Questions about algebraic methods and invariants to study and classify topological spaces: homotopy groups, (co)-homology groups, fundamental groups, covering spaces, and beyond.

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418
votes
6answers
70k views

Why can you turn clothing right-side-out?

My nephew was folding laundry, and turning the occasional shirt right-side-out. I showed him a "trick" where I turned it right-side-out by pulling the whole thing through a sleeve instead of the ...
97
votes
18answers
10k views

How to distinguish walking on a sphere or on a torus?

Imagine that you're a flatlander walking in your world. How could you distinguish if the world is a sphere or a torus ? I can't see the difference from this point of view. If you are interested, this ...
94
votes
2answers
3k views

Does a four-variable analog of the Hall-Witt identity exist?

Lately I have been thinking about commutator formulas, sparked by rereading the following paragraph in Isaacs (p.125): An amazing commutator formula is the Hall-Witt identity: ...
87
votes
3answers
9k views

Topology: The Board Game

Edit: I've drawn up some different rules, a map and some cards for playing an actual version of the game. They're available at my personal website with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. ...
79
votes
0answers
2k views

Is there a homology theory that counts connected components of a space?

It is well-known that the generators of the zeroth singular homology group $H_0(X)$ of a space $X$ correspond to the path components of $X$. I have recently learned that for Čech homology the ...
74
votes
3answers
3k views

Direct proof that the wedge product preserves integral cohomology classes?

Let $H^k(M,\mathbb R)$ be the De Rham cohomology of a manifold $M$. There is a canonical map $H^k(M;\mathbb Z) \to H^k(M;\mathbb R)$ from the integral cohomology to the cohomology with coefficients ...
70
votes
10answers
4k views

Explain “homotopy” to me [closed]

I have been struggling with general topology and now, algebraic topology is simply murder. Some people seem to get on alright, but I am not one of them unfortunately. Please, an answer I need is ...
67
votes
6answers
7k views

Intuition of the meaning of homology groups

I am studying homology groups and I am looking to try and develop, if possible, a little more intuition about what they actually mean. I've only been studying homology for a short while, so if ...
63
votes
1answer
4k views

Simplicial homology of real projective space by Mayer-Vietoris

Consider the $n$-sphere $S^n$ and the real projective space $\mathbb{RP}^n$. There is a universal covering map $p: S^n \to \mathbb{RP}^n$, and it's clear that it's the coequaliser of $\mathrm{id}: S^n ...
61
votes
4answers
1k views

Topological spaces admitting an averaging function

Let $M$ be a topological space. Define an averaging function as a continuous map $f:M \times M \to M$ which satisfies $f(a,b) = f(b,a)$ for all $a,b \in M$ and $f(a,a) = a$ for all $a \in M$. These ...
59
votes
2answers
5k views

Sheaf cohomology: what is it and where can I learn it?

As I understand it, sheaf cohomology is now an indispensable tool in algebraic geometry, but was originally developed to solve problems in algebraic topology. I have two questions about the matter. ...
59
votes
0answers
2k views

In $n>5$, topology = algebra

During the study of the surgery theory I faced following sentence: Surgery theory works best for $n > 5$, when "topology = algebra". I don't know what is the meaning of topology=algebra. ...
56
votes
3answers
2k views

Algebraic Topology Challenge: Homology of an Infinite Wedge of Spheres

So the following comes to me from an old algebraic topology final that got the best of me. I wasn't able to prove it due to a lack of technical confidence, and my topology has only deteriorated since ...
46
votes
9answers
1k views

Examples of group-theoretic results more easily obtained through topology or geometry

Earlier, I was looking at a question here about the abelianization of a certain group $X$. Since $X$ was the fundamental group of a closed surface $\Sigma$, it was easy to compute $X^{ab}$ as ...
45
votes
7answers
9k views

Hanging a picture on the wall using two nails in such a way that removing any nail makes the picture fall down

A friend of mine told me that it's possible to hang a picture on the wall from a string using two nails in such a way that removing either of the two nails will make both the string and picture fall ...
41
votes
2answers
2k views

How do different definitions of “degree” coincide?

I've recently read about a number of different notions of "degree." Reading over Javier Álvarez' excellent answer for the thousandth time finally prompted me to ask this question: How exactly do ...
40
votes
3answers
2k views

Intuition behind Snake Lemma

I've been struggling with this for some time. I can prove the Snake Lemma, but I don't really “understand” it. By that I mean if no one told me Snake Lemma existed, I would not even ...
35
votes
13answers
2k views

How To Present Algebraic Topology To Non-Mathematicians?

I am writing my master thesis in algebraic topology (fundamental groups) and as a system in my school students must write about one page about their theses explaining for non mathematicians the ...
34
votes
10answers
5k views

A really complicated calculus book

I've been studying math as a hobby, just for fun for years, and I had my goal to understand nearly every good undergraduate textbook and I think, I finally reached it. So now I need an another goal. ...
34
votes
4answers
6k views

Learning Roadmap for Algebraic Topology

I am now considering about studying algebraic topology. There are a lot of books about it, and I want to choose the most comprehensive book among them. I have a solid background in Abstract Algebra, ...
34
votes
2answers
4k views

Which manifolds are parallelizable?

Recall that a manifold $M$ of dimension $n$ is parallelizable if there are $n$ vector fields that form a basis of the tangent space $T_x M$ at every point $x \in M$. This is equivalent to the tangent ...
33
votes
2answers
2k views

How much rigour is necessary?

I am taking a course in Algebraic Topology. We are using Hatcher as a textbook. One of the main problems I am facing with the textbook is its level of rigour. Example: On Pg 10, Hatcher mentions in ...
33
votes
2answers
1k views

Homology of cube with a twist

Take the quotient space of the cube $I^3$ obtained by identifying each square face with opposite square via the right handed screw motion consisting of a translation by 1 unit perpendicular to the ...
33
votes
0answers
373 views

Does $\Bbb{CP}^{2n} \mathbin{\#} \Bbb{CP}^{2n}$ ever support an almost complex structure?

This question has now been crossposted to MathOverflow, in the hopes that it reaches a larger audience there. $\Bbb{CP}^{2n+1} \mathbin{\#} \Bbb{CP}^{2n+1}$ supports a complex structure: ...
31
votes
3answers
2k views

$\pi_{1}({\mathbb R}^{2} - {\mathbb Q}^{2})$ is uncountable

Question: Show that $\pi_{1}({\mathbb R}^{2} - {\mathbb Q}^{2})$ is uncountable. Motivation: This is one of those problems that I saw in Hatcher and felt I should be able to do, but couldn't quite ...
31
votes
3answers
2k views

Roadmap to study Atiyah-Singer index theorem

I am a physics undergrad and want to pursue a PhD in Math (geometry or topology). I study it almost completely by myself, as the program in my country offers very less flexibility to take non ...
31
votes
1answer
1k views

Perturbation trick in the proof of Seifert-van-Kampen

The theorem of Seifert-Van-Kampen states that the fundamental group $\pi_1$ commutes with certain colimits. There is a beautiful and conceptual proof in Peter May's "A Concise Course in Algebraic ...
30
votes
3answers
2k views

Consequences of Degree Theory

I'm preparing a presentation on an overview of algebraic and differential topology, and my introduction includes some motivational material on Degree Theory. I have two fundamental and invaluable ...
30
votes
1answer
2k views

Is this space contractible?

Let $X$ be the following topological space (with the subspace topology): Connect the rational points of $([0,1]\cap \mathbb{Q})\times \{0\}$ with the point $(0,1)$ and connect the points of ...
30
votes
3answers
462 views

Is $T^1 S^5$ abstractly diffeomorphic to $S^4\times S^5$?

One can ask When is $T^1 S^n$, the unit tangent bundle of $S^n$, abstractly diffeomorphic to $S^{n-1}\times S^n$? For even $n$, the answer is never. This is because $T^1 S^{2n}$ has torsion in ...
28
votes
4answers
1k views

Geometry or topology behind the “impossible staircase”

This question on the topology of Escher games reminded me of a question I've had in my head for a little while now. Is there anything interesting geometric or topological that can be said about the ...
28
votes
2answers
946 views

Do all continuous real-valued functions determine the topology?

Let $X$ be a topology space. If I know all the continuous functions from X to $\mathbb R$, will the topology on $X$ be determined? I know the $\mathbb R$ here is, somewhat, artificial. So if this is ...
28
votes
3answers
756 views

How did we know to invent homological algebra?

Update: Qiaochu Yuan points out in the comments that the title of the question is misleading, as homological algebra did not begin with long exact sequences as I'd thought. (Original question ...
27
votes
4answers
3k views

Why is the Jordan Curve Theorem not “obvious”?

I am horribly confused about Jordan's Curve Theorem (henceforth JCT). Could you give me some reason why should the validity of this theorem be in doubt? I mean for anyone who trusts the eye theorem is ...
27
votes
2answers
394 views

Paracompactness of CW complexes (rather long)

I finished reading Lee's 'introduction to topological manifolds' (2nd edition) and I'm currently tying up some loose ends. One thing I can't understand is the proof of paracompactness of CW complexes. ...
27
votes
2answers
1k views

What is the topology of a world with portals?

Portal is a video game, where you can create 2 disks $D\in\mathbb{R}^3$, which then are identified. The world is glued together at these points. This kind of reminds me of some procedures to ...
26
votes
3answers
3k views

Research in algebraic topology

I have started studying algebraic topology with the help of Armstrong(Basic), Massey, and Hatcher. If I plan to do research in algebraic topology in future: What else should I study after ...
26
votes
1answer
405 views

“the only odd dimensional spheres with a unique smooth structure are $S^1$, $S^3$, $S^5$, $S^{61}$”

This (long) paper, Guozhen Wang, Zhouli Xu. "On the uniqueness of the smooth structure of the 61-sphere." arXiv:1601.02184 [math.AT]. proves that the only odd dimensional spheres with a ...
25
votes
4answers
720 views

Are there nontrivial continuous maps between complex projective spaces?

Are there maps $f: \Bbb{CP}^n \rightarrow \Bbb{CP}^m$, with $n>m$, that are not null-homotopic? In particular, is there some non-null-homotopic map $\Bbb{CP}^n \rightarrow S^2$ for $n>1$? Can we ...
25
votes
9answers
1k views

Surprising applications of topology [closed]

Today in class we got to see how to use the Brouwer Fixed Point theorem for $D^2$ to prove that a $3 \times 3$ matrix $M$ with positive real entries has an eigenvector with a positive eigenvalue. The ...
25
votes
1answer
4k views

precise official definition of a cell complex and CW-complex

I would be very grateful If someone could state a precise definition (direct one and inductive one) of a cell complex and CW-complex, since my intuition is telling that some restriction is missing and ...
25
votes
1answer
414 views

Does every continuous map from $\mathbb{H}P^{2n+1}$ to itself have a fixed point?

This question is motivated by Fixed point property of Cayley plane and idle curiosity. In the link, it is shown that every continuous map from the Cayley plane to itself has a fixed point and the ...
24
votes
3answers
2k views

is the group of rational numbers the fundamental group of some space?

Which path connected space has fundamental group isomorphic to the group of rationals? More generally, is every group the fundamental group of a space?
23
votes
4answers
2k views

Homotopy groups of $S^2$

I'd like to understand higher homotopy groups better and I guess there's no simpler way than understanding them for as simple spaces as possible; therefore $S^2$. My question essentially has two ...
23
votes
1answer
2k views

Cohomology of projective plane

How I can compute cohomology de Rham of the projective plane $P^{2}(\mathbb{R})$ using Mayer vietoris or any other methods?
22
votes
6answers
4k views

What is the difference between homotopy and homeomorphism?

What is the difference between homotopy and homeomorphism? Let X and Y be two spaces, Supposed X and Y are homotopy equivalent and have the same dimension, can it be proved that they are homeomorphic? ...
22
votes
3answers
2k views

Why algebraic topology is also called combinatorial topology?

I remember reading somewhere(at least more than once) that algebraic topology is also known by the name "Combinatorial Topology" which essentially tags the subject fundamentally with some counting ...
22
votes
2answers
1k views

Euler characteristic of a boundary?

Why is the Euler characteristic of a boundary even? How can one prove this and is there an geometric way to think about it?
22
votes
1answer
684 views

The simplest nontrivial (unstable) integral cohomology operation

By an integral cohomology operation I mean a natural transformation $H^i(X, \mathbb{Z}) \times H^j(X, \mathbb{Z}) \times ... \to H^k(X, \mathbb{Z})$, where we restrict $X$ to some nice category of ...
22
votes
2answers
1k views

Can we think of a chain homotopy as a homotopy?

I'm taking a course in algebraic topology, which includes an introduction to (simplicial) homology, and I'm looking for a bit of intuition regarding chain homotopies. The definitions I'm using are: ...