# Category: number theory

In ONAG, John Conway proves that the symmetric version of his recursive definition of addition and multiplcation on the surreal numbers make the class On of all Cantor’s ordinal numbers into an algebraically closed Field of characteristic two : On2 (pronounced ‘Onto’), and, in particular, he identifies a subfield
with the algebraic closure of the field of two elements. What makes all of this somewhat confusing is that Cantor had already defined a (badly behaving) addition, multiplication and exponentiation on ordinal numbers.

Over the last week I’ve been playing a bit with sage to prove a few exotic identities involving ordinal numbers. Here’s one of them ($\omega$ is the first infinite ordinal number, that is, $\omega={ 0,1,2,\ldots }$),

$~(\omega^{\omega^{13}})^{47} = \omega^{\omega^7} + 1$

answering a question in Hendrik Lenstra’s paper Nim multiplication.

However, it will take us a couple of posts before we get there. Let’s begin by trying to explain what brought this on. On september 24th 2008 there was a meeting, intended for a general public, called a la rencontre des dechiffeurs, celebrating the 50th birthday of the IHES.

One of the speakers was Alain Connes and the official title of his talk was “L’ange de la géométrie, le diable de l’algèbre et le corps à un élément” (the angel of geometry, the devil of algebra and the field with one element). Instead, he talked about a seemingly trivial problem : what is the algebraic closure of $\mathbb{F}_2$, the field with two elements? My only information about the actual content of the talk comes from the following YouTube-blurb

Alain argues that we do not have a satisfactory description of $\overline{\mathbb{F}}_2$, the algebraic closure of $\mathbb{F}_2$. Naturally, it is the union (or rather, limit) of all finite fields $\mathbb{F}_{2^n}$, but, there are too many non-canonical choices to make here.

Recall that $\mathbb{F}_{2^k}$ is a subfield of $\mathbb{F}_{2^l}$ if and only if $k$ is a divisor of $l$ and so we would have to take the direct limit over the integers with respect to the divisibility relation… Of course, we can replace this by an increasing sequence of a selection of cofinal fields such as

$\mathbb{F}_{2^{1!}} \subset \mathbb{F}_{2^{2!}} \subset \mathbb{F}_{2^{3!}} \subset \ldots$

But then, there are several such suitable sequences! Another ambiguity comes from the description of $\mathbb{F}_{2^n}$. Clearly it is of the form $\mathbb{F}_2[x]/(f(x))$ where $f(x)$ is a monic irreducible polynomial of degree $n$, but again, there are several such polynomials. An attempt to make a canonical choice of polynomial is to take the ‘first’ suitable one with respect to some natural ordering on the polynomials. This leads to the so called Conway polynomials.

Conway polynomials for the prime $2$ have only been determined up to degree 400-something, so in the increasing sequence above we would already be stuck at the sixth term $\mathbb{F}_{2^{6!}}$…

So, what Alain Connes sets as a problem is to find another, more canonical, description of $\overline{\mathbb{F}}_2$. The problem is not without real-life interest as most finite fields appearing in cryptography or coding theory are subfields of $\overline{\mathbb{F}}_2$.

(My guess is that Alain originally wanted to talk about the action of the Galois group on the roots of unity, which would be the corresponding problem over the field with one element and would explain the title of the talk, but decided against it. If anyone knows what ‘coupling-problem’ he is referring to, please drop a comment.) Surely, Connes is aware of the fact that there exists a nice canonical recursive construction of $\overline{\mathbb{F}}_2$ due to John Conway, using Georg Cantor’s ordinal numbers.

In fact, in chapter 6 of his book On Numbers And Games, John Conway proves that the symmetric version of his recursive definition of addition and multiplcation on the surreal numbers make the class $\mathbf{On}$ of all Cantor’s ordinal numbers into an algebraically closed Field of characteristic two : $\mathbf{On}_2$ (pronounced ‘Onto’), and, in particular, he identifies a subfield

$\overline{\mathbb{F}}_2 \simeq [ \omega^{\omega^{\omega}} ]$

with the algebraic closure of $\mathbb{F}_2$. What makes all of this somewhat confusing is that Cantor had already defined a (badly behaving) addition, multiplication and exponentiation on ordinal numbers. To distinguish between the Cantor/Conway arithmetics, Conway (and later Lenstra) adopt the convention that any expression between square brackets refers to Cantor-arithmetic and un-squared ones to Conway’s. So, in the description of the algebraic closure just given $[ \omega^{\omega^{\omega}} ]$ is the ordinal defined by Cantor-exponentiation, whereas the exotic identity we started out with refers to Conway’s arithmetic on ordinal numbers.

Let’s recall briefly Cantor’s ordinal arithmetic. An ordinal number $\alpha$ is the order-type of a totally ordered set, that is, if there is an order preserving bijection between two totally ordered sets then they have the same ordinal number (or you might view $\alpha$ itself as a totally ordered set, namely the set of all strictly smaller ordinal numbers, so e.g. $0= \emptyset,1= { 0 },2={ 0,1 },\ldots$).

For two ordinals $\alpha$ and $\beta$, the addition $[\alpha + \beta ]$ is the order-type of the totally ordered set $\alpha \sqcup \beta$ (the disjoint union) ordered compatible with the total orders in $\alpha$ and $\beta$ and such that every element of $\beta$ is strictly greater than any element from $\alpha$. Observe that this definition depends on the order of the two factors. For example,$[1 + \omega] = \omega$ as there is an order preserving bijection ${ \tilde{0},0,1,2,\ldots } \rightarrow { 0,1,2,3,\ldots }$ by $\tilde{0} \mapsto 0,n \mapsto n+1$. However, $\omega \not= [\omega + 1]$ as there can be no order preserving bijection ${ 0,1,2,\ldots } \rightarrow { 0,1,2,\ldots,0_{max} }$ as the first set has no maximal element whereas the second one does. So, Cantor’s addition has the bad property that it may be that $[\alpha + \beta] \not= [\beta + \alpha]$.

The Cantor-multiplication $\alpha . \beta$ is the order-type of the product-set $\alpha \times \beta$ ordered via the last differing coordinate. Again, this product has the bad property that it may happen that $[\alpha . \beta] \not= [\beta . \alpha]$ (for example $[2 . \omega ] \not=[ \omega . 2 ]$). Finally, the exponential $\beta^{\alpha}$ is the order type of the set of all maps $f~:~\alpha \rightarrow \beta$ such that $f(a) \not=0$ for only finitely many $a \in \alpha$, and ordered via the last differing function-value.

Cantor’s arithmetic allows normal-forms for ordinal numbers. More precisely, with respect to any ordinal number $\gamma \geq 2$, every ordinal number $\alpha \geq 1$ has a unique expression as

$\alpha = [ \gamma^{\alpha_0}.\eta_0 + \gamma^{\alpha_1}.\eta_1 + \ldots + \gamma^{\alpha_m}.\eta_m]$

for some natural number $m$ and such that $\alpha \geq \alpha_0 > \alpha_1 > \ldots > \alpha_m \geq 0$ and all $1 \leq \eta_i < \gamma$. In particular, taking the special cases $\gamma = 2$ and $\gamma = \omega$, we have the following two canonical forms for any ordinal number $\alpha$

$[ 2^{\alpha_0} + 2^{\alpha_1} + \ldots + 2^{\alpha_m}] = \alpha = [ \omega^{\beta_0}.n_0 + \omega^{\beta_1}.n_1 + \ldots + \omega^{\beta_k}.n_k]$

with $m,k,n_i$ natural numbers and $\alpha \geq \alpha_0 > \alpha_1 > \ldots > \alpha_m \geq 0$ and $\alpha \geq \beta_0 > \beta_1 > \ldots > \beta_k \geq 0$. Both canonical forms will be important when we consider the (better behaved) Conway-arithmetic on $\mathbf{On}_2$, next time. In the previous posts, we have depicted the ‘arithmetic line’, that is the prime numbers, as a ‘line’ and individual primes as ‘points’.

However, sometime in the roaring 60-ties, Barry Mazur launched the crazy idea of viewing the affine spectrum of the integers, $\mathbf{spec}(\mathbb{Z})$, as a 3-dimensional manifold and prime numbers themselves as knots in this 3-manifold…

After a long silence, this idea was taken up recently by Mikhail Kapranov and Alexander Reznikov (1960-2003) in a talk at the MPI-Bonn in august 1996. Pieter Moree tells the story in his recollections about Alexander (Sacha) Reznikov in Sipping Tea with Sacha : “Sasha’s paper is closely related to his paper where the analogy of covers of three-manifolds and class field theory plays a big role (an analogy that was apparently first noticed by B. Mazur). Sasha and Mikhail Kapranov (at the time also at the institute) were both very interested in this analogy. Eventually, in August 1996, Kapranov and Reznikov both lectured on this (and I explained in about 10 minutes my contribution to Reznikov’s proof). I was pleased to learn some time ago that this lecture series even made it into the literature, see Morishita’s ‘On certain analogies between knots and primes’ J. reine angew. Math 550 (2002) 141-167.”

Here’s a part of what is now called the Kapranov-Reznikov-Mazur dictionary : What is the rationale behind this dictionary? Well, it all has to do with trying to make sense of the (algebraic) fundamental group $\pi_1^{alg}(X)$ of a general scheme $X$. Recall that for a manifold $M$ there are two different ways to define its fundamental group $\pi_1(M)$ : either as the closed loops in a given basepoint upto homotopy or as the automorphism group of the universal cover $\tilde{M}$ of $M$.

For an arbitrary scheme the first definition doesn’t make sense but we can use the second one as we have a good notion of a (finite) cover : an etale morphism $Y \rightarrow X$ of the scheme $X$. As they form an inverse system, we can take their finite automorphism groups $Aut_X(Y)$ and take their projective limit along the system and call this the algebraic fundamental group $\pi^{alg}_1(X)$.

Hendrik Lenstra has written beautiful course notes on ‘Galois theory for schemes’ on all of this starting from scratch. Besides, there are also two video-lectures available on this at the MSRI-website : Etale fundamental groups 1 by H.W. Lenstra and Etale fundamental groups 2 by F. Pop.

But, what is the connection with the ‘usual’ fundamental group in case both of them can be defined? Well, by construction the algebraic fundamental group is always a profinite group and in the case of manifolds it coincides with the profinite completion of the standard fundamental group, that is,
$\pi^{alg}_1(M) \simeq \widehat{\pi_1(M)}$ (recall that the cofinite completion is the projective limit of all finite group quotients).

Right, so all we have to do to find a topological equivalent of an algebraic scheme is to compute its algebraic fundamental group and find an existing topological space of which the profinite completion of its standard fundamental group coincides with our algebraic fundamental group. An example : a prime number $p$ (as a ‘point’ in $\mathbf{spec}(\mathbb{Z})$) is the closed subscheme $\mathbf{spec}(\mathbb{F}_p)$ corresponding to the finite field $\mathbb{F}_p = \mathbb{Z}/p\mathbb{Z}$. For any affine scheme of a field $K$, the algebraic fundamental group coincides with the absolute Galois group $Gal(\overline{K}/K)$. In the case of $\mathbb{F}_p$ we all know that this abslute Galois group is isomorphic with the profinite integers $\hat{\mathbb{Z}}$. Now, what is the first topological space coming to mind having the integers as its fundamental group? Right, the circle $S^1$. Hence, in arithmetic topology we view prime numbers as topological circles, that is, as knots in some bigger space.

But then, what is this bigger space? That is, what is the topological equivalent of $\mathbf{spec}(\mathbb{Z})$? For this we have to go back to Mazur’s original paper Notes on etale cohomology of number fields in which he gives an Artin-Verdier type duality theorem for the affine spectrum $X=\mathbf{spec}(D)$ of the ring of integers $D$ in a number field. More precisely, there is a non-degenerate pairing $H^r_{et}(X,F) \times Ext^{3-r}_X(F, \mathbb{G}_m) \rightarrow H^3_{et}(X,F) \simeq \mathbb{Q}/\mathbb{Z}$ for any constructible abelian sheaf $F$. This may not tell you much, but it is a ‘sort of’ Poincare-duality result one would have for a compact three dimensional manifold.

Ok, so in particular $\mathbf{spec}(\mathbb{Z})$ should be thought of as a 3-dimensional compact manifold, but which one? For this we have to compute the algebraic fundamental group. Fortunately, this group is trivial as there are no (non-split) etale covers of $\mathbf{spec}(\mathbb{Z})$, so the corresponding 3-manifold should be simple connected… but wenow know that this has to imply that the manifold must be $S^3$, the 3-sphere! Summarizing : in arithmetic topology, prime numbers are knots in the 3-sphere!

More generally (by the same arguments) the affine spectrum $\mathbf{spec}(D)$ of a ring of integers can be thought of as corresponding to a closed oriented 3-dimensional manifold $M$ (which is a cover of $S^3$) and a prime ideal $\mathfrak{p} \triangleleft D$ corresponds to a knot in $M$.

But then, what is an ideal $\mathfrak{a} \triangleleft D$? Well, we have unique factorization of ideals in $D$, that is, $\mathfrak{a} = \mathfrak{p}_1^{n_1} \ldots \mathfrak{p}_k^{n_k}$ and therefore $\mathfrak{a}$ corresponds to a link in $M$ of which the constituent knots are the ones corresponding to the prime ideals $\mathfrak{p}_i$.

And we can go on like this. What should be an element $w \in D$? Well, it will be an embedded surface $S \rightarrow M$, possibly with a boundary, the boundary being the link corresponding to the ideal $\mathfrak{a} = Dw$ and Seifert’s algorithm tells us how we can produce surfaces having any prescribed link as its boundary. But then, in particular, a unit $w \in D^*$ should correspond to a closed surface in $M$.

And all these analogies carry much further : for example the class group of the ring of integers $Cl(D)$ then corresponds to the torsion part $H_1(M,\mathbb{Z})_{tor}$ because principal ideals $Dw$ are trivial in the class group, just as boundaries of surfaces $\partial S$ vanish in $H_1(M,\mathbb{Z})$. Similarly, one may identify the unit group $D^*$ with $H_2(M,\mathbb{Z})$… and so on, and on, and on…

More links to papers on arithmetic topology can be found in John Baez’ week 257 or via here.

Don’t be fooled by introductory remarks to the effect that ‘the field with one element was conceived by Jacques Tits half a century ago, etc. etc.’

While this is a historic fact, and, Jacques Tits cannot be given enough credit for bringing a touch of surrealism into mathematics, but this is not the main drive for people getting into F_un, today.

There is a much deeper and older motivation behind most papers published recently on $\mathbb{F}_1$. Few of the authors will be willing to let you in on the secret, though, because if they did, it would sound much too presumptuous…

So, let’s have it out into the open : F_un mathematics’ goal is no less than proving the Riemann Hypothesis.

And even then, authors hide behind a smoke screen. The ‘official’ explanation being “we would like to copy Weil’s proof of the Riemann hypothesis in the case of function fields of curves over finite fields, by considering spec(Z) as a ‘curve’ over an algebra ‘dessous’ Z namely $\mathbb{F}_1$”. Alas, at this moment, none of the geometric approaches over the field with one element can make this stick.

Believe me for once, the main Jugendtraum of most authors is to get a grip on cyclotomy over $\mathbb{F}_1$. It is no accident that Connes makes a dramatic pauze in his YouTubeVideo to let the viewer see this equation on the backboard

$\mathbb{F}_{1^n} \otimes_{\mathbb{F}_1} \mathbb{Z} = \mathbb{Z}[x]/(x^n-1)$

But, what is the basis of all this childlike enthusiasm? A somewhat concealed clue is given in the introduction of the Kapranov-Smirnov paper. They write :

“In [?] the affine line over $\mathbb{F}_1$ was considered; it consists formally of 0 and all the roots of unity. Put slightly differently, this leads to the consideration of “algebraic extensions” of $\mathbb{F}_1$. By analogy with genuine finite fields we would like to think that there is exactly one such extension of any given degree n, denote it by $\mathbb{F}_{1^n}$.

Of course, $\mathbb{F}_{1^n}$ does not exist in a rigorous sense, but we can think if a scheme $X$ contains n-th roots of unity, then it is defined over $\mathbb{F}_{1^n}$, so that there is a morphism

$p_X~:~X \rightarrow spec(\mathbb{F}_{1^n}$

The point of view that adjoining roots of unity is analogous to the extension of the base field goes back, at least to Weil (Lettre a Artin, Ouvres, vol 1) and Iwasawa…

Okay, so rush down to your library, pick out the first of three volumes of Andre Weil’s collected works, look up his letter to Emil Artin written on July 10th 1942 (19 printed pages!), and head for the final section. Weil writes : “Our proof of the Riemann hypothesis (in the function field case, red.) depended upon the extension of the function-fields by roots of unity, i.e. by constants; the way in which the Galois group of such extensions operates on the classes of divisors in the original field and its extensions gives a linear operator, the characteristic roots (i.e. the eigenvalues) of which are the roots of the zeta-function.

On a number field, the nearest we can get to this is by adjunction of $l^n$-th roots of unity, $l$ being fixed; the Galois group of this infinite extension is cyclic, and defines a linear operator on the projective limit of the (absolute) class groups of those successive finite extensions; this should have something to do with the roots of the zeta-function of the field. However, our extensions are ramified (but only at a finite number of places, viz. the prime divisors of $l$). Thus a preliminary study of similar problems in function-fields might enable one to guess what will happen in number-fields.”

A few years later, in 1947, he makes this a bit more explicit in his marvelous essay “L’avenir des mathematiques” (The future of mathematics). Weil is still in shell-shock after the events of the second WW, and writes in beautiful archaic French sentences lasting forever :

“L’hypothèse de Riemann, après qu’on eu perdu l’espoir de la démontrer par les méthodes de la théorie des fonctions, nous apparaît aujourd’hui sous un jour nouveau, qui la montre inséparable de la conjecture d’Artin sur les fonctions L, ces deux problèmes étant deux aspects d’une même question arithmético-algébrique, où l’étude simultanée de toutes les extensions cyclotomiques d’un corps de nombres donné jouera sans doute le rôle décisif.

L’arithmétique gausienne gravitait autour de la loi de réciprocité quadratique; nous savons maintenant que celle-ci n’est qu’un premier example, ou pour mieux dire le paradigme, des lois dites “du corps de classe”, qui gouvernent les extensions abéliennes des corps de nobres algébriques; nous savons formuler ces lois de manière à leur donner l’aspect d’un ensemble cohérent; mais, si plaisante à l’œil que soit cette façade, nous ne savons si elle ne masque pas des symmétries plus cachées.

Les automorphismes induits sur les groupes de classes par les automorphismes du corps, les propriétés des restes de normes dans les cas non cycliques, le passage à la limite (inductive ou projective) quand on remplace le corps de base par des extensions, par example cyclotomiques, de degré indéfiniment croissant, sont autant de questions sur lesquelles notre ignorance est à peu près complète, et dont l’étude contient peut-être la clef de l’hypothese de Riemann; étroitement liée à celles-ci est l’étude du conducteur d’Artin, et en particulier, dans le cas local, la recherche de la représentation dont la trace s’exprime au moyen des caractères simples avec des coefficients égaux aux exposants de leurs conducteurs.

Ce sont là quelques-unes des directions qu’on peut et qu’on doit songer à suivre afin de pénétrer dans le mystère des extensions non abéliennes; il n’est pas impossible que nous touchions là à des principes d’une fécondité extraordinaire, et que le premier pas décisif une fois fait dans cette voie doive nous ouvrir l’accès à de vastes domaines dont nous soupçonnons à peine l’existence; car jusqu’ici, pour amples que soient nos généralisations des résultats de Gauss, on ne peut dire que nus les ayons vraiment dépassés.”

We are after the geometric trinity corresponding to the trinity of exceptional Galois groups The surfaces on the right have the corresponding group on the left as their group of automorphisms. But, there is a lot more group-theoretic info hidden in the geometry. Before we sketch the $L_2(11)$ case, let us recall the simpler situation of $L_2(7)$.

There are some excellent web-page on the Klein quartic and it would be too hard to try to improve on them, so we refer to John Baez’ page and Greg Egan’s page for more details.

The Klein quartic is the degree 4 projective plane curve defined by the equation $x^3y+y^3z+z^3x=0$. It can be tiled with a set of 24 regular heptagons, or alternatively with a set of 56 equilateral triangles and these two tilings are dual to each other  In the triangular tiling, there are 56 triangles, 84 edges and 24 vertices. The 56 triangles come in 7 bunches of 8 each and we give the 7 bunches of triangles each a different color as in the pictures below made by Greg Egan. Observe that in the hyperbolic tiling all triangles look alike, but in the picture on the left most of them get warped as we try to embed the quartic in 3-space (which is impossible to do properly). The non-warped triangles (the red ones) come into pairs, the top and bottom triangles of a triangular prism, one prism at each of the four ‘vertices’ of a tetrahedron.

The automorphism group $L_2(7)$ acts on these triangles as $S_4$ acts on the triangles in a truncated cube.  The buckyball construction from a conjugacy class of order 11 elements from $L_2(11)$ recalled last time, has an analogon $L_2(7)$, leading to the truncated cube.

In $L_2(7)$ there are two conjugacy classes of subgroups isomorphic to $S_4$ (the rotation-symmetry group of the cube) as well as two conjugacy classes of order 7 elements, each consisting of precisely 24 elements, say C and D. The normalizer subgroup of C has order 21, so there is a cyclic group of order 3 acting non-trivially on the conjugacy class C with 8 orbits consisting of three elements each. These are the eight triangles of the truncated cube identified above as the red triangles. Shifting perspective, we can repeat this for each of the seven different colors. That is, we have seven truncated cubes in the Klein quartic. On each of them a copy of $S_4$ acts and these subgroups form one of the two conjugacy classes of $S_4$ in the group $L_2(7)$. The colors of the triangles of these seven truncated cubes are indicated by bullets in the picture above on the right. The other conjugacy class of $S_4$’s act on ‘truncated anti-cubes’ which also come in seven bunches of which the color is indicated by a square in that picture.

If you spend enough time on it you will see that each (truncated) cube is completely disjoint from precisely 3 (truncated) anti-cubes. This reminds us of the Fano-plane (picture on the left) : it has 7 points (our seven truncated cubes), 7 lines (the truncated anti-cubes) and the incidence relation of points and lines corresponds to the disjointness of (truncated) cubes and anti-cubes! This is the geometric interpretation of the group-theoretic realization that $L_2(7) \simeq PGL_3(\mathbb{F}_2)$ is the isomorphism group of the projective plane over the finite field $\mathbb{F}_2$ on two elements, that is, the Fano plane. The colors of the picture on the left indicate the colors of cubes (points) and anti-cubes (lines) consistent with Egan’s picture above.

Further, the 24 vertices correspond to the 24 cusps of the modular group $\Gamma(7)$. Recall that a modular interpretation of the Klein quartic is as $\mathbb{H}/\Gamma(7)$ where $\mathbb{H}$ is the upper half-plane on which the modular group $\Gamma = PSL_2(\mathbb{Z})$ acts via Moebius transformations, that is, to a 2×2 matrix corresponds the transformation

$$\begin{bmatrix} a & b \\ c & d \end{bmatrix}$$ <----> $z \mapsto \frac{az+b}{cz+d}$

Okay, now let’s briefly sketch the exciting results found by Pablo Martin and David Singerman in the paper From biplanes to the Klein quartic and the buckyball, extending the above to the group $L_2(11)$.

There is one important modification to be made. Recall that the Cayley-graph to get the truncated cube comes from taking as generators of the group $S_4$ the set ${ (3,4),(1,2,3) }$, that is, an order two and an order three element, defining an epimorphism from the modular group $\Gamma= C_2 \ast C_3 \rightarrow S_4$.

We have also seen that in order to get the buckyball as a Cayley-graph for $A_5$ we need to take the generating set ${ (2,3)(4,5),(1,2,3,4,5) }$, so a degree two and a degree five element.

Hence, if we want to have a corresponding Riemann surface we’d better not start from the action of the modular group on the upper half-plane, but rather the action via Moebius transformations of the
Hecke group

$H^5 \simeq C_2 \ast C_5 = \langle z \mapsto -\frac{1}{z}, z \mapsto z+ \phi \rangle$

where $\phi = \frac{1 + \sqrt{5}}{2}$ is the golden ratio.

But then, there is an epimorphism $H^5 \rightarrow L_2(11)$ (as this group is generated by one element of degree 2 and one of degree 5) and let $\Lambda$ denote its kernel. Observe that $\Lambda$ is the analogon of the modular subgroup $\Gamma(7)$ used above to define the Klein quartic.

Hence, Martin and Singerman define the buckyball curve as the modular quotient $X=\mathbb{H}/\Lambda$ which is a Riemann surface of genus 70.

The terminlogy is motivated by the fact that, precisely as we got 7 truncated cubes in the Klein quartic, we now get 11 truncated icosahedra (that is, buckyballs) in $X$. The 11 coming, analogous to the Klein case, from thefact that there are precisely two conjugacy classes of subgroups of $L_2(11)$ isomorphic to $A_5$, each class containing precisely eleven elements!
The 60 vertices of the buckyball again correspond to the fact that there are 60 cusps in this case.

So, what is the analogon of the Fano plane in this case? Well, observe that the Fano-plane is a biplane of order two. That is, if we take as ‘points’ the points of the Fano plane and as ‘lines’ the complements of lines in the Fano plane then this defines a biplane structure. This means that any two distinct ‘points’ are contained in two distinct ‘lines’ and that two distinct ‘lines’ intersect in two distinct ‘points’. A biplane is said to be of order k is each ‘line’ consist of k-2 ‘points’. As the complement of a line in the Fano plane consists of 4 points, the Fano plane is therefore a biplane of order 2. The intersection pattern of cubes and anti-cubes in the Klein quartic is this biplane structure on the Fano plane.

In a similar way, Martin and Singerman show that the two conjugacy classes of subgroups isomorphic to $A_5$ in $L_2(11)$, each containing exactly 11 elements, correspond to 11 embedded buckyballs (and 11 anti-buckyballs) in the buckyball-curve $X$ and that the intersection relations among them describe the combinatorial structure of a biplane of order three if we view the 11 buckys as ‘points’ and the anti-buckys as ‘lines’.

That is, the buckyball curve is a perfect geometric counterpart of the Klein quartic for the two trinities At the Arcadian Functor, Kea also has a post on this in which she conjectures that the Kac-Moody algebra of E11 may be related to the buckyball curve.

References :

David Singerman, “Klein’s Riemann surface of genus 3 and regular embeddings of finite projective planes” Bull. London Math. Soc. 18 (1986) 364-370.

Pablo Martin and David Singerman, “From biplanes to the Klein quartic and the Buckyball” (note that this is a preliminary version, please contact David Singerman for the latest version). Referring to the triple of exceptional Galois groups $L_2(5),L_2(7),L_2(11)$ and its connection to the Platonic solids I wrote : “It sure seems that surprises often come in triples…”. Briefly I considered replacing triples by trinities, but then, I didnt want to sound too mystic…

David Corfield of the n-category cafe and a dialogue on infinity (and perhaps other blogs I’m unaware of) pointed me to the paper Symplectization, complexification and mathematical trinities by Vladimir I. Arnold. (Update : here is a PDF-conversion of the paper)

The paper is a write-up of the second in a series of three lectures Arnold gave in june 1997 at the meeting in the Fields Institute dedicated to his 60th birthday. The goal of that lecture was to explain some mathematical dreams he had.

The next dream I want to present is an even more fantastic set of theorems and conjectures. Here I also have no theory and actually the ideas form a kind of religion rather than mathematics.
The key observation is that in mathematics one encounters many trinities. I shall present a list of examples. The main dream (or conjecture) is that all these trinities are united by some rectangular “commutative diagrams”.
I mean the existence of some “functorial” constructions connecting different trinities. The knowledge of the existence of these diagrams provides some new conjectures which might turn to be true theorems.

Follows a list of 12 trinities, many taken from Arnold’s field of expertise being differential geometry. I’ll restrict to the more algebraically inclined ones.

1 : “The first trinity everyone knows is” where $\mathbb{H}$ are the Hamiltonian quaternions. The trinity on the left may be natural to differential geometers who see real and complex and hyper-Kaehler manifolds as distinct but related beasts, but I’m willing to bet that most algebraists would settle for the trinity on the right where $\mathbb{O}$ are the octonions.

2 : The next trinity is that of the exceptional Lie algebras E6, E7 and E8. with corresponding Dynkin-Coxeter diagrams Arnold has this to say about the apparent ubiquity of Dynkin diagrams in mathematics.

Manin told me once that the reason why we always encounter this list in many different mathematical classifications is its presence in the hardware of our brain (which is thus unable to discover a more complicated scheme).
I still hope there exists a better reason that once should be discovered.

Amen to that. I’m quite hopeful human evolution will overcome the limitations of Manin’s brain…

3 : Next comes the Platonic trinity of the tetrahedron, cube and dodecahedron    Clearly one can argue against this trinity as follows : a tetrahedron is a bunch of triangles such that there are exactly 3 of them meeting in each vertex, a cube is a bunch of squares, again 3 meeting in every vertex, a dodecahedron is a bunch of pentagons 3 meeting in every vertex… and we can continue the pattern. What should be a bunch a hexagons such that in each vertex exactly 3 of them meet? Well, only one possibility : it must be the hexagonal tiling (on the left below). And in normal Euclidian space we cannot have a bunch of septagons such that three of them meet in every vertex, but in hyperbolic geometry this is still possible and leads to the Klein quartic (on the right). Check out this wonderful post by John Baez for more on this. 4 : The trinity of the rotation symmetry groups of the three Platonics where $A_n$ is the alternating group on n letters and $S_n$ is the symmetric group.

Clearly, any rotation of a Platonic solid takes vertices to vertices, edges to edges and faces to faces. For the tetrahedron we can easily see the 4 of the group $A_4$, say the 4 vertices. But what is the 4 of $S_4$ in the case of a cube? Well, a cube has 4 body-diagonals and they are permuted under the rotational symmetries. The most difficult case is to see the $5$ of $A_5$ in the dodecahedron. Well, here’s the solution to this riddle there are exactly 5 inscribed cubes in a dodecahedron and they are permuted by the rotations in the same way as $A_5$.

7 : The seventh trinity involves complex polynomials in one variable the Laurant polynomials and the modular polynomials (that is, rational functions with three poles at 0,1 and $\infty$.

8 : The eight one is another beauty Here ‘numbers’ are the ordinary complex numbers $\mathbb{C}$, the ‘trigonometric numbers’ are the quantum version of those (aka q-numbers) which is a one-parameter deformation and finally, the ‘elliptic numbers’ are a two-dimensional deformation. If you ever encountered a Sklyanin algebra this will sound familiar.

This trinity is based on a paper of Turaev and Frenkel and I must come back to it some time…

The paper has some other nice trinities (such as those among Whitney, Chern and Pontryagin classes) but as I cannot add anything sensible to it, let us include a few more algebraic trinities. The first one attributed by Arnold to John McKay

13 : A trinity parallel to the exceptional Lie algebra one is between the 27 straight lines on a cubic surface, the 28 bitangents on a quartic plane curve and the 120 tritangent planes of a canonic sextic curve of genus 4.

14 : The exceptional Galois groups explained last time.

15 : The associated curves with these groups as symmetry groups (as in the previous post) where the ? refers to the mysterious genus 70 curve. I’ll check with one of the authors whether there is still an embargo on the content of this paper and if not come back to it in full detail.

16 : The three generations of sporadic groups Do you have other trinities you’d like to worship?