=cos(2\pi j/5)$ and $s_j=sin(2 \pi/5)$. We have a $D_5$-projection
\pi : A \rightarrow W_1 \quad (y_0,\dots,y_4) \mapsto \sum_{i=0}^4 y_i(c_i u_1+s_i u_2) \]
The projection maps the vertices of the $5$-dimensional hypercube to a planar configuration with $D_5$-symmetry.

de Bruijn’s results say that if we take suitable ‘windows’ of lattice-points in $\mathbb{Z}^5$ and project them via the $D_5$-equivariant map $\pi$ onto the plane, then the images of these lattice points become the vertices of a rhombic Penrose tiling (and we get all such tilings by choosing our window carefully).

This explains why Penrose tilings have a local $D_5$-symmetry. I’ll try to come back to de Bruijn’s papers in future posts.

But, let’s go back to viruses and the work of Twarock’s group using methods from quasicrystals. Such aperiodic structures with a local icosahedral symmetry can be constructed along similar lines. This time one starts with the standard $6$-dimensional lattice $\mathbb{Z^6}$ with isometry group $B_6$ (signed $6 \times 6$ permutation matrices).

This group has three conjugacy classes of subgroups isomorphic to $A_5$, but for only one of them this $6$-dimensional representation decomposes as the direct sum of the two irreducible $3$-dimensional representations of $A_5$ (the decompositions in the two other cases contain an irreducible of dimension $4$ or $5$ together with trivial factor(s)). A representant of the crystallographic relevant case is given by the signed permutation matrices
x= \begin{bmatrix}
0 & 1 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 0 \\
1 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 0 \\
0 & 0 & 0 & -1 & 0 & 0 \\
0 & 0 & -1 & 0 & 0 & 0 \\
0 & 0 & 0 & 0 & -1 & 0 \\
0 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 0 & -1
\end{bmatrix} \qquad \text{and} \qquad y=
0 & 0 & 1 & 0 & 0 & 0 \\
1 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 0 \\
0 & 1 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 0 \\
0 & 0 & 0 & 0 & -1 & 0 \\
0 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 1 \\
0 & 0 & 0 & -1 & 0 & 0
\end{bmatrix} \]

Again, using suitable windows of $\mathbb{Z}^6$-lattice points and using the $A_5$-equivariant projection to one of the two $3$-dimensional components, one obtains quasicrystals with local $A_5$-symmetry.

In this $3$-dimensional case the replacements of the thick and thin rhombi are these four parallellepipeda, known as the Amman blocks

which must be stacked together obeying the gluing condition that dots of the same colour must be adjacent.

Has anyone looked at a possible connection between the four Amman blocks (which come in pairs) and the four (paired) nucleotides in DNA? Just an idle thought…

These blocks grow into quasicrystals with local icosahedral symmetry.

The faces on the boundary of such a sphere-like quasicrystal then look a lot like a Penrose tiling.

How can we connect these group and representation-theoretic ideas to the structure of viruses? Here’s another thought-provoking proposal coming from the York group.

Take the $A_5$ subgroup of the hyperoctahedral group in six dimensiona $B_6$ generated by the above two matrices (giving a good $A_5$-equivariant projection $\pi$ to three dimensional space) and consider an intermediate group
A_5 \subsetneq G \subseteq B_6 \]
Take a point in $\mathbb{R}^6$ and look at its orbit under the isometries of $G$, then all these points have the same distance from the origin in $\mathbb{R}^6$. Now, project this orbit under $\pi$ to get a collection of points in $\mathbb{R}^3$.

As $\pi$ is only $A_5$-equivariant (and not $G$-equivariant) the image points may lie in different shells from the origin. We can try to relate these shells of points to observational data on the inner structures of viruses.

Here’s a pretty convincing instance of such a correlation, taken from the thesis by Emilio Zappa “New group theoretical methods for applications in virology and quasicrystals”.

This is the inner structure of the Hepatitis B virus, showing the envelope (purple), capsid protein (cream) and genome (light blue). The coloured dots are the image points in the different shells around the origin.

Do viruses invade us from the sixth dimension??

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GoV 1 : Geometry of viruses

As you may have guessed from the symmetries of Covid-19 post, I did spend some time lately catching up with the literature on the geometric structure and symmetries of viruses. It may be fun to run a little series on this.

A virus is a parasite, so it cannot reproduce on its own and needs to invade a host cell to replicate. All information needed for this replication process is stored in a fragile DNA or RNA string, the viral genome.

This genome needs to be protected by a coating made of proteins, the viral capsid. Most viruses have an additional fatty protection layer, the envelope, decorated by virus (glyco)proteins (such as the ‘spikes’ needed to infiltrate the host cell).

Most viruses are extremely small (between 20 and 200nm), our friend the corona-virus measures between 80 and 120nm. So, its genome is also pretty small (the corona genome has around 30.000 base pairs). To maximise its information, the volume of the protective capsid must be as large as possible, and must be formed by just a few different proteins (to free as much space in the code of the genome for other operations) and clusters of them are distributed over the polyhedral capsid, as symmetric as possible.

This insight led Watson and Crick, the discoverers of the structure of DNA, to the ‘genetic economy’-proposal that most sphere-like viruses will have an icosahedral capsid because the icosahedron is the Platonic solid with the largest volume and rotational symmetry group. They argued that the capsid is most likely constructed from a single subunit (capsomere), which is repeated many times to form the protein shell.

Little is known about capsid formation, that is the process in which the capsid proteins self-assemble into an icosahedral shape, nor about the precise interplay between the genome and the capsid proteins. If we would understand these two things better it might open new possibilities for anti-viral drugs, by either blocking the self-assembly process or by breaking the genome-capsid interaction.

A first proposal for the capsid structure was put forward by Caspar and Klug. Their quasi-equivalence principle asserts that each of the 20 triangular faces of the icosahedron is subdivided in 3 subunits, each consisting of at least one protein.

Most viruses have much more than 60 proteins in their capsid, so Caspar and Klug introduced their $T$-number giving the number of proteins per subunit. One superimposes the triangulation of the icosahedron with the hexagonal plane lattice, then $T$ is the number of sub-triangles of these hexagons contained in each subunit. For $T = 7$ we have the following situation

Folding back the triangulation to form the icosahedron one then obtains a tiling consisting of hexagons (the green regions) and pentagons (the blue regions)

It turned out that many viruses with icosahedral symmetry consist of subunits having a different number of proteins, such as dimers (2 proteins), trimers (3 proteins), or pentamers (5 proteins) and these self-organise around a 2, 3, or 5-fold rotational axis of the icosahedron.

This led Reidun Twarock around 2000 to propose her virus tiling theory. This is a generalisation of the Caspar-Klug theory in which one superimposese the triangulation of the icosahedron with other tilings of the plane, consisting of two or more non-congruent tiles. Here an example which looks a bit like the aperiodic Penrose tilings of the plane.

Here’s a recent Quanta-Magazine article on Twarock’s work and potential consequences: The illuminating geometry of viruses.

And here’s an LMS Popular Lecture, from 2008, by Raidun Twarock herself: “Know your enemy – viruses under the mathematical microscope”.

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Scholze’s condensed sets and Mazzola’s path to creativity

Some months ago, Peter Scholze wrote a guest post on the Xena-blog: Liquid tensor experiment, proposing a challenge to formalise the proof of one of his results with Dustin Clausen on condensed mathematics.

Scholze and Clausen ran a masterclass in Copenhagen on condensed mathematics, which you can binge watch on YouTube starting here

Scholze also gave two courses on the material in Bonn of which the notes are available here and here.

Condensed mathematics claims that topological spaces are the wrong definition, and that one should replace them with the slightly different notion of condensed sets.

So, let’s find out what a condensed set is.

Definition: Condensed sets are sheaves (of sets) on the pro-étale site of a point.

(there’s no danger we’ll have to rewrite our undergraduate topology courses just yet…)

In his blogpost, Scholze motivates this paradigm shift by observing that the category of topological Abelian groups is not Abelian (if you put a finer topology on the same group then the identity map is not an isomorphism but doesn’t have a kernel nor cokernel) whereas the category of condensed Abelian groups is.

It was another Clausen-Scholze result in the blogpost that caught my eye.

But first, for something completely different.

In “Musical creativity”, Guerino Mazzola and co-authors introduce a seven steps path to creativity.

Here they are:

  1. Exhibiting the open question
  2. Identifying the semiotic context
  3. Finding the question’s critical sign
  4. Identifying the concept’s walls
  5. Opening the walls
  6. Displaying extended wall perspectives
  7. Evaluating the extended walls

Looks like a recipe from distant flower-power pot-infused times, no?

In Towards a Categorical Theory of Creativity for Music, Discourse, and Cognition, Mazzola, Andrée Ehresmann and co-authors relate these seven steps to the Yoneda lemma.

  1. Exhibiting the open question = to understand the object $A$
  2. Identifying the semiotic context = to describe the category $\mathcal{C}$ of which $A$ is an object
  3. Finding the question’s critical sign = $A$ (?!)
  4. Identifying the concept’s walls = the uncontrolled behaviour of the Yoneda functor
    @A~:~\mathcal{C} \rightarrow \mathbf{Sets} \qquad C \mapsto Hom_{\mathcal{C}}(C,A) \]
  5. Opening the walls = finding an objectively creative subcategory $\mathcal{A}$ of $\mathcal{C}$
  6. Displaying extended wall perspectives = calculate the colimit $C$ of a creative diagram
  7. Evaluating the extended walls = try to understand $A$ via the isomorphism $C \simeq A$.

(Actually, I first read about these seven categorical steps in another paper which might put a smile on your face: The Yoneda path to the Buddhist monk blend.)

Remains to know what a ‘creative’ subcategory is.

The creative moment comes in here: could we not find a subcategory
$\mathcal{A}$ of $\mathcal{C}$ such that the functor
Yon|_{\mathcal{A}}~:~\mathcal{C} \rightarrow \mathbf{PSh}(\mathcal{A}) \qquad A \mapsto @A|_{\mathcal{A}} \]
is still fully faithful? We call such a subcategory creative, and it is a major task in category theory to find creative categories which are as small as possible.

All the ingredients are here, but I had to read Peter Scholze’s blogpost before the penny dropped.

Let’s try to view condensed sets as the result of a creative process.

  1. Exhibiting the open question: you are a topologist and want to understand a particular compact Hausdorff space $X$.
  2. Identifying the semiotic context: you are familiar with working in the category $\mathbf{Tops}$ of all topological spaces with continuous maps as morphisms.
  3. Finding the question’s critical sign: you want to know what differentiates your space $X$ from all other topological spaces.
  4. Identifying the concept’s walls: you can probe your space $X$ with continuous maps from other topological spaces. That is, you can consider the contravariant functor (or presheaf on $\mathbf{Tops}$)
    @X~:~\mathbf{Tops} \rightarrow \mathbf{Sets} \qquad Y \mapsto Cont(Y,X) \]
    and Yoneda tells you that this functor, up to equivalence, determines the space $X$ upto homeomorphism.
  5. Opening the walls: Tychonoff tells you that among all compact Hausdorff spaces there’s a class of pretty weird examples: inverse limits of finite sets (or a bit pompous: the pro-etale site of a point). These limits form a subcategory $\mathbf{ProF}$ of $\mathbf{Tops}$.
  6. Displaying extended wall perspectives: for every inverse limit $F \in \mathbf{ProF}$ (for ‘pro-finite sets’) you can look at the set $\mathcal{X}(F)=Cont(F,X)$ of all continuous maps from $F$ to $X$ (that is, all probes of $X$ by $F$) and this functor
    \mathcal{X}=@X|_{\mathbf{ProF}}~:~\mathbf{ProF} \rightarrow \mathbf{Sets} \qquad F \mapsto \mathcal{X}(F) \]
    is a sheaf on the pre-etale site of a point, that is, $\mathcal{X}$ is the condensed set associated to $X$.
  7. Evaluating the extended walls: Clausen and Scholze observe that the assignment $X \mapsto \mathcal{X}$ embeds compact Hausdorff spaces fully faithful into condensed sets, so we can recover $X$ up to homeomorphism as a colimit from the condenset set $\mathcal{X}$. Or, in Mazzola’s terminology: $\mathbf{ProF}$ is a creative subcategory of $\mathbf{(cH)Tops}$ (all compact Hausdorff spaces).

It would be nice if someone would come up with a new notion for me to understand Mazzola’s other opus “The topos of music” (now reprinted as a four volume series).

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