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This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics (Week 266)

  1. Jun 21, 2008 #1
    Also available at http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/week266.html

    June 20, 2008
    This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics (Week 266)
    John Baez

    I'm at this workshop now, and I want to talk about it:

    1) Workshop on Categorical Groups, June 16-20, 2008,
    Universitat de Barcelona, organized by Pilar Carrasco,
    Josep Elgueta, Joachim Kock and Antonio Rodríguez Garzón,

    But first, the moon of the week - and a bit about that mysterious
    fellow Pythagoras, and the Pythagorean tuning system.

    Here's a picture of Jupiter's moon Io:

    1) Io in True Color, Astronomy Picture of the Day,

    It's yellow! - a world covered with sulfur spewed from volcanos,
    burning hot inside from intense tidal interactions with Jupiter's
    mighty gravitational field... but frigid at the surface.

    Last week I talked about something called the "Pythagorean pentagram".
    That's a cool name - but it's far from clear who first discovered this
    entity, so I started feeling a bit guilty for using it, and I started
    wondering what we actually know about Pythagoras or the mathematical
    vegetarian cult he supposedly launched. Tim Silverman pointed me to
    a scholarly book on the subject:

    2) Walter Burkert, Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism,
    Harvard U. Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1972.

    It turns out we know very little about Pythagoras: a few grains of
    solid fact, surrounded by a huge cloud of stories that grows larger
    and larger as we move further and further away from the 6th century
    BC, when he lived. This is especially true when it comes to his
    contributions to mathematics. The infamous pseudohistorian Eric
    Temple Bell begins his book "The Magic of Numbers" as follows:

    The hero of our story is Pythagoras. Born to immortality
    five hundred years before the Christian era began, this
    titanic spirit overshadows western civilization. In some
    respects he is more vividly alive today than he was in his
    mortal prime twenty-five centuries ago, when he deflected
    the momentum of prescientific history toward our own
    unimagined scientific and technological culture. Mystic,
    philosopher, experimental physicist, and mathematician of
    the first rank, Pythagoras dominated the thought of his age
    and foreshadowed the scientifi mysticisms of our own.

    But, there's no solid evidence for any of this, except perhaps
    his interest in mysticism and numerology and the incredible
    growth of his legend as the centuries pass. We're not even
    sure he proved the "Pythagorean theorem", much less all the
    other feats that have been attributed to him. As Burkert explains:

    No other branch of history offers such temptations to
    conjectural reconstruction as does the history of mathematics.
    In mathematics, every detail has its fixed and unalterable place
    in a nexus of relations, so that it is often possible, on the
    basis of a brief and casual remark, to reconstruct a complicated
    theory. It is not surprising, then, that gap in the history of
    mathematics that was opened up by a critical study of the evidence
    about Pythagoras has been filled by a whole succession of
    conjectural supplements.

    There's a new book out on Pythagoras:

    3) Kitty Ferguson, The Music of Pythagoras: How an Ancient
    Brotherhood Cracked the Code of the Universe and Lit the
    Path from Antiquity to Outer Space, Walker and Company, 2008.

    The subtitle is sensationalistic, exactly the sort of thing that would
    make Burkert cringe. But the book is pretty good, and Ferguson is
    honest about this: after asking "What do we know about Pythagoras?",
    she lists everything we know in one short paragraph, and then
    emphasizes: that's *all*.

    He was born on the island of Samos sometime around 575 BC. He went
    to Croton, a city in what is now southern Italy. He died around 495
    BC. We know a bit more - but not much.

    It's much easier to learn about the Renaissance "neo-Pythagoreans".
    This book is a lot of fun, though too romantic to be truly scholarly:

    4) S. K. Heninger, Jr., Touches of Sweet Harmony: Pythagorean Cosmology
    and Renaissance Poetics, The Huntington Library, San Marino,
    California, 1974.

    It seems clear that the Renaissance neo-Pythagoreans, and even the
    Greek Pythagoreans, and perhaps even old Pythagoras himself were much
    taken with something called the tetractys:


    o o

    o o o

    o o o o

    To appreciate the tetractys, you have to temporarily throw out
    modern scientific thinking and get yourself in the mood of
    magical thinking - or "correlative cosmology", which tries to
    understand the universe by setting up elaborate correspondences
    between this, that, and the other thing. To the Pythagoreans,
    the four rows of the tetractys represented the point, line, triangle
    and tetrahedron. But the "fourness" of the tetractys also
    represented the four classical elements: earth, air, water and fire.
    It's fun to compare these early groping attempts to impose order
    on the universe to later, less intuitive but far more predictively
    powerful schemes like the Periodic Table or the Standard Model.
    So, let's take a look!

    The Renaissance thinkers liked to organize the four elements using
    a chain of analogies running from light to heavy:

    fire : air :: air : water :: water : earth

    Them also organized them in a diamond, like this:


    hot dry


    wet cold


    Sometimes they even put a fifth element in the middle: the
    "quintessence", or "aether", from which heavenly bodies were made.
    And following Plato's Timaeus dialog, they set up an analogy like

    fire tetrahedron
    air octahedron
    water icosahedron
    earth cube
    quintessence dodecahedron

    This is cute! Fire feels pointy and sharp like tetrahedra, while
    water rolls like round icosahedra, and earth packs solidly like
    cubes. Dodecahedra are different than all the rest, made of
    pentagons, just as you might expect of "quintessence". And
    air... well, I've never figured out what air has to do with
    octahedra. You win some, you lose some - and in correlative
    cosmology, a discrepancy here and there doesn't falsify your ideas.

    The tetractys also took the Pythagoreans in other strange directions.
    For example, who said this?

    "What you suppose is four is really ten..."

    A modern-day string theorist talking to Lee Smolin about the dimension
    of spacetime? No! Around 150 AD, the rhetorician Lucian of Samosata
    attributed this quote to Pythagoras, referring to the tetratkys and the
    fact that it has 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10 dots. This somehow led the
    Pythagoreans to think the number 10 represented "perfection". If
    there turn out to be 4 visible dimensions of spacetime together with
    6 curled-up ones explaining the gauge group U(1) x SU(2) x SU(3),
    maybe they were right.

    Pythagorean music theory is a bit more comprehensible: along with
    astronomy, music is one of the first places where mathematical
    physics made serious progress. The Greeks, and the Babylonians
    before them, knew that nice-sounding intervals in music correspond
    to simple rational numbers. For example, they knew that the octave
    corresponds to a ratio of 2:1. We'd now call this a ratio of
    *frequencies*; one can get into some interesting scholarly arguments
    about when and how well the Greeks knew that sound was a *vibration*,
    but never mind - read Burkert's book if you're interested.

    Whatever these ratios meant, the Greeks also knew that a fifth
    corresponds to a ratio of 3:2, and a fourth to 4:3.

    By the way, if you don't know about musical intervals like
    "fourths" and "fifths", don't feel bad. I won't explain them
    now, but you can learn about them and hear them here:

    5) Brian Capleton, Musical intervals,

    and then practice recognizing them:

    6) Ricci Adams, Interval ear trainer,

    If you nose around Capleton's website, you'll see he's quite
    a Pythagorean mystic himself!

    Anyway, at some moment, lost in history by now, people figured
    out that the octave could be divided into a fourth and a fifth:

    2/1 = 4/3 × 3/2

    And later, I suppose, they defined a whole tone to be the
    difference, or really ratio, between a fifth and a fourth:

    (3/2)/(4/3) = 9/8

    So, when you go up one whole tone in the Pythagorean tuning system,
    the higher note should vibrate 9/8 as fast as the lower one. If
    you try this on a modern keyboard, it looks like after going up 6
    whole tones you've gone up an octave. But in fact if you buy the
    Pythagorean definition of whole tone, 6 whole tones equals

    (9/8)^6 = 531441 / 262144 = 2.027286530...

    which is, umm, not quite 2!

    Another way to put it is that if you go up 12 fifths, you've
    *almost* gone up 7 octaves, but not quite: the so-called circle
    of fifths doesn't quite close, since

    (3/2)^{12} / 2^7 = 531441 / 524288 = 1.01264326...

    This annoying little discrepancy is called the "Pythagorean comma".

    This sort of discrepancy is an unavoidable fact of mathematics.
    Our ear likes to hear frequency ratios that are nice simple
    rational numbers, and we'd also like a scale where the notes are
    evenly spaced - but we can't have both. Why? Because you can't
    divide an octave into equal parts that are rational ratios of
    frequencies. Why? Because a nontrivial nth root of 2 can never
    be rational.

    So, irrational numbers are lurking in any attempt to create an
    equally spaced (or as they say, "equal-tempered") tuning system.

    You might imagine this pushed the Pythagoreans to confront
    irrational numbers. This case has been made by the classicist
    Tannery, but Burkert doesn't believe it: there's no written
    evidence suggesting it.

    You could say the existence of irrational numbers is
    the root of all evil in music. Indeed, the diminished fifth
    in an equal tempered scale is called the "diabolus in musica",
    or "devil in music", and it has a frequency ratio equal to
    the square root of 2.

    Or, you could say that this built-in conflict is the spice of
    life! It makes it impossible for harmony to be perfect and
    therefore dull.

    Anyway, Pythagorean tuning is not equal-tempered: it's based
    on making lots of fifths equal to exactly 3/2. So, all the
    frequency ratios are fractions built from the numbers 2 and 3.
    But, some of them are nicer than others:

    first = 1/1
    second = 9/8
    third = 81/64
    fourth = 4/3
    fifth = 3/2
    sixth = 27/16
    seventh = 243/128
    octave = 2/1

    As you can see, the third, sixth and seventh are not very nice:
    they're complicated fractions, so they don't sound great.
    They're all a bit sharp compared to the following tuning system,
    which is a form of "just intonation":

    first = 1/1
    second = 9/8
    third = 5/4
    fourth = 4/3
    fifth = 3/2
    sixth = 5/3
    seventh = 15/8
    octave = 2/1

    Just intonation brings in fractions involving the number 5, which we
    might call the "quintessence" of music: we need it to get a
    nice-sounding third. A long and interesting tale could be told about
    this tuning system - but not now. Instead, let's just see how the
    third, sixth and seventh differ:

    In just intonation the third is 5/4 = 1.25, but in Pythagorean
    tuning it's 81/64 = 1.265625. The Pythagorean system is about
    1.25% sharp.

    In just intonation the sixth is 5/3 = 1.6666.., but in Pythagorean
    tuning it's 81/64 = 1.6875. The Pythagorean system is about 0.7%

    In just intonation the seventh is 15/8 = 1.875, but in Pythagorean
    tuning it's 243/128 = 1.8984375. The Pythagorean system is about
    1.25% sharp.

    Here you can learn more about Pythagorean tuning, and hear it in

    7) Margo Schulter, Pythagorean tuning and medieval polyphony,

    8) Reginald Bain, A Pythagorean tuning of the diatonic scale,

    There's also a murky relation between Pythagorean tuning and
    something called the "Platonic Lambda". This is a certain
    way of labelling the edges of the tetractys by powers of 2 on
    one side, and powers of 3 on the other:


    2 3

    4 9

    8 27

    I can't help wanting to flesh it out like this, so going down
    and to the left is multiplication by 2, while going down and
    to the right is multiplication by 3:


    2 3

    4 6 9

    8 12 18 27

    So, I was pleased when in Heninger's book I saw the numbers
    on the bottom row in a plate from a 1563 edition of "De
    Natura Rerum", a commentary on Plato's Timaeus written by
    the Venerable Bede sometime around 700 AD!

    In this plate, the elements fire, air, water and earth are
    labelled by the numbers 8, 12, 18 and 27. This makes the
    aforementioned analogies:

    fire : air :: air : water :: water : earth

    into strict mathematical proportions:

    8 : 12 :: 12 : 18 :: 18 : 27

    Cute! Of course it doesn't do much to help us understand
    fire, air, earth and water. But, it goes to show how people
    have been struggling a long time to find mathematical patterns
    in nature. Most of these attempts don't work. Occasionally
    we get lucky... and over the millennia, these scraps of luck
    added up to the impressive theories we have today.

    Next: the categorical groups workshop here in Barcelona!

    A "categorical group", also called a "2-group", is a category
    that's been equipped with structures mimicking those of a group:
    a product, identity, and inverses, satisfying the usual laws
    either "strictly" as equations or "weakly" as natural isomorphisms.
    Pretty much anything people do with groups can also be done with
    2-groups. That's a lot of stuff - so there's a lot of scope for
    exploration! There's a powerful group of algebraists in Spain engaged
    in this exploration, so it makes sense to have this workshop here.

    Let me say a little about some of the talks we've had so far.
    I'll mainly give links, instead of explaining stuff in detail.

    On Monday, I kicked off the proceedings with this talk:

    9) John Baez, Classifying spaces for topological 2-groups,

    Just as we can try to classify principal bundles over some
    space with any fixed group as gauge group, we can try to
    classify "principal 2-bundles" with a given "gauge 2-group".
    It's a famous old theorem that for any topological group G,
    we can find a space BG such that principal G-bundles over any
    mildly nice space X are classified by maps from X to BG.
    (Homotopic maps correspond to isomorphic bundles.) A similar
    result holds for topological 2-groups!

    Indeed, Baas Bökstedt and Kro did something much more general
    for topological *2-categories*:

    10) Nils Baas, Marcel Bökstedt and Tore Kro, 2-Categorical
    K-theories, available as arXiv:math/0612549.

    Just as a group is a category with one object and with all
    morphisms being invertible, a 2-group is a 2-group with one
    object and all morphisms and 2-morphisms invertible. But
    the 2-group case is worthy of some special extra attention,
    so Danny Stevenson studied that with a little help from me:

    11) John Baez and Danny Stevenson, The classifying space of
    a topological 2-group, http://arxiv.org/abs/0801.3843

    and that's what I talked about. If you're also interested in
    classifying spaces of 2-categories that aren't topological,
    just "discrete", you should try these:

    12) John Duskin, Simplicial matrices and the nerves of weak
    n-categories I: nerves of bicategories, available at

    13) Manuel Bullejos and A. Cegarra, On the geometry of
    2-categories and their classifying spaces, available at

    14) Manuel Bullejos, Emilio Faro and Victor Blanco,
    A full and faithful nerve for 2-categories, Applied
    Categorical Structures 13 (2005), 223-233. Also
    available as arXiv:math/0406615.

    On Monday afternoon, Bruce Bartlett spoke on a geometric
    way to understand representations and "2-representations"
    of ordinary finite groups. You can see his talk here, and
    also an version which has less material, explained in a
    more elementary way:

    15) Bruce Bartlett, The geometry of unitary 2-representations
    of finite groups and their 2-characters, talk at the
    Categorical Groups workshop in Barcelona, June 16, 2008,

    Bruce Bartlett, The geometry of 2-representations of finite
    groups, talk at the Max Kelly Conference, Cape Town, 2008,

    Both talks are based on this paper:

    16) Bruce Bartlett, The geometry of unitary 2-representations
    of finite groups and their 2-characters, draft available at
    http://brucebartlett.postgrad.shef.ac.uk/research/Max Kelly Proceedings.pdf

    The first big idea here is that the category of representations
    of a finite group G is equivalent to some category where an object
    X is a Kaehler manifold on which G acts, equipped with an
    equivariant U(1) bundle. A morphism from X to Y in
    this category is not just the obvious sort of map; instead, it's
    diagram of maps shaped like this:

    / \
    / \
    F/ \G
    / \
    v v
    X Y

    This is called a "span". So, we're seeing a very nice extension of
    the Tale of Groupoidification, which began in "week247" and continued
    up to "week257", when it jumped over to my seminar.

    But Bruce doesn't stop here! He then *categorifies* this whole
    story, replacing representations of G on Hilbert spaces by
    representations on 2-Hilbert spaces, and replacing U(1) bundles
    by U(1) gerbes. This is quite impressive, with nice applications
    to a topological quantum field theory called the Dijkgraaf-Witten

    Next, to handle the TQFT called Chern-Simons theory, Bruce plans to
    replace the finite group G by a compact Lie group. Another, stranger
    direction he could go is to replace G by a finite 2-group. Then he'd
    make contact with the categorified Dijkgraaf-Witten TQFT studied in
    these papers:

    17) David Yetter, TQFT's from homotopy 2-types, Journal of Knot
    Theory and its Ramifications 2 (1993), 113-123.

    18) Timothy Porter and Vladimir Turaev, Formal homotopy quantum
    field theories, I: Formal maps and crossed C-algebras, available as

    Timothy Porter and Vladimir Turaev, Formal homotopy quantum field
    theories, II: Simplicial formal maps, in Categories in Algebra,
    Geometry and Mathematical Physics, eds. A. Davydov et al, Contemp.
    Math 431, AMS, Providence Rhode Island, 2007, 375-403. Also available
    as arXiv:math/0512034.

    19) João Faria Martins and Timothy Porter, On Yetter's invariant and
    an extension of the Dijkgraaf-Witten invariant to categorical groups,
    avilable as arXiv:math/0608484.

    As the last paper explains, we can also think of this TQFT as a field
    theory where the "field" on a spacetime X is a map

    f: X -> BG

    where BG is the classifying space of the 2-group G.

    Given all this, it's natural to contemplate a further generalization
    of Bruce's work where G is a Lie 2-group. Unfortunately, Lie 2-groups
    don't have many representations on 2-Hilbert space of the sort I've
    secretly been talking about so far: that is, finite-dimensional ones.

    So we may, perhaps, need to ponder representations of Lie 2-groups
    on infinite-dimensional 2-Hilbert spaces.

    Luckily, that's just what Derek Wise spoke about on Wednesday morning!
    His talk also included some pictures with intriguing relations to
    the pictures in Bruce's talk. You can see the slides here:

    Derek Wise, Representations of 2-groups on higher Hilbert spaces,

    They make a nice introduction to a paper he's writing with Aristide
    Baratin, Laurent Freidel and myself. Our work uses ideas like
    measurable fields of Hilbert spaces, which are already important for
    understanding infinite-dimensional unitary group representations.
    But if you're less fond of analysis, jump straight to pages 20, 23
    and 25, where he gives a geometrical interpretation of these
    infinite-dimensional representations, along with the intertwining
    operators between them... and the "2-intertwining operators" between

    This work relies heavily on the work of Crane, Sheppeard and Yetter,
    cited in "week210" - so check out that, too!

    There's much more to say, but I'm running out of steam, so I'll
    just mention a few more talks: Enrico Vitale's talk on categorified
    homological algebra, and the talks by David Roberts and Aurora del
    Río on the fundamental 2-group of a topological space.

    To set these in their proper perspective, it's good to recall
    the periodic table of n-categories, mentioned in "week49":

    k-tuply monoidal n-categories

    n = 0 n = 1 n = 2

    k = 0 sets categories 2-categories

    k = 1 monoids monoidal monoidal
    categories 2-categories

    k = 2 commutative braided braided
    monoids monoidal monoidal
    categories 2-categories

    k = 3 " " symmetric sylleptic
    monoidal monoidal
    categories 2-categories

    k = 4 " " " " symmetric

    k = 5 " " " " " "

    The idea here is that an (n+k)-category with only one j-morphism for j
    < k acts like an n-category with extra bells and whistles: a "k-tuply
    monoidal n-category". This idea has not been fully established, and
    there are some problems with naive formulations of it, but it's bound
    to be right when properly understood, and it's useful for anyone trying
    to understand the big picture of mathematics.

    Now, an n-category with everything invertible is called an "n-groupoid".
    Such a thing is believed to be essentially the same as a "homotopy
    n-type", meaning a nice space, like a CW complex, with vanishing
    homotopy groups above the nth - where we count homotopy equivalent
    spaces as the same. If we accept this, the n-groupoid version of the
    Periodic Table can be understood using homotopy theory. It looks like

    k-tuply monoidal n-groupoids

    n = 0 n = 1 n = 2

    k = 0 sets groupoids 2-groupoids

    k = 1 groups 2-groups 3-groups

    k = 2 abelian braided braided
    groups 2-groups 3-groups

    k = 3 " " symmetric sylleptic
    2-groups 3-groups

    k = 4 " " " " symmetric

    k = 5 " " " " " "

    Most of this workshop has focused on 2-groups. But abelian groups are
    especially interesting and nice, and there's a huge branch of math
    called "homological algebra" that studies categories similar to the
    category of abelian groups. These are called "abelian categories".
    In an abelian category, you've got direct sums, kernels, cokernels,
    exact sequences, chain complexes and so on - all things you're used to
    in the category of abelian groups!

    Can we categorify all this stuff? Yes - and that's what Enrico Vitale
    is busy doing! He started by telling us how all these ideas generalize
    from abelian groups to symmetric 2-groups, and how they change.

    For example, besides the "kernel" and "cokernel", we also need extra
    concepts. The reason is that the kernel of a homomorphism says if the
    homomorphism is one-to-one, while its cokernel says us if it's onto.
    Functions can be nice in two basic ways: they can be one-to-one, or
    onto. But because categories have an extra level, functors between
    them can be nice in *three* ways, called "faithful", "full" and
    "essentially surjective". So, we need more than just the kernel and
    cokernel to say what's going on.

    The concepts of exact sequence and chain complex get subtler, too.
    You can read about these things here:

    20) Aurora Del Río, Martínez-Moreno and Enrico Vitale, Chain
    complexes of symmetric categorical groups, JPAA 196 (2005),
    279-312. Also available at

    21) Pilar Carrasco, Antonio Garzon and Enrico Vitale, On
    categorical crossed modules, TAC 16 (2006), 85-618, available as

    By generalizing properties of the category of abelian groups, people
    invented the concept of "abelian category". Similarly, Vitale told us
    a definition of "2-abelian 2-category", obtained by generalizing
    properties of the 2-category of symmetric 2-groups. I believe this is
    discussed here:

    22) Mathieu Dupont: Catégories abéliennes en dimension 2,
    Ph.D. Thesis, Université Catholique de Louvain, 2008.

    Mathieu Dupont is defending his dissertation on June 30th. I hope he
    puts it on the arXiv after that.

    All this stuff gets even more elaborate as we move to n-groups for
    higher n. To some extent this is the subject of homotopy theory, but
    one also wants a more explicitly algebraic approach. See for example:

    23) Giuseppe Metere: The ziqqurath of exact sequences of n-groupoids,
    Ph.D. Thesis, Università di Milano, 2008. Also available at

    The relation between 2-groups and topology is made explicit using
    the concept of "fundamental 2-group". Just as every space equipped
    with a basepoint has a fundamental group, it has a fundamental 2-group.
    And for a homotopy 2-type, this 2-group captures *everything* about the
    space - at least if we count homotopy equivalent spaces as the same.

    David Roberts prepared an excellent talk about the fundamental
    2-group of a space for this workshop. Unfortunately, he was unable
    to come. Luckily, you can still see his talk:

    24) David Roberts, Fundamental 2-groups and 2-covering spaces,

    The basic principle of Galois theory says that covering spaces of
    a connected space are classified by subgroups of its fundamental
    group. Here Roberts explains how "2-covering spaces" of a connected
    space are classified by "sub-2-groups" of its fundamental 2-group!

    Aurora del Río spoke on fundamental 2-groups and their application
    to K-theory. Whenever we have a fibration of pointed spaces

    F -> E -> B

    we get a long exact sequence of homotopy groups

    ... -> pi_n(F) -> pi_n(E) -> pi_n(B) -> pi_{n-1}(F) -> ...

    This is a standard tool in algebraic topology; I sketched how it
    works in "week151".

    Now, the nth homotopy group of a space X, written pi_n(X), is just the
    fundamental group of the (n-1)-fold loop space of X. So, the Spanish
    categorical group experts define the nth "homotopy 2-group" of a space
    X to be the fundamental 2-group of an iterated loop space of X. And,
    it turns out that any fibration of spaces gives a long exact sequence
    of homotopy 2-groups!

    I was surprised by this, but in retrospect I shouldn't have been.
    Any fibration gives a "long exact sequence of iterated loop spaces":

    ... -> L^n F -> L^n E -> L^n B -> L^{n-1}F -> ...

    So, as soon as we have a definition of "fundamental n-groupoids" and
    long exact sequences of n-groupoids, and can show that taking the
    fundamental n-groupoid preserves exactness, we can get a long exact
    sequence of fundamental n-groupoids. If we simply define a
    fundamental n-groupoid to *be* a homotopy n-type, this should not be

    Quillen set up modern algebraic K-theory by defining the K-groups
    of a ring R to be the homotopy groups of a certain space called
    BGL(R)+. Aurora del Río defined the K-2-groups of a ring in the same
    way, but using homotopy 2-groups! And then she went ahead and
    studied them...

    I'll try to convince her to put the slides of her talk online,
    so you can see them. In the meantime, try these papers of hers:

    25) Antonio Garzón and Aurora del Río, Low-dimensional cohomology
    of categorical groups, Cahiers de Topologie et Géométrie Différentielle
    Catégoriques, 44 (2003), 247-280. Available at

    This one gets into K-theory:

    26) Antonio Garzón and Aurora del Río, The Whitehead categorical
    group of derivations, Georgian Mathematical Journal 09 (2002),
    709-721. Available at

    Previous issues of "This Week's Finds" and other expository articles on
    mathematics and physics, as well as some of my research papers, can be
    obtained at


    For a table of contents of all the issues of This Week's Finds, try


    A simple jumping-off point to the old issues is available at


    If you just want the latest issue, go to

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 21, 2008 #2
    On Jun 20, 10:54 pm, b...@math.removethis.ucr.andthis.edu (John Baez)
    > [...]
    > To set these in their proper perspective, it's good to recall
    > the periodic table of n-categories, mentioned in "week49":
    > k-tuply monoidal n-categories
    > n = 0 n = 1 n = 2
    > k = 0 sets categories 2-categories
    > k = 1 monoids monoidal monoidal
    > categories 2-categories
    > k = 2 commutative braided braided
    > monoids monoidal monoidal
    > categories 2-categories
    > [...]

    Holy Christ, this stuff makes my head spin.

    Not being critical, quite the reverse - it's wonderful and
    awesome that so much can be constructed from such apparently
    meagre axioms, but is there some prospect that, broadly
    speaking, "closure" in some inductive sense will ever be
    achieved with all these concepts, or will they continue
    sprouting generalizations and ever higher abstractions
    ad infinitum?!

    Also, does anyone know if Peter Johnstone is planning a revised
    (expanded?) edition of his "Sketches of an Elephant" volumes
    on topos theory? I heard a rumour to that effect, and have
    posponed buying the books for that reason.

    (I was pleasantly surprised that Category Theory and Topos
    theory wasn't as much as a pons asinorum for me as I had
    feared it would be, and am quite getting into it now.)


    John Ramsden
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