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Tag: Quillen

coalgebras and non-geometry 2

Last time we
have seen that the _coalgebra of distributions_ of an affine smooth
variety is the direct sum (over all points) of the dual to the etale
local algebras which are all of the form $\mathbb{C}[[
x_1,\ldots,x_d ]] $ where $d $ is the dimension of the
variety. Generalizing this to _non-commutative_ manifolds, the first
questions are : “What is the analogon of the power-series algebra?” and
do all ‘points’ of our non-commutative manifold do have such local
algebras? Surely, we no longer expect the variables to commute, so a
non-commutative version of the power series algebra should be
$\mathbb{C} \langle \langle x_1,\ldots,x_d \rangle \rangle $,
the ring of formal power series in non-commuting variables. However,
there is still another way to add non-commutativity and that is to go
from an algebra to matrices over the algebra. So, in all we would expect
to be our _local algebras_ at points of our non-commutative manifold to
be isomorphic to $M_n(\mathbb{C} \langle \langle x_1,\ldots,x_d
\rangle \rangle) $ As to the second question : _qurves_ (that is,
the coordinate rings of non-commutative manifolds) do have such algebras
as local rings provided we take as the ‘points’ of the non-commutative
variety the set of all _simple_ finite dimensional representations of
the qurve. This is a consequence of the _tubular neighborhood theorem_
due to [Cuntz]( and
[Quillen]( In more details : If A is a qurve, then a simple
$n $-dimensional representation corresponds to an epimorphism
$\pi~:~A \rightarrow S = M_n(\mathbb{C}) $ and if we take
$\mathfrak{m}=Ker(\pi) $, then
$M=\mathfrak{m}/\mathfrak{m}^2 $ is an $S $-bimodule and
the $\mathfrak{m} $-adic completion of A is isomorphic to the
completed tensor-algebra $\hat{T}_S(M) \simeq M_n(\mathbb{C}
\langle \langle x_1,\ldots,x_d \rangle \rangle) $ In contrast with
the commutative case however where the dimension remains constant over
all points, here the numbers n and d can change from simple to simple.
For n this is clear as it gives the dimension of the simple
representation, but also d changes (it is the local dimension of the
variety classifying simple representations of the same dimension). Here
an easy example : Consider the skew group algebra $A =
\mathbb{C}[x] \star C_2 $ with the action given by sending $x
\mapsto -x $. Then A is a qurve and its center is
$\mathbb{C}[y] $ with $y=x^2 $. Over any point $y
\not= 0 $ there is a unique simple 2-dimensional representation of A
giving the local algebra $M_2(\mathbb{C}[[y]]) $. If
$y=0 $ the situation is more complicated as the local structure
of A is given by the algebra $\begin{bmatrix} \mathbb{C}[[y]] &
\mathbb{C}[[y]] \\ (y) & \mathbb{C}[[y]] \end{bmatrix} $ So, over
this point there are precisely 2 one-dimensional simple representations
corresponding to the maximal ideals $\mathfrak{m}_1 =
\begin{bmatrix} (y) & \mathbb{C}[[y]] \\ (y) & \mathbb{C}[[y]]
\end{bmatrix}~\qquad \text{and}~\qquad \mathfrak{m}_2 = \begin{bmatrix}
\mathbb{C}[[y]] & \mathbb{C}[[y]] \\ (y) & (y) \end{bmatrix} $ and
both ideals are idempotent, that is $\mathfrak{m}_i^2 =
\mathfrak{m}_i $ whence the corresponding bimodule $M_i =
0 $ so the local algebra in either of these two points is just
$\mathbb{C} $. Ok, so the comleted local algebra at each point
is of the form $M_n(\mathbb{C}\langle \langle x_1,\ldots,x_d \rangle
\rangle) $, but what is the corresponding dual coalgebra. Well,
$\mathbb{C} \langle \langle x_1,\ldots,x_d \rangle \rangle $ is
the algebra dual to the _cofree coalgebra_ on $V = \mathbb{C} x_1 +
\ldots + \mathbb{C}x_d $. As a vectorspace this is the
tensor-algebra $T(V) = \mathbb{C} \langle x_1,\ldots,x_d
\rangle $ with the coalgebra structure induced by the bialgebra
structure defined by taking all varaibales to be primitives, that is
$\Delta(x_i) = x_i \otimes 1 + 1 \otimes x_i $. That is, the
coproduct on a monomial gives all different expressions $m_1 \otimes
m_2 $ such that $m_1m_2 = m $. For example,
$\Delta(x_1x_2) = x_1x_2 \otimes 1 + x_1 \otimes x_2 + 1 \otimes
x_1x_2 $. On the other hand, the dual coalgebra of
$M_n(\mathbb{C}) $ is the _matrix coalgebra_ which is the
$n^2 $-dimensional vectorspace $\mathbb{C}e_{11} + \ldots +
\mathbb{C}e_{nn} $ with comultiplication $\Delta(e_{ij}) =
\sum_k e_{ik} \otimes e_{kj} $ The coalgebra corresponding to the
local algebra $M_n(\mathbb{C}\langle \langle x_1,\ldots,x_d \rangle
\rangle) $ is then the tensor-coalgebra of the matrix coalgebra and
the cofree coalgebra. Having obtained the coalgebra at each point
(=simple representation) of our noncommutative manifold one might think
that the _coalgebra of non-commutative distributions_ should be the
direct sum of all this coalgebras, summed over all points, as in the
commutative case. But then we would forget about a major difference
between the commutative and the non-commutative world : distinct simples
can have non-trivial extensions! The mental picture one might have
about simples having non-trivial extensions is that these points lie
‘infinitesimally close’ together. In the $\mathbb{C}[x] \star
C_2 $ example above, the two one-dimensional simples have
non-trivial extensions so they should be thought of as a cluster of two
infinitesimally close points corresponding to the point $y=0 $
(that is, this commutative points splits into two non-commutative
points). Btw. this is the reason why non-commutative algebras can be
used to resolve commutative singularities (excessive tangents can be
split over several non-commutative points). While this is still pretty
harmless when the algebra is finite over its center (as in the above
example where only the two one-dimensionals have extensions), the
situation becomes weird over general qurves as ‘usually’ distinct
simples have non-trivial extensions. For example, for the free algebra
$\mathbb{C}\langle x,y \rangle $ this is true for all simples…
So, if we want to continue using this image of points lying closely
together this immediately means that non-commutative ‘affine’ manifolds
behave like compact ones (in fact, it turns out to be pretty difficult
to ‘glue’ together qurves into ‘bigger’ non-commutative manifolds, apart
from the quiver examples of [this old
paper]( So, how to bring
this new information into our coalgebra of distributions? Well, let’s
repeat the previous argument not with just one point but with a set of
finitely many points. Then we have a _semi-simple algebra_ quotient
$\pi~:~A \rightarrow S = M_{n_1}(\mathbb{C}) \oplus \ldots \oplus
M_{n_k}(\mathb{C}) $ and taking again
$\mathfrak{m}=Ker(\pi) $ and
$M=\mathfrak{m}/\mathfrak{m}^2 $, then $M $ is again an
S-bimodule. Now, any S-bimodule can be encoded into a _quiver_ Q on k
points, the number of arrows from vertex i to vertex j being the number
of components in M of the form $M_{n_i \times
n_j}(\mathbb{C}) $. Again, it follows from the tubular neighborhood
theorem that the $\mathfrak{m} $-adic completion of A is
isomorphic to the completion of an algebra Morita equivalent to the
_path algebra_ $\mathbb{C} Q $ (being the tensor algebra
$T_S(M) $). As all the local algebras of the points are
quotients of this quiver-like completion, on the coalgebra level our
local coalgebras will be sub coalgebras of the coalgebra which is
co-Morita equivalent (and believe it or not but coalgebraists have a
name for this : _Takeuchi equivalence_) to the _quiver coalgebra_ which
is the vectorspace of the path algebra $\mathbb{C} Q $ with
multiplication induced by making all arrows from i to j skew-primitives,
that is, $\Delta(a) = e_i \otimes a + a \otimes e_j $ where the
$e_i $ are group-likes corresponding to the vertices. If all of
ths is a bit too much co to take in at once, I suggest the paper by Bill
Chin [A brief introduction to coalgebra representation
theory]( The
_coalgebra of noncommutative distributions_ we are after at is now the
union of all these Takeuchi-equivalent quiver coalgebras. In easy
examples such as the $\mathbb{C}[x] \star C_2 $-example this
coalgebra is still pretty small (the sum of the local coalgebras
corresponding to the local algebras $M_2(\mathbb{C}[[x]]) $
summed over all points $y \not= 0 $ summed with the quiver
coalgebra of the quiver $\xymatrix{\vtx{} \ar@/^/[rr] & & \vtx{}
\ar@/^/[ll]} $ In general though this is a huge object and we would
like to have a recipe to construct it from a manageable _blue-print_ and
that is what we will do next time.

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coalgebras and non-geometry

In this
series of posts I’ll try to make at least part of the recent
[Kontsevich-Soibelman paper]( a
bit more accessible to algebraists. In non-geometry, the algebras
corresponding to *smooth affine varieties* I’ll call **qurves** (note
that they are called **quasi-free algebras** by Cuntz & Quillen and
**formally smooth** by Kontsevich). By definition, a qurve in an affine
$\mathbb{C} $-algebra A having the lifting property for algebra
maps through nilpotent ideals (extending Grothendieck’s characterization
of smooth affine algebras in the commutative case). Examples of qurves
are : finite dimensional semi-simple algebras (for example, group
algebras $\mathbb{C} G $ of finite groups), coordinate rings of
smooth affine curves or a noncommutative mixture of both, skew-group
algebras $\mathbb{C}[X] \ast G $ whenever G is a finite group of
automorphisms of the affine curve X. These are Noetherian examples but
in general a qurve is quite far from being Noetherian. More typical
examples of qurves are : free algebras $\mathbb{C} \langle
x_1,\ldots,x_k \rangle $ and path algebras of finite quivers
$~\mathbb{C} Q $. Recall that a finite quiver Q s just a
directed graph and its path algebra is the vectorspace spanned by all
directed paths in Q with multiplication induced by concatenation of
paths. Out of these building blocks one readily constructs more
involved qurves via universal algebra operations such as (amalgamated)
free products, universal localizations etc. In this way, the
groupalgebra of the modular group $SL_2(\mathbb{Z}) $ (as well
as that of a congruence subgroup) is a qurve and one can mix groups with
finite groupactions on curves to get qurves like $ (\mathbb{C}[X]
\ast G) \ast_{\mathbb{C} H} \mathbb{C} M $ whenever H is a common
subgroup of the finite groups G and M. So we have a huge class of
qurve-examples obtained from mixing finite and arithmetic groups with
curves and quivers. Qurves can we used as *machines* generating
interesting $A_{\infty} $-categories. Let us start by recalling
some facts about finite closed subschemes of an affine smooth variety Y
in the commutative case. Let **fdcom** be the category of all finite
dimensional commutative $\mathbb{C} $-algebras with morphisms
being onto algebra morphisms, then the study of finite closed subschemes
of Y is essentially the study of the covariant functor **fdcom** –>
**sets** assigning to a f.d. commutative algebra S the set of all onto
algebra maps from $\mathbb{C}[Y] $ to S. S being a f.d.
commutative semilocal algebra is the direct sum of local factors $S
\simeq S_1 \oplus \ldots \oplus S_k $ where each factor has a
unique maximal ideal (a unique point in Y). Hence, our study reduces to
f.d. commutative images with support in a fixed point p of Y. But all
such quotients are also quotients of the completion of the local ring of
Y at p which (because Y is a smooth variety, say of dimension n) is
isomorphic to formal power series
$~\mathbb{C}[[x_1,\ldots,x_n]] $. So the local question, at any
point p of Y, reduces to finding all settings
$\mathbb{C}[[x_1,\ldots,x_n]] \twoheadrightarrow S
\twoheadrightarrow \mathbb{C} $ Now, we are going to do something
strange (at least to an algebraist), we’re going to take duals and
translate the above sequence into a coalgebra statement. Clearly, the
dual $S^{\ast} $ of any finite dimensional commutative algebra
is a finite dimensional cocommutative coalgebra. In particular
$\mathbb{C}^{\ast} \simeq \mathbb{C} $ where the
comultiplication makes 1 into a grouplike element, that is
$\Delta(1) = 1 \otimes 1 $. As long as the (co)algebra is
finite dimensional this duality works as expected : onto maps correspond
to inclusions, an ideal corresponds to a sub-coalgebra a sub-algebra
corresponds to a co-ideal, so in particular a local commutative algebra
corresponds to an pointed irreducible cocommutative coalgebra (a
coalgebra is said to be irreducible if any two non-zero subcoalgebras
have non-zero intersection, it is called simple if it has no non-zero
proper subcoalgebras and is called pointed if all its simple
subcoalgebras are one-dimensional. But what about infinite dimensional
algebras such as formal power series? Well, here the trick is not to
take all dual functions but only those linear functions whose kernel
contains a cofinite ideal (which brings us back to the good finite
dimensional setting). If one takes only those good linear functionals,
the ‘fancy’-dual $A^o $of an algebra A is indeed a coalgebra. On
the other hand, the full-dual of a coalgebra is always an algebra. So,
between commutative algebras and cocommutative coalgebras we have a
duality by associating to an algebra its fancy-dual and to a coalgebra
its full-dual (all this is explained in full detail in chapter VI of
Moss Sweedler’s book ‘Hopf algebras’). So, we can dualize the above pair
of onto maps to get coalgebra inclusions $\mathbb{C} \subset
S^{\ast} \subset U(\mathfrak{a}) $ where the rightmost coalgebra is
the coalgebra structure on the enveloping algebra of the Abelian Lie
algebra of dimension n (in which all Lie-elements are primitive, that is
$\Delta(x) = x \otimes 1 + 1 \otimes x $ and indeed we have that
$U(\mathfrak{a})^{\ast} \simeq \mathbb{C}[[x_1,\ldots,x_n]] $.
We have translated our local problem to finding all f.d. subcoalgebras
(containing the unique simple) of the enveloping algebra. But what is
the point of this translation? Well, we are not interested in the local
problem, but in the global problem, so we somehow have to **sum over all
points**. Now, on the algebra level that is a problem because the sum of
all local power series rings over all points is no longer an algebra,
whereas the direct sum of all pointed irreducible coalgebras $~B_Y
= \oplus_{p \in Y} U(\mathfrak{a}_p) $ is again a coalgebra! That
is, we have found a huge coalgebra (which we call the coalgebra of
‘distributions’ on Y) such that for every f.d. commutative algebra S we
have $Hom_{comm alg}(\mathbb{C}[Y],S) \simeq Hom_{cocomm
coalg}(S^{\ast},B_Y) $ Can we get Y back from this coalgebra of
districutions? Well, in a way, the points of Y correspond to the
group-like elements, and if g is the group-like corresponding to a point
p, we can recover the tangent-space at p back as the g-primitive
elements of the coalgebra of distributions, that is the elements such
that $\Delta(x) = x \otimes g + g \otimes x $. Observe that in
this commutative case, there are no **skew-primitives**, that is
elements such that $\Delta(x) = x \otimes g + h \otimes x $ for
different group-likes g and h. This is the coalgebra translation of the
fact that a f.d. semilocal commutative algebra is the direct sum of
local components. This is something that will definitely change if we
try to extend the above to the case of qurves (to be continued).

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non-(commutative) geometry

that my non-geometry
is linked via the comments in this
string-coffee-table post
which in turn is available through a
trackback from the Kontsevich-Soibelman
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
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
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).

started with the seminal paper ‘Algebra extensions and
nonsingularity’, J. Amer. Math. Soc. 8 (1995), 251-289 by Joachim
and Daniel Quillen but which is not available online. An
online introduction is Noncommutative smooth
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
. 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
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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an appeal to the few people working in Cuntz-Quillen-Kontsevich-whoever
noncommutative geometry (the one where smooth affine varieties
correspond to quasi-free or formally smooth algebras) : let’s rename our
topic and call it non-geometry. I didn’t come up with
this term, I heard in from Maxim Kontsevich in a talk he gave a couple
of years ago in Antwerp. There are some good reasons for this name

The term _non-commutative geometry_ is already taken by
much more popular subjects such as _Connes-style noncommutative
differential geometry_ and _Artin-style noncommutative algebraic
geometry_. Renaming our topic we no longer have to include footnotes
(such as the one in the recent Kontsevich-Soibelman
) :

We use “formal” non-commutative geometry
in tensor categories, which is different from the non-commutative
geometry in the sense of Alain Connes.

or to make a
distinction between _noncommutative geometry in the small_ (which is
Artin-style) and _noncommutative geometry in the large_ (which in
non-geometry) as in the Ginzburg notes.

Besides, the stress in _non-commutative geometry_ (both in Connes-
and Artin-style) in on _commutative_. Connes-style might also be called
‘K-theory of $C^*$-algebras’ and they use the topological
information of K-theoretic terms in the commutative case as guidance to
speak about geometrical terms in the nocommutative case. Similarly,
Artin-style might be called ‘graded homological algebra’ and they
use Serre’s homological interpretation of commutative geometry to define
similar concepts for noncommutative algebras. Hence, non-commutative
geometry is that sort of non-geometry which is almost

But the main point of naming our subject
non-geometry is to remind us not to rely too heavily on our
(commutative) geometric intuition. For example, we would expect a
manifold to have a fixed dimension. One way to define the dimension is
as the trancendence degree of the functionfield. However, from the work
of Paul Cohn (I learned about it through Aidan Schofield) we know that
quasi-free algebras usually do’nt have a specific function ring of
fractions, rather they have infinitely many good candidates for it and
these candidates may look pretty unrelated. So, at best we can define a
_local dimension_ of a noncommutative manifold at a point, say given by
a simple representation. It follows from the Cunz-Quillen tubular
neighborhood result that the local ring in such a point is of the

$M_n(\mathbb{C} \langle \langle z_1,\ldots,z_m \rangle
\rangle) $

(this s a noncommutative version of the classical fact
than the local ring in a point of a d-dimensional manifold is formal
power series $\mathbb{C} [[ z_1,\ldots,z_d ]] $) but in non-geometry both
m (the _local_ dimension) and n (the dimension of the simple
representation) vary from point to point. Still, one can attach to the
quasi-free algebra A a finite amount of data (in fact, a _finite_ quiver
and dimension vector) containing enough information to compute the (n,m)
couples for _all_ simple points (follows from the one quiver to rule them
all paper
or see this for more

In fact, one can even extend this to points
corresponding to semi-simple representations in which case one has to
replace the matrix-ring above by a ring Morita equivalent to the
completion of the path algebra of a finite quiver, the _local quiver_ at
the point (which can also be computer from the one-quiver of A. The
local coalgebras of distributions at such points of
Kontsevich&Soibelman are just the dual coalgebras of these local
algebras (in math.RA/0606241 they
merely deal with the n=1 case but no doubt the general case will appear
in the second part of their paper).

The case of the semi-simple
point illustrates another major difference between commutative geometry
and non-geometry, whereas commutative simples only have self-extensions
(so the distribution coalgebra is just the direct sum of all the local
distributions) noncommutative simples usually have plenty of
non-isomorphic simples with which they have extensions, so to get at the
global distribution coalgebra of A one cannot simply add the locals but
have to embed them in more involved coalgebras.

The way to do it
is somewhat concealed in the
third version of my neverending book
(the version that most people
found incomprehensible). Here is the idea : construct a huge uncountable
quiver by taking as its vertices the isomorphism classes of all simple
A-representations and with as many arrows between the simple vertices S
and T as the dimension of the ext-group between these simples (and
again, these dimensions follow from the knowledge of the one-quiver of
A). Then, the global coalgebra of distributions of A is the limit over
all cotensor coalgebras corresponding to finite subquivers). Maybe I’ll
revamp this old material in connection with the Kontsevich&Soibelman
paper(s) for the mini-course I’m supposed to give in september.

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noncommutative topology (1)

A couple of days ago Ars Mathematica had a post Cuntz on noncommutative topology pointing to a (new, for me) paper by Joachim Cuntz

A couple of years ago, the Notices of the AMS featured an article on noncommutative geometry a la Connes: Quantum Spaces and Their Noncommutative Topology by Joachim Cuntz. The hallmark of this approach is the heavy reliance on K theory. The first few pages of the article are fairly elementary (and full of intriguing pictures), before the K theory takes over.

A few comments are in order. To begin, the paper is **not** really about noncommutative geometry a la Connes, but rather about noncommutative geometry a la Cuntz&Quillen (based on quasi-free algebras) or, equivalently, a la Kontsevich (formally smooth algebras) or if I may be so bold a la moi (qurves).

About the **intruiging pictures** : it seems to be a recent trend in noncommutative geometry research papers to include meaningless pictures to lure the attention of the reader. But, unlike aberrations such as the recent pastiche by Alain Connes and Mathilde Marcolli A Walk in the Noncommutative Garden, Cuntz is honest about their true meaning

I am indebted to my sons, Nicolas and Michael,
for the illustrations to the examples above. Since
these pictures have no technical meaning, they
are only meant to provide a kind of suggestive
visualization of the corresponding quantum spaces.

As one of these pictures made it to the cover of the **Notices** an explanation was included by the cover-editor

About the Cover :

The image on this month’s cover arose from
Joachim Cuntz’s effort to render into visible art
his own internal vision of a noncommutative
torus, an object otherwise quite abstract. His
original idea was then implemented by his son
Michael in a program written in Pascal. More
explicitly, he says that the construction started
out with a triangle in a square, then translated
the triangle by integers times a unit along a line
with irrational slope; plotted the images thus
obtained in a periodic manner; and stopped
just before the figure started to seem cluttered.
Many mathematicians carry around inside
their heads mental images of the abstractions
they work with, and manipulate these objects
somehow in conformity with their mental imagery. They probably also make aesthetic judgements of the value of their work according to
the visual qualities of the images. These presumably common phenomena remain a rarely
explored domain in either art or psychology.

—Bill Casselman(

There can be no technical meaning to the pictures as in the Connes and Cuntz&Quillen approach there is only a noncommutative algebra and _not_ an underlying geometric space, so there is no topology, let alone a noncommutative topology. Of course, I do understand why Cuntz&others name it as such. They view the noncommutative algebra as the ring of functions on some virtual noncommutative space and they compute topological invariants (such as K-groups) of the algebras and interprete them as information about the noncommutative topology of these virtual and unspecified spaces.

Still, it is perfectly possible to associate to a qurve (aka quasi-free algebra or formally smooth algebra) a genuine noncommutative topological space. In this series of posts I’ll explain the little I know of the history of this topic, the thing I posted about it a couple of years ago, why I abandoned the project and the changes I made to it since and the applications I have in mind, both to new problems (such as the birational_classification of qurves) as well as classical problems (such as rationality problems for $PGL_n $ quotient spaces).

Although others have tried to define noncommutative topologies before, I learned about them from Fred Van Oystaeyen. Fred spend the better part of his career constructing structure sheaves associated to noncommutative algebras, mainly to prime Noetherian algebras (the algebras of preference for the majority of non-commutative algebraists). So, suppose you have an ordinary (meaning, the usual commutative definition) topological space X associated to this algebra R, he wants to define an algebra of sections on every open subset $X(\sigma) $ by taking a suitable localization of the algebra $Q_{\sigma}(R) $. This localization is taken with respect to a suitable filter of left ideals $\mathcal{L}(\sigma) $ of R and is defined to be the subalgebra of the classiocal quotient ring $Q(R) $ (which exists because $R$ is prime Noetherian in which case it is a simple Artinian algebra)

$Q_{\sigma}(R) = { q \in Q(R)~|~\exists L \in \mathcal{L}(\sigma)~:~L q \subset R } $

(so these localizations are generalizations of the usual Ore-type rings of fractions). But now we come to an essential point : if we want to glue this rings of sections together on an intersection $X(\sigma) \cap X(\tau) $ we want to do this by ‘localizing further’. However, there are two ways to do this, either considering $~Q_{\sigma}(Q_{\tau}(R)) $ or considering $Q_{\tau}(Q_{\sigma}(R)) $ and these two algebras are only the same if we impose fairly heavy restrictions on the filters (or on the algebra) such as being compatible.

As this gluing property is essential to get a sheaf of noncommutative algebras we seem to get stuck in the general (non compatible) case. Fred’s way out was to make a distinction between the intersection $X_{\sigma} \cap X_{\tau} $ (on which he put the former ring as its ring of sections) and the intersection $X_{\tau} \cap X_{\sigma} $ (on which he puts the latter one). So, the crucial new ingredient in a noncommutative topology is that the order of intersections of opens matter !!!

Of course, this is just the germ of an idea. He then went on to properly define what a noncommutative topology (and even more generally a noncommutative Grothendieck topology) should be by using this localization-example as guidance. I will not state the precise definition here (as I will have to change it slightly later on) but early version of it can be found in the Antwerp Ph.D. thesis by Luc Willaert (1995) and in Fred’s book Algebraic geometry for associative algebras.

Although _qurves_ are decidedly non-Noetherian (apart from trivial cases), one can use Fred’s idea to associate a noncommutative topological space to a qurve as I will explain next time. The quick and impatient may already sneak at my old note a non-commutative topology on rep A but please bear in mind that I changed my mind since on several issues…

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