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Tag: moonshine

non-(commutative) geometry

Now
that my non-geometry
post
is linked via the comments in this
string-coffee-table post
which in turn is available through a
trackback from the Kontsevich-Soibelman
paper
it is perhaps useful to add a few links.

The little
I’ve learned from reading about Connes-style non-commutative geometry is
this : if you have a situation where a discrete group is acting with a
bad orbit-space (for example, $GL_2(\mathbb{Z})$ acting on the whole
complex-plane, rather than just the upper half plane) you can associate
to this a $C^*$-algebra and study invariants of it and interprete them
as topological information about this bad orbit space. An intruiging
example is the one I mentioned and where the additional noncommutative
points (coming from the orbits on the real axis) seem to contain a lot
of modular information as clarified by work of Manin&Marcolli and
Zagier. Probably the best introduction into Connes-style
non-commutative geometry
from this perspective are the Lecture on
Arithmetic Noncommutative Geometry
by Matilde Marcolli. To
algebraists : this trick is very similar to looking at the
skew-group algebra $\mathbb{C}[x_1,\ldots,x_n] * G$ if
you want to study the _orbifold_ for a finite group action on affine
space. But as algebraist we have to stick to affine varieties and
polynomials so we can only deal with the case of a finite group,
analysts can be sloppier in their functions, so they can also do
something when the group is infinite.

By the way, the
skew-group algebra idea is also why non-commutative algebraic
geometry
enters string-theory via the link with orbifolds. The
easiest (and best understood) example is that of Kleinian singularities.
The best introduction to this idea is via the Representations
of quivers, preprojective algebras and deformations of quotient
singularities
notes by Bill Crawley-Boevey.

Artin-style non-commutative geometry aka
non-commutative projective geometry originated from the
work of Artin-Tate-Van den Bergh (in the west) and Odeskii-Feigin (in
the east) to understand Sklyanin algebras associated to elliptic curves
and automorphisms via ‘geometric’ objects such as point- (and
fat-point-) modules, line-modules and the like. An excellent survey
paper on low dimensional non-commutative projective geometry is Non-commutative curves and surfaces by Toby
Stafford and
Michel Van den Bergh
. The best introduction is the (also
neverending…) book-project Non-
commutative algebraic geometry
by Paul Smith who
maintains a
noncommutative geometry and algebra resource page
page (which is
also available from the header).

Non-geometry
started with the seminal paper ‘Algebra extensions and
nonsingularity’, J. Amer. Math. Soc. 8 (1995), 251-289 by Joachim
Cuntz
and Daniel Quillen but which is not available online. An
online introduction is Noncommutative smooth
spaces
by Kontsevich and Rosenberg. Surely, different people have
different motivations to study non-geometry. I assume Cuntz got
interested because inductive limits of separable algebras are quasi-free
(aka formally smooth aka qurves). Kontsevich and Soibelman want to study
morphisms and deformations of $A_{\infty}$-categories as they explain in
their recent
paper
. My own motivation to be interested in non-geometry is the
hope that in the next decades one will discover new exciting connections
between finite groups, algebraic curves and arithmetic groups (monstrous
moonshine
being the first, and still not entirely understood,
instance of this). Part of the problem is that these three topics seem
to be quite different, yet by taking group-algebras of finite or
arithmetic groups and coordinate rings of affine smooth curves they all
turn out to be quasi-free algebras, so perhaps non-geometry is the
unifying theory behind these seemingly unrelated topics.

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symmetry and the monster

Mark
Ronan
has written a beautiful book intended for the general public
on Symmetry and the Monster. The
book’s main theme is the classification of the finite simple groups. It
starts off with the introduction of groups by Galois, gives the
classifivcation of the finite Lie groups, the Feit-Thompson theorem and
the construction of several of the sporadic groups (including the
Mathieu groups, the Fischer and Conway groups and clearly the
(Baby)Monster), explains the Leech lattice and the Monstrous Moonshine
conjectures and ends with Richard Borcherds proof of them using vertex
operator algebras. As in the case of Music of the
Primes
it is (too) easy to be critical about notation. For example,
whereas groups are just called symmetry groups, I don’t see the point of
calling simple groups ‘atoms of symmetry’. But, unlike du Sautoy,
Mark Ronan stays close to mathematical notation, lattices are just
lattices, characer-tables are just that, j-function is what it is etc.
And even when he simplifies established teminology, for example
‘cyclic arithmetic’ for modular arithmetic, ‘cross-section’
for involution centralizer, ‘mini j-functions’ for Hauptmoduln
etc. there are footnotes (as well as a glossary) mentioning the genuine
terms. Group theory is a topic with several colourful people
including the three Johns John Leech, John
McKay
and John Conway
and several of the historical accounts in the book are a good read. For
example, I’ve never known that the three Conway groups were essentially
discovered in just one afternoon and a few telephone exchanges between
Thompson and Conway. This year I’ve tried to explain some of
monstrous moonshine to an exceptionally good second year of
undergraduates but failed miserably. Whereas I somehow managed to give
the construction and proof of simplicity of Mathieu 24, elliptic and
modular functions were way too difficult for them. Perhaps I’ll give it
another (downkeyed) try using ‘Symmetry and the Monster’ as
reading material. Let’s hope Oxford University Press will soon release a
paperback (and cheaper) version.

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Scottish solids

John McKay
pointed me to a few interesting links on ‘Platonic’ solids and monstrous
moonshine. If you thought that the ancient Greek discovered the five
Platonic solids, think again! They may have been the first to give a
correct proof of the classification but the regular solids were already
known in 2000BC as some
neolithic stone artifacts
discovered in Scotland show. These
Scottish solids can be visited at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. McKay
also points to the paper Polyhedra in physics,
chemistry and geometry
by Michael Atiyah and Paul Sutcliffe. He also
found my posts on a talk I gave on monstrous moonshine for 2nd year students earlier this year and
mentionted a few errors and updates. As these posts are on my old weblog
I’ll repost and update them here soon. For now you can already hear and
see a talk given by John McKay himself 196884=1+196883, a monstrous tale at the Fields Institute.

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simple groups

I
found an old copy (Vol 2 Number 4 1980) of the The Mathematical Intelligencer with on its front
cover the list of the 26 _known_ sporadic groups together with a
starred added in proof saying

  • added in
    proof … the classification of finite simple groups is complete.
    there are no other sporadic groups.

(click on the left picture to see a larger scanned image). In it is a
beautiful paper by John Conway “Monsters and moonshine” on the
classification project. Along the way he describes the simplest
non-trivial simple group $A_5 $ as the icosahedral group. as well as
other interpretations as Lie groups over finite fields. He also gives a
nice introduction to representation theory and the properties of the
character table allowing to reconstruct $A_5 $ only knowing that there
must be a simple group of order 60.
A more technical account
of the classification project (sketching the main steps in precise
formulations) can be found online in the paper by Ron Solomon On finite simple
groups and their classification
. In addition to the posts by John Baez mentioned
in this
post
he has a few more columns on Platonic solids and their relation to Lie
algebras
, continued here.

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more noncommutative manifolds

Can
it be that one forgets an entire proof because the result doesn’t seem
important or relevant at the time? It seems the only logical explanation
for what happened last week. Raf Bocklandt asked me whether a
classification was known of all group algebras l G which are
noncommutative manifolds (that is, which are formally smooth a la Kontsevich-Rosenberg or, equivalently, quasi-free
a la Cuntz-Quillen). I said I didn’t know the answer and that it looked
like a difficult problem but at the same time it was entirely clear to
me how to attack this problem, even which book I needed to have a look
at to get started. And, indeed, after a visit to the library borrowing
Warren Dicks
lecture notes in mathematics 790 “Groups, trees and projective
modules” and browsing through it for a few minutes I had the rough
outline of the classification. As the proof is basicly a two-liner I
might as well sketch it here.
If l G is quasi-free it
must be hereditary so the augmentation ideal must be a projective
module. But Martin Dunwoody proved that this is equivalent to
G being a group acting on a (usually infinite) tree with finite
group vertex-stabilizers all of its orders being invertible in the
basefield l. Hence, by Bass-Serre theory G is the
fundamental group of a graph of finite groups (all orders being units in
l) and using this structural result it is then not difficult to
show that the group algebra l G does indeed have the lifting
property for morphisms modulo nilpotent ideals and hence is
quasi-free.
If l has characteristic zero (hence the
extra order conditions are void) one can invoke a result of Karrass
saying that quasi-freeness of l G is equivalent to G being
virtually free (that is, G has a free subgroup of finite
index). There are many interesting examples of virtually free groups.
One source are the discrete subgroups commensurable with SL(2,Z)
(among which all groups appearing in monstrous moonshine), another
source comes from the classification of rank two vectorbundles over
projective smooth curves over finite fields (see the later chapters of
Serre’s Trees). So
one can use non-commutative geometry to study the finite dimensional
representations of virtually free groups generalizing the approach with
Jan Adriaenssens in Non-commutative covers and the modular group (btw.
Jan claims that a revision of this paper will be available soon).
In order to avoid that I forget all of this once again, I’ve
written over the last couple of days a short note explaining what I know
of representations of virtually free groups (or more generally of
fundamental algebras of finite graphs of separable
l-algebras). I may (or may not) post this note on the arXiv in
the coming weeks. But, if you have a reason to be interested in this,
send me an email and I’ll send you a sneak preview.

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