Art and the absolute point (3)

Previously, we have recalled comparisons between approaches to define a geometry over the absolute point and art-historical movements, first those due to Yuri I. Manin, subsequently some extra ones due to Javier Lopez Pena and Oliver Lorscheid.

In these comparisons, the art trend appears to have been chosen more to illustrate a key feature of the approach or an appreciation of its importance, rather than giving a visual illustration of the varieties over $\mathbb{F}_1$ the approach proposes.

Some time ago, we’ve had a couple of posts trying to depict noncommutative varieties, first the illustrations used by Shahn Majid and Matilde Marcolli, and next my own mental picture of it.

In this post, we’ll try to do something similar for affine varieties over the absolute point. To simplify things drastically, I’ll divide the islands in the Lopez Pena-Lorscheid map of $\mathbb{F}_1$ land in two subsets : the former approaches (all but the $\Lambda$-schemes) and the current approach (the $\Lambda$-scheme approach due to James Borger).

The former approaches : Francis Bacon “The Pope” (1953)

The general consensus here was that in going from $\mathbb{Z}$ to $\mathbb{F}_1$ one looses the additive structure and retains only the multiplicative one. Hence, ‘commutative algebras’ over $\mathbb{F}_1$ are (commutative) monoids, and mimicking Grothendieck’s functor of points approach to algebraic geometry, a scheme over $\mathbb{F}_1$ would then correspond to a functor

$h_Z~:~\mathbf{monoids} \longrightarrow \mathbf{sets}$

Such functors are described largely by combinatorial data (see for example the recent blueprint-paper by Oliver Lorscheid), and, if the story would stop here, any Rothko painting could be used as illustration.

Most of the former approaches add something though (buzzwords include ‘Arakelov’, ‘completion at $\infty$’, ‘real place’ etc.) in order to connect the virtual geometric object over $\mathbb{F}_1$ with existing real, complex or integral schemes. For example, one can make the virtual object visible via an evaluation map $h_Z \rightarrow h_X$ which is a natural transformation, where $X$ is a complex variety with its usual functor of points $h_X$ and to connect both we associate to a monoid $M$ its complex monoid-algebra $\mathbb{C} M$. An integral scheme $Y$ can then be said to be ‘defined over $\mathbb{F}_1$’, if $h_Z$ becomes a subfunctor of its usual functor of points $h_Y$ (again, assigning to a monoid its integral monoid algebra $\mathbb{Z} M$) and $Y$ is the ‘best’ integral scheme approximation of the complex evaluation map.

To illustrate this, consider the painting Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Francis Bacon (right-hand painting above) which is a distorded version of the left-hand painting Portrait of Innocent X by Diego Velázquez.

Here, Velázquez’ painting plays the role of the complex variety which makes the combinatorial gadget $h_Z$ visible, and, Bacon’s painting depicts the integral scheme, build up from this combinatorial data, which approximates the evaluation map best.

All of the former approaches more or less give the same very small list of integral schemes defined over $\mathbb{F}_1$, none of them motivically interesting.

The current approach : Jackson Pollock “No. 8” (1949)

An entirely different approach was proposed by James Borger in $\Lambda$-rings and the field with one element. He proposes another definition for commutative $\mathbb{F}_1$-algebras, namely $\lambda$-rings (in the sense of Grothendieck’s Riemann-Roch) and he argues that the $\lambda$-ring structure (which amounts in the sensible cases to a family of endomorphisms of the integral ring lifting the Frobenius morphisms) can be viewed as descent data from $\mathbb{Z}$ to $\mathbb{F}_1$.

The list of integral schemes of finite type with a $\lambda$-structure coincides roughly with the list of integral schemes defined over $\mathbb{F}_1$ in the other approaches, but Borger’s theory really shines in that it proposes long sought for mystery-objects such as $\mathbf{spec}(\mathbb{Z}) \times_{\mathbf{spec}(\mathbb{F}_1)} \mathbf{spec}(\mathbb{Z})$. If one accepts Borger’s premise, then this object should be the geometric object corresponding to the Witt-ring $W(\mathbb{Z})$. Recall that the role of Witt-rings in $\mathbb{F}_1$-geometry was anticipated by Manin in Cyclotomy and analytic geometry over $\mathbb{F}_1$.

But, Witt-rings and their associated Witt-spaces are huge objects, so one needs to extend arithmetic geometry drastically to include such ‘integral schemes of infinite type’. Borger has made a couple of steps in this direction in The basic geometry of Witt vectors, II: Spaces.

To depict these new infinite dimensional geometric objects I’ve chosen for Jackson Pollock‘s painting No. 8. It is no coincidence that Pollock-paintings also appeared in the depiction of noncommutative spaces. In fact, Matilde Marcolli has made the connection between $\lambda$-rings and noncommutative geometry in Cyclotomy and endomotives by showing that the Bost-Connes endomotives are universal for $\lambda$-rings.

Penrose tilings and noncommutative geometry

Penrose tilings are aperiodic tilings of the plane, made from 2 sort of tiles : kites and darts. It is well known (see for example the standard textbook tilings and patterns section 10.5) that one can describe a Penrose tiling around a given point in the plane as an infinite sequence of 0’s and 1’s, subject to the condition that no two consecutive 1’s appear in the sequence. Conversely, any such sequence is the sequence of a Penrose tiling together with a point. Moreover, if two such sequences are eventually the same (that is, they only differ in the first so many terms) then these sequences belong to two points in the same tiling,

Another remarkable feature of Penrose tilings is their local isomorphism : fix a finite region around a point in one tiling, then in any other Penrose tiling one can find a point having an isomorphic region around it. For this reason, the space of all Penrose tilings has horrible topological properties (all points lie in each others closure) and is therefore a prime test-example for the techniques of noncommutative geometry.

In his old testament, Noncommutative Geometry, Alain Connes associates to this space a $C^*$-algebra $Fib$ (because it is constructed from the Fibonacci series $F_0,F_1,F_2,…$) which is the direct limit of sums of two full matrix-algebras $S_n$, with connecting morphisms

$S_n = M_{F_n}(\mathbb{C}) \oplus M_{F_{n-1}}(\mathbb{C}) \rightarrow S_{n+1} = M_{F_{n+1}}(\mathbb{C}) \oplus M_{F_n}(\mathbb{C}) \qquad (a,b) \mapsto ( \begin{matrix} a & 0 \\ 0 & b \end{matrix}, a)$

As such $Fib$ is an AF-algebra (for approximately finite) and hence formally smooth. That is, $Fib$ would be the coordinate ring of a smooth variety in the noncommutative sense, if only $Fib$ were finitely generated. However, $Fib$ is far from finitely generated and has other undesirable properties (at least for a noncommutative algebraic geometer) such as being simple and hence in particular $Fib$ has no finite dimensional representations…

A couple of weeks ago, Paul Smith discovered a surprising connection between the noncommutative space of Penrose tilings and an affine algebra in the paper The space of Penrose tilings and the non-commutative curve with homogeneous coordinate ring $\mathbb{C} \langle x,y \rangle/(y^2)$.

Giving $x$ and $y$ degree 1, the algebra $P = \mathbb{C} \langle x,y \rangle/(y^2)$ is obviously graded and noncommutative projective algebraic geometers like to associate to such algebras their ‘proj’ which is the quotient category of the category of all graded modules in which two objects become isomorphisc iff their ‘tails’ (that is forgetting the first few homogeneous components) are isomorphic.

The first type of objects NAGers try to describe are the point modules, which correspond to graded modules in which every homogeneous component is 1-dimensional, that is, they are of the form

$\mathbb{C} e_0 \oplus \mathbb{C} e_1 \oplus \mathbb{C} e_2 \oplus \cdots \oplus \mathbb{C} e_n \oplus \mathbb{C} e_{n+1} \oplus \cdots$

with $e_i$ an element of degree $i$. The reason for this is that point-modules correspond to the points of the (usual, commutative) projective variety when the affine graded algebra is commutative.

Now, assume that a Penrose tiling has been given by a sequence of 0’s and 1’s, say $(z_0,z_1,z_2,\cdots)$, then it is easy to associate to it a graded vectorspace with action given by

$x.e_i = e_{i+1}$ and $y.e_i = z_i e_{i+1}$

Because the sequence has no two consecutive ones, it is clear that this defines a graded module for the algebra $P$ and determines a point module in $\pmb{proj}(P)$. By the equivalence relation on Penrose sequences and the tails-equivalence on graded modules it follows that two sequences define the same Penrose tiling if and only if they determine the same point module in $\pmb{proj}(P)$. Phrased differently, the noncommutative space of Penrose tilings embeds in $\pmb{proj}(P)$ as a subset of the point-modules for $P$.

The only such point-module invariant under the shift-functor is the one corresponding to the 0-sequence, that is, corresponds to the cartwheel tiling

Another nice consequence is that we can now explain the local isomorphism property of Penrose tilings geometrically as a consequence of the fact that the $Ext^1$ between any two such point-modules is non-zero, that is, these noncommutative points lie ‘infinitely close’ to each other.

This is the easy part of Paul’s paper.

The truly, truly amazing part is that he is able to recover Connes’ AF-algebra $Fib$ from $\pmb{proj}(P)$ as the algebra of global sections! More precisely, he proves that there is an equivalence of categories between $\pmb{proj}(P)$ and the category of all $Fib$-modules $\pmb{mod}(Fib)$!

In other words, the noncommutative projective scheme $\pmb{proj}(P)$ is actually isomorphic to an affine scheme and as its coordinate ring is formally smooth $\pmb{proj}(P)$ is a noncommutative smooth variety. It would be interesting to construct more such examples of interesting AF-algebras appearing as local rings of sections of proj-es of affine graded algebras.

If Bourbaki=WikiLeaks then Weil=Assange

In an interview with readers of the Guardian, December 3rd 2010, Julian Assange made a somewhat surprising comparison between WikiLeaks and Bourbaki, sorry, The Bourbaki (sic) :

“I originally tried hard for the organisation to have no face, because I wanted egos to play no part in our activities. This followed the tradition of the French anonymous pure mathematians, who wrote under the collective allonym, “The Bourbaki”. However this quickly led to tremendous distracting curiosity about who and random individuals claiming to represent us. In the end, someone must be responsible to the public and only a leadership that is willing to be publicly courageous can genuinely suggest that sources take risks for the greater good. In that process, I have become the lightening rod. I get undue attacks on every aspect of my life, but then I also get undue credit as some kind of balancing force.”

Analogies are never perfect, but perhaps Assange should have taken it a bit further and studied the history of the pre-war Bourbakistas in order to avoid problems that led to the eventual split-up.

Clearly, if Bourbaki=WikiLeaks, then Assange plays the role of Andre Weil. Both of them charismatic leaders, convincing the group around them that for the job at hand to succeed, it is best to work as a collective so that individual contributions cannot be traced.

At first this works well. Both groups make progress and gain importance, also to the outside world. But then, internal problems surface, questioning the commitment of ‘the leader’ to the original project.

In the case of the Bourbakis, Claude Chevalley and Rene de Possel dropped that bombshell at the second Chancay-meeting in 1937 with a 2 page pamphlet 7 theses de Chancay.

“Criticism on the state of affairs :

  • in general, a certain aging of Bourbaki, which manifests itself in a tendency to neglect internal lively opposition in favor of pursuing visible external succes ((failed) completion of versions, artificial agreement among members of the group).
  • in particular, often the working method appears to be that of suffocating any objections in official meetings (via interruptions, not listening, etc. etc.). This tendency didn’t exist at the Besse meeting, began to manifest itself at the Escorial-meeting and got even worse here at Chancay. Bourbaki-members don’t pay attention to discussions and the principle of unanimous decision-making is replaced in reality by majority rule.”

Sounds familiar? Perhaps stretching the analogy a bit one might say that Claude Chevalley’s and Rene de Possel’s role within Bourbaki is similar to that of respectively Birgitta Jónsdóttir and Daniel Domscheit-Berg within WikiLeaks.

This criticism will be neglected and at the following Bourbaki-meeting in Dieulefit (neither Chevalley nor de Possel were present) hardly any work gets done, largely due to the fact that Andre Weil is more concerned about his personal safety and escapes during the meeting for a couple of days to Switserland, fearing an imminent invasion.

After the Dieulefit-meeting, even though Bourbaki’s fame is spreading, work on the manuscripts is halted because all members are reserve-officers in the French army and have to prepare for war.

Except for Andre Weil, who’s touring the world with a clear “Bourbaki, c’est moi!” message, handing out Bourbaki name-cards or invitations to Betti Bourbaki’s wedding… That Andre and Eveline Weil are traveling as Mr. and Mrs. Bourbaki is perhaps best illustrated by the thank-you note, left on their journey through Finland.

If it were not for the fact that the other members had more pressing matters to deal with, Weil’s attitude would have resulted in more people dropping out of the group, or continuing the work under another name, a bit like what happens to WikiLeaks and OpenLeaks today.

Who dreamed up the primes=knots analogy?

One of the more surprising analogies around is that prime numbers can be viewed as knots in the 3-sphere $S^3$. The motivation behind it is that the (etale) fundamental group of $\pmb{spec}(\mathbb{Z}/(p))$ is equal to (the completion) of the fundamental group of a circle $S^1$ and that the embedding

$\pmb{spec}(\mathbb{Z}/(p)) \subset \pmb{spec}(\mathbb{Z})$

embeds this circle as a knot in a 3-dimensional simply connected manifold which, after Perelman, has to be $S^3$. For more see the what is the knot associated to a prime?-post.

In recent months new evidence has come to light allowing us to settle the genesis of this marvelous idea.

1. The former consensus

Until now, the generally accepted view (see for example the ‘Mazur-dictionary-post’ or Morishita’s expository paper) was that the analogy between knots and primes was first pointed out by Barry Mazur in the middle of the 1960’s when preparing for his lectures at the Summer Conference on Algebraic Geometry, at Bowdoin, in 1966. The lecture notes where later published in 1973 in the Annales of the ENS as ‘Notes on etale cohomology of number fields’.

For further use in this series of posts, please note the acknowledgement at the bottom of the first page, reproduced below : “It gives me pleasure to thank J.-P. Serre for his vigorous editing and his suggestions and corrections, which led to this revised version.”

Independently, Yuri I. Manin spotted the same analogy at around the same time. However, this point of view was quickly forgotten in favor of the more classical one of viewing number fields as analogous to algebraic function fields of one variable. Subsequently, in the mid 1990’s Mikhail Kapranov and Alexander Reznikov took up the analogy between number fields and 3-manifolds again, and called the resulting study arithmetic topology.

2. The new evidence

On december 13th 2010, David Feldman posted a MathOverflow-question Mazur’s unpublished manuscript on primes and knots?. He wrote : “The story of the analogy between knots and primes, which now has a literature, started with an unpublished note by Barry Mazur. I’m not absolutely sure this is the one I mean, but in his paper, Analogies between group actions on 3-manifolds and number fields, Adam Sikora cites B. Mazur, Remarks on the Alexander polynomial, unpublished notes.

Two months later, on february 15th David Feldman suddenly found the missing preprint in his mail-box and made it available. The preprint is now also available from Barry Mazur’s website. Mazur adds the following comment :

“In 1963 or 1964 I wrote an article Remarks on the Alexander Polynomial [PDF] about the analogy between knots in the three-dimensional sphere and prime numbers (and, correspondingly, the relationship between the Alexander polynomial and Iwasawa Theory). I distributed some copies of my article but never published it, and I misplaced my own copy. In subsequent years I have had many requests for my article and would often try to search through my files to find it, but never did. A few weeks ago Minh-Tri Do asked me for my article, and when I said I had none, he very kindly went on the web and magically found a scanned copy of it. I’m extremely grateful to Minh-Tri Do for his efforts (and many thanks, too, to David Feldman who provided the lead).”


The opening paragraph of this unpublished preprint contains a major surprise!

Mazur points to David Mumford as the originator of the ‘primes-are-knots’ idea : “Mumford has suggested a most elegant model as a geometric interpretation of the above situation : $\pmb{spec}(\mathbb{Z}/p\mathbb{Z})$ is like a one-dimensional knot in $\pmb{spec}(\mathbb{Z})$ which is like a simply connected three-manifold.”

In a later post we will show that one can even pinpoint the time and place when and where this analogy was first dreamed-up to within a few days and a couple of miles.

For the impatient among you, have a sneak preview of the cradle of birth of the primes=knots idea…