Art and the absolute point

In his paper Cyclotomy and analytic geometry over $\mathbb{F}_1$ Yuri I. Manin sketches and compares four approaches to the definition of a geometry over $\mathbb{F}_1$, the elusive field with one element.

He writes : “Preparing a colloquium talk in Paris, I have succumbed to the temptation to associate them with some dominant trends in the history of art.”

Remember that the search for the absolute point $\pmb{spec}(\mathbb{F}_1)$ originates from the observation that $\pmb{spec}(\mathbb{Z})$, the set of all prime numbers together with $0$, is too large to serve as the terminal object in Grothendieck’s theory of commutative schemes. The last couple of years have seen a booming industry of proposals, to the extent that Javier Lopez Pena and Oliver Lorscheid decided they had to draw a map of $\mathbb{F}_1$-land.

Manin only discusses the colored proposals (TV=Toen-Vaquie, M=Deitmar, S=Soule and $\Lambda$=Borger) and compares them to these art-history trends.

Toen and Vaquie : Abstract Expressionism

In Under $\pmb{spec}(\mathbb{Z})$ Bertrand Toen and Michel Vaquie argue that geometry over $\mathbb{F}_1$ is a special case of algebraic geometry over a symmetric monoidal category, taking the simplest example namely sets and direct products. Probably because of its richness and abstract nature, Manin associates this approach to Abstract Expressionism (a.o. Karel Appel, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning).

Deitmar : Minimalism

Because monoids are the ‘commutative algebras’ in sets with direct products, an equivalent proposal is that of Anton Deitmar in Schemes over $\mathbb{F}_1$ in which the basic affine building blocks are spectra of monoids, topological spaces whose points are submonoids satisfying a primeness property. Because Deitmar himself calls this approach a ‘minimalistic’ one it is only natural to associate to it Minimalism where the work is stripped down to its most fundamental features. Prominent artists associated with this movement include Donald Judd, John McLaughlin, Agnes Martin, Dan Flavin, Robert Morris, Anne Truitt, and Frank Stella.

Soule : Critical Realism

in Les varietes sur le corps a un element Christophe Soule defines varieties over $\mathbb{F}_1$ to be specific schemes $X$ over $\mathbb{Z}$ together with a form of ‘descent data’ as well as an additional $\mathbb{C}$-algebra, morally the algebra of functions on the real place. Because of this Manin associates to it Critical Realism in philosophy. There are also ‘realism’ movements in art such as American Realism (o.a. Edward Hopper and John Sloan).

Borger : Futurism

James Borger’s paper Lambda-rings and the field with one element offers a totally new conception of the descent data from $\mathbb{Z}$ to $\mathbb{F}_1$, namely that of a $\lambda$-ring in the sense of Grothendieck. Because Manin expects this approach to lead to progress in the field, he connects it to Futurism, an artistic and social movement that originated in Italy in the early 20th century.

Lambda-rings for formula-phobics

In 1956, Alexander Grothendieck (middle) introduced $\lambda $-rings in an algebraic-geometric context to be commutative rings A equipped with a bunch of operations $\lambda^i $ (for all numbers $i \in \mathbb{N}_+ $) satisfying a list of rather obscure identities. From the easier ones, such as

$\lambda^0(x)=1, \lambda^1(x)=x, \lambda^n(x+y) = \sum_i \lambda^i(x) \lambda^{n-i}(y) $

to those expressing $\lambda^n(x.y) $ and $\lambda^m(\lambda^n(x)) $ via specific universal polynomials. An attempt to capture the essence of $\lambda $-rings without formulas?

Lenstra’s elegant construction of the 1-power series rings $~(\Lambda(A),\oplus,\otimes) $ requires only one identity to remember

$~(1-at)^{-1} \otimes (1-bt)^{-1} = (1-abt)^{-1} $.

Still, one can use it to show the existence of ringmorphisms $\gamma_n~:~\Lambda(A) \rightarrow A $, for all numbers $n \in \mathbb{N}_+ $. Consider the formal ‘logarithmic derivative’

$\gamma = \frac{t u(t)’}{u(t)} = \sum_{i=1}^\infty \gamma_i(u(t))t^i~:~\Lambda(A) \rightarrow A[[t]] $

where $u(t)’ $ is the usual formal derivative of a power series. As this derivative satisfies the chain rule, we have

$\gamma(u(t) \oplus v(t)) = \frac{t (u(t)v(t))’}{u(t)v(t)} = \frac{t(u(t)’v(t)+u(t)v(t)’}{u(t)v(t))} = \frac{tu(t)’}{u(t)} + \frac{tv(t)’}{v(t)} = \gamma(u(t)) + \gamma(v(t)) $

and so all the maps $\gamma_n~:~\Lambda(A) \rightarrow A $ are additive. To show that they are also multiplicative, it suffices by functoriality to verify this on the special 1-series $~(1-at)^{-1} $ for all $a \in A $. But,

$\gamma((1-at)^{-1}) = \frac{t \frac{a}{(1-at)^2}}{(1-at)} = \frac{at}{(1-at)} = at + a^2t^2 + a^3t^3+\ldots $

That is, $\gamma_n((1-at)^{-1}) = a^n $ and Lenstra’s identity implies that $\gamma_n $ is indeed multiplicative! A first attempt :

hassle-free definition 1 : a commutative ring $A $ is a $\lambda $-ring if and only if there is a ringmorphism $s_A~:~A \rightarrow \Lambda(A) $ splitting $\gamma_1 $, that is, such that $\gamma_1 \circ s_A = id_A $.

In particular, a $\lambda $-ring comes equipped with a multiplicative set of ring-endomorphisms $s_n = \gamma_n \circ s_A~:~A \rightarrow A $ satisfying $s_m \circ s_m = s_{mn} $. One can then define a $\lambda $-ringmorphism to be a ringmorphism commuting with these endo-morphisms.

The motivation being that $\lambda $-rings are known to form a subcategory of commutative rings for which the 1-power series functor is the right adjoint to the functor forgetting the $\lambda $-structure. In particular, if $A $ is a $\lambda $-ring, we have a ringmorphism $A \rightarrow \Lambda(A) $ corresponding to the identity morphism.

But then, what is the connection to the usual one involving all the operations $\lambda^i $? Well, one ought to recover those from $s_A(a) = (1-\lambda^1(a)t+\lambda^2(a)t^2-\lambda^3(a)t^3+…)^{-1} $.

For $s_A $ to be a ringmorphism will require identities among the $\lambda^i $. I hope an expert will correct me on this one, but I’d guess we won’t yet obtain all identities required. By the very definition of an adjoint we must have that $s_A $ is a morphism of $\lambda $-rings, and, this would require defining a $\lambda $-ring structure on $\Lambda(A) $, that is a ringmorphism $s_{AH}~:~\Lambda(A) \rightarrow \Lambda(\Lambda(A)) $, the so called Artin-Hasse exponential, to which I’d like to return later.

For now, we can define a multiplicative set of ring-endomorphisms $f_n~:~\Lambda(A) \rightarrow \Lambda(A) $ from requiring that $f_n((1-at)^{-1}) = (1-a^nt)^{-1} $ for all $a \in A $. Another try?

hassle-free definition 2 : $A $ is a $\lambda $-ring if and only if there is splitting $s_A $ to $\gamma_1 $ satisfying the compatibility relations $f_n \circ s_A = s_A \circ s_n $.

But even then, checking that a map $s_A~:~A \rightarrow \Lambda(A) $ is a ringmorphism is as hard as verifying the lists of identities among the $\lambda^i $. Fortunately, we get such a ringmorphism for free in the important case when A is of ‘characteristic zero’, that is, has no additive torsion. Then, a ringmorphism $A \rightarrow \Lambda(A) $ exists whenever we have a multiplicative set of ring endomorphisms $F_n~:~A \rightarrow A $ for all $n \in \mathbb{N}_+ $ such that for every prime number $p $ the morphism $F_p $ is a lift of the Frobenius, that is, $F_p(a) \in a^p + pA $.

Perhaps this captures the essence of $\lambda $-rings best (without the risk of getting an headache) : in characteristic zero, they are the (commutative) rings having a multiplicative set of endomorphisms, generated by lifts of the Frobenius maps.

big Witt vectors for everyone (1/2)

Next time you visit your math-library, please have a look whether these books are still on the shelves : Michiel Hazewinkel‘s Formal groups and applications, William Fulton’s and Serge Lange’s Riemann-Roch algebra and Donald Knutson’s lambda-rings and the representation theory of the symmetric group.

I wouldn’t be surprised if one or more of these books are borrowed out, probably all of them to the same person. I’m afraid I’m that person in Antwerp…

Lately, there’s been a renewed interest in $\lambda $-rings and the endo-functor W assigning to a commutative algebra its ring of big Witt vectors, following Borger’s new proposal for a geometry over the absolute point.

However, as Hendrik Lenstra writes in his 2002 course-notes on the subject Construction of the ring of Witt vectors : “The literature on the functor W is in a somewhat unsatisfactory state: nobody seems to have any interest in Witt vectors beyond applying them for a purpose, and they are often treated in appendices to papers devoting to something else; also, the construction usually depends on a set of implicit or unintelligible formulae. Apparently, anybody who wishes to understand Witt vectors needs to construct them personally. That is what is now happening to myself.”

Before doing a series on Borger’s paper, we’d better run through Lenstra’s elegant construction in a couple of posts. Let A be a commutative ring and consider the multiplicative group of all ‘one-power series’ over it $\Lambda(A)=1+t A[[t]] $. Our aim is to define a commutative ring structure on $\Lambda(A) $ taking as its ADDITION the MULTIPLICATION of power series.

That is, if $u(t),v(t) \in \Lambda(A) $, then we define our addition $u(t) \oplus v(t) = u(t) \times v(t) $. This may be slightly confusing as the ZERO-element in $\Lambda(A),\oplus $ will then turn be the constant power series 1…

We are now going to define a multiplication $\otimes $ on $\Lambda(A) $ which is distributively with respect to $\oplus $ and turns $\Lambda(A) $ into a commutative ring with ONE-element the series $~(1-t)^{-1}=1+t+t^2+t^3+\ldots $.

We will do this inductively, so consider $\Lambda_n(A) $ the (classes of) one-power series truncated at term n, that is, the kernel of the natural augmentation map between the multiplicative group-units $~A[t]/(t^{n+1})^* \rightarrow A^* $.
Again, taking multiplication in $A[t]/(t^{n+1}) $ as a new addition rule $\oplus $, we see that $~(\Lambda_n(A),\oplus) $ is an Abelian group, whence a $\mathbb{Z} $-module.

For all elements $a \in A $ we have a scaling operator $\phi_a $ (sending $t \rightarrow at $) which is an A-ring endomorphism of $A[t]/(t^{n+1}) $, in particular multiplicative wrt. $\times $. But then, $\phi_a $ is an additive endomorphism of $~(\Lambda_n(A),\oplus) $, so is an element of the endomorphism-RING $End_{\mathbb{Z}}(\Lambda_n(A)) $. Because composition (being the multiplication in this endomorphism ring) of scaling operators is clearly commutative ($\phi_a \circ \phi_b = \phi_{ab} $) we can define a commutative RING $E $ being the subring of $End_{\mathbb{Z}}(\Lambda_n(A)) $ generated by the operators $\phi_a $.

The action turns $~(\Lambda_n(A),\oplus) $ into an E-module and we define an E-module morphism $E \rightarrow \Lambda_n(A) $ by $\phi_a \mapsto \phi_a((1-t)^{-1}) = (1-at)^{-a} $.

All of this looks pretty harmless, but the upshot is that we have now equipped the image of this E-module morphism, say $L_n(A) $ (which is the additive subgroup of $~(\Lambda_n(A),\oplus) $ generated by the elements $~(1-at)^{-1} $) with a commutative multiplication $\otimes $ induced by the rule $~(1-at)^{-1} \otimes (1-bt)^{-1} = (1-abt)^{-1} $.

Explicitly, $L_n(A) $ is the set of one-truncated polynomials $u(t) $ with coefficients in $A $ such that one can find elements $a_1,\ldots,a_k \in A $ such that $u(t) \equiv (1-a_1t)^{-1} \times \ldots \times (1-a_k)^{-1}~mod~t^{n+1} $. We multiply $u(t) $ with another such truncated one-polynomial $v(t) $ (taking elements $b_1,b_2,\ldots,b_l \in A $) via

$u(t) \otimes v(t) = ((1-a_1t)^{-1} \oplus \ldots \oplus (1-a_k)^{-1}) \otimes ((1-b_1t)^{-1} \oplus \ldots \oplus (1-b_l)^{-1}) $

and using distributivity and the multiplication rule this gives the element $\prod_{i,j} (1-a_ib_jt)^{-1}~mod~t^{n+1} \in L_n(A) $.
Being a ring-qutient of $E $ we have that $~(L_n(A),\oplus,\otimes) $ is a commutative ring, and, from the construction it is clear that $L_n $ behaves functorially.

For rings $A $ such that $L_n(A)=\Lambda_n(A) $ we are done, but in general $L_n(A) $ may be strictly smaller. The idea is to use functoriality and do the relevant calculations in a larger ring $A \subset B $ where we can multiply the two truncated one-polynomials and observe that the resulting truncated polynomial still has all its coefficients in $A $.

Here’s how we would do this over $\mathbb{Z} $ : take two irreducible one-polynomials u(t) and v(t) of degrees r resp. s smaller or equal to n. Then over the complex numbers we have
$u(t)=(1-\alpha_1t) \ldots (1-\alpha_rt) $ and $v(t)=(1-\beta_1) \ldots (1-\beta_st) $. Then, over the field $K=\mathbb{Q}(\alpha_1,\ldots,\alpha_r,\beta_1,\ldots,\beta_s) $ we have that $u(t),v(t) \in L_n(K) $ and hence we can compute their product $u(t) \otimes v(t) $ as before to be $\prod_{i,j}(1-\alpha_i\beta_jt)^{-1}~mod~t^{n+1} $. But then, all coefficients of this truncated K-polynomial are invariant under all permutations of the roots $\alpha_i $ and the roots $\beta_j $ and so is invariant under all elements of the Galois group. But then, these coefficients are algebraic numbers in $\mathbb{Q} $ whence integers. That is, $u(t) \otimes v(t) \in \Lambda_n(\mathbb{Z}) $. It should already be clear from this that the rings $\Lambda_n(\mathbb{Z}) $ contain a lot of arithmetic information!

For a general commutative ring $A $ we will copy this argument by considering a free overring $A^{(\infty)} $ (with 1 as one of the base elements) by formally adjoining roots. At level 1, consider $M_0 $ to be the set of all non-constant one-polynomials over $A $ and consider the ring

$A^{(1)} = \bigotimes_{f \in M_0} A[X]/(f) = A[X_f, f \in M_0]/(f(X_f) , f \in M_0) $

The idea being that every one-polynomial $f \in M_0 $ now has one root, namely $\alpha_f = \overline{X_f} $ in $A^{(1)} $. Further, $A^{(1)} $ is a free A-module with basis elements all $\alpha_f^i $ with $0 \leq i < deg(f) $.

Good! We now have at least one root, but we can continue this process. At level 2, $M_1 $ will be the set of all non-constant one-polynomials over $A^{(1)} $ and we use them to construct the free overring $A^{(2)} $ (which now has the property that every $f \in M_0 $ has at least two roots in $A^{(2)} $). And, again, we repeat this process and obtain in succession the rings $A^{(3)},A^{(4)},\ldots $. Finally, we define $A^{(\infty)} = \underset{\rightarrow}{lim}~A^{(i)} $ having the property that every one-polynomial over A splits entirely in linear factors over $A^{(\infty)} $.

But then, for all $u(t),v(t) \in \Lambda_n(A) $ we can compute $u(t) \otimes v(t) \in \Lambda_n(A^{(\infty)}) $. Remains to show that the resulting truncated one-polynomial has all its entries in A. The ring $A^{(\infty)} \otimes_A A^{(\infty)} $ contains two copies of $A^{(\infty)} $ namely $A^{(\infty)} \otimes 1 $ and $1 \otimes A^{(\infty)} $ and the intersection of these two rings in exactly $A $ (here we use the freeness property and the additional fact that 1 is one of the base elements). But then, by functoriality of $L_n $, the element
$u(t) \otimes v(t) \in L_n(A^{(\infty)} \otimes_A A^{(\infty)}) $ lies in the intersection $\Lambda_n(A^{(\infty)} \otimes 1) \cap \Lambda_n(1 \otimes A^{(\infty)})=\Lambda_n(A) $. Done!

Hence, we have endo-functors $\Lambda_n $ in the category of all commutative rings, for every number n. Reviewing the construction of $L_n $ one observes that there are natural transformations $L_{n+1} \rightarrow L_n $ and therefore also natural transformations $\Lambda_{n+1} \rightarrow \Lambda_n $. Taking the inverse limits $\Lambda(A) = \underset{\leftarrow}{lim} \Lambda_n(A) $ we therefore have the ‘one-power series’ endo-functor
$\Lambda~:~\mathbf{comm} \rightarrow \mathbf{comm} $
which is ‘almost’ the functor W of big Witt vectors. Next time we’ll take you through the identification using ‘ghost variables’ and how the functor $\Lambda $ can be used to define the category of $\lambda $-rings.