Various structures are studied in category theory using properties of objects and morphisms between them. Many constructions are special cases of categorical limits and colimits (e.g. products in various categories). The notions of functor and natural transformations are very important in category ...

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85
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In (relatively) simple words: What is an inverse limit?

I am a set theorist in my orientation, and while I did take a few courses that brushed upon categorical and algebraic constructions, one has always eluded me. The inverse limit. I tried to ask one of ...
53
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17answers
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40
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6answers
3k views

Why don't analysts do category theory?

I'm a mathematics student in abstract algebra and algebraic geometry. Most of my books cover a great deal of category theory and it is an essential tool in understanding these two subjects. Recently, ...
39
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8answers
5k views

When to learn category theory?

I'm a undergraduate who wishes to learn category theory but I only have basic knowledge of linear algebra and set theory, I've also had a short course on number theory which used some basic concepts ...
39
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1answer
2k views

Abstract nonsense proof of snake lemma

During my studies, I always wanted to see a "purely category-theoretical" proof of the Snake Lemma, i.e. a proof that constructs all morphisms (including the snake) and proves exactness via universal ...
38
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0answers
661 views

Is there a categorical definition of submetry?

(Updated to include effective epimorphism.) This question is prompted by the recent discussion of why analysts don't use category theory. It demonstrates what happens when an analyst tries to use ...
35
votes
1answer
3k views

Was Grothendieck familiar with Stone's work on Boolean algebras?

In short, my question is: Was Grothendieck familiar with Stone's work on Boolean algebras? Background: In an answer to Pierre-Yves Gaillard's question Did Zariski really define the Zariski ...
33
votes
1answer
427 views

In categorical terms, why is there no canonical isomorphism from a finite dimensional vector space to its dual?

I've read in several places that one motivation for category theory was to be able to give precise meaning to statements like, "finite dimensional vector spaces are canonically isomorphic to their ...
33
votes
1answer
796 views

Functions $f:\mathbb{N}\rightarrow \mathbb{Z}$ such that $\left(m-n\right) \mid \left(f(m)-f(n)\right)$

A long time back, I wondered what functions other than integer polynomials on $\mathbb{N}$ (or $\mathbb{Z}$) satisfied the property: $$\forall m,n: \left(m-n\right) \mid \left(f(m)-f(n)\right)$$ ...
31
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7answers
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Why are topological spaces interesting to study?

In introductory real analysis, I dealt only with $\mathbb{R}^n$. Then I saw that limits can be defined in more abstract spaces than $\mathbb{R}^n$, namely the metric spaces. This abstraction seemed ...
31
votes
5answers
2k views

What structure does the alternating group preserve?

A common way to define a group is as the group of structure-preserving transformations on some structured set. For example, the symmetric group on a set $X$ preserves no structure: or, in other ...
30
votes
2answers
948 views

What are exact sequences, metaphysically speaking?

Why is it natural or useful to organize objects (of some appropriate category) into exact sequences? Exact sequences are ubiquitous - and I've encountered them enough to know that they can provide a ...
30
votes
4answers
756 views

Why do we look at morphisms?

I am reading some lecture notes and in one paragraph there is the following motivation: "The best way to study spaces with a structure is usually to look at the maps between them preserving structure ...
27
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4answers
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Can someone explain the Yoneda Lemma to an applied mathematician?

I have trouble following the category-theoretic statement and proof of the Yoneda Lemma. Indeed, I followed a category theory course for 4-5 lectures (several years ago now) and felt like I understood ...
27
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0answers
605 views

Applying Freyd-Mitchell's embedding theorem on large categories

One commonly reads that the Freyd-Mitchell's embedding theorem allows proof by diagram chasing in any abelian category. This is not immediately clear, since only small abelian categories can be ...
26
votes
5answers
2k views

Why should I care about adjoint functors

I am comfortable with the definition of adjoint functors. I have done a few exercises proving that certain pairs of functors are adjoint (tensor and hom, sheafification and forgetful, direct image and ...
26
votes
1answer
657 views

The category of compact metric spaces

Let us denote by $(\mathrm{CompMet})$ the category of compact metric spaces with Lipschitz maps as morphisms. I'm interested in properties of this category. It seems to me that it has finite products ...
23
votes
3answers
2k views

What use is the Yoneda lemma?

Although I know very little category theory, I really do find it a pretty branch of mathematics and consider it quite useful, especially when it comes to laying down definitions and unifying diverse ...
23
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4answers
2k views

Simple explanation of a monad

I have been learning some functional programming recently and I so I have come across monads. I understand what they are in programming terms, but I would like to understand what they are ...
23
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1answer
620 views

Does “cheap nonstandard analysis” take place in a topos?

Terence Tao's A cheap version of nonstandard analysis describes a way to do analysis halfway between ordinary analysis and nonstandard analysis which, if I'm not mistaken, cashes out to working in the ...
22
votes
4answers
627 views

A bestiary about adjunctions

What is your favourite adjoint? Following Mac Lane philosophy adjoints are everywhere, so I would like to draw a (possibly but unprobably) exhaustive list of adjunctions one faces in studying ...
22
votes
3answers
1k views

Natural and coordinate free definition for the Riemannian volume form?

In linear algebra and differential geometry, there are various structures which we calculate with in a basis or local coordinates, but which we would like to have a meaning which is basis independent ...
21
votes
1answer
221 views

Rigidity of the category of fields

Let's call a category rigid if every self-equivalence is isomorphic to the identity. For example, $\mathsf{Set}$, $\mathsf{Grp}$, $\mathsf{Ab}$, $\mathsf{CRing}$ (MO/106838), $\mathsf{Top}$ ...
20
votes
2answers
586 views

What is the coproduct of fields, when it exists?

This is a slightly more advanced version of another question here. Let $\textbf{CRing}$ be the category of commutative rings with unit. Let $\textbf{Dom}$ be the category of integral domains – by ...
20
votes
4answers
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Proving the snake lemma without a diagram chase

Suppose we have two short exact sequences in an abelian category $$0 \to A \mathrel{\overset{f}{\to}} B \mathrel{\overset{g}{\to}} C \to 0 $$ $$0 \to A' \mathrel{\overset{f'}{\to}} B' ...
20
votes
2answers
950 views

How can there be alternatives for the foundations of mathematics?

How can set theory and category theory both be plausible theories for the foundations of mathematics? If these two theories are not mathematically equivalent, does it not mean that the rest of ...
20
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1answer
458 views

cones in the derived category

If I have two exact triangles $X \to Y \to Z \to X[1]$ and $X' \to Y' \to Z' \to X'[1]$ in a triangulated category, and I have morphisms $X \to X'$, $Y \to Y'$ which 'commute' ...
19
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3answers
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What is category theory useful for?

Okay so I understand what calculus, linear algebra, combinatorics and even topology try to answer, but why invent category theory? In wikipedia it says it is to formalize. As far as I can tell it sort ...
19
votes
6answers
884 views

Category-theoretic description of the real numbers

The familiar number sets $\mathbb{N}$, $\mathbb{Z}$, $\mathbb{Q}$ all have "natural constructions", which indicate, why they are mathematically interesting. For example, equipping $\mathbb{N}$ with ...
19
votes
1answer
237 views

For which categories we can solve $\text{Aut}(X) \cong G$ for every group $G$?

It is usually said that groups can (or should) be thought of as "symmetries of things". The reason is that the "things" which we study in mathematics usually form a category and for every object $X$ ...
19
votes
1answer
428 views

How to find exponential objects and subobject classifiers in a given category

In a course I'm learning about Topos theory, there are a lot of exercises which require you to prove explicitly some category is an elementary topos: i.e. to construct exponentials and a subobject ...
18
votes
5answers
2k views

What is a universal property?

Sorry, but I do not understand the formal definition of "universal property" as given at Wikipedia. To make the following summary more readable I do equate "universal" with "initial" and omit the ...
17
votes
7answers
623 views

What's the deal with empty models in first-order logic?

Asaf's answer here reminded me of something that should have been bothering me ever since I learned about it, but which I had more or less forgotten about. In first-order logic, there is a convention ...
17
votes
1answer
2k views

Abelian categories and axiom (AB5)

Let $\mathcal{A}$ be an abelian category. We say that $\mathcal{A}$ satisfies (AB5) if $\mathcal{A}$ is cocomplete and filtered colimits are exact. In Weibel's Introduction to homological algebra, ...
17
votes
4answers
432 views

A Category Theoretical view of the Kalman Filter

Some basic background The Kalman filter is a (linear) state estimation algorithm that presumes that there is some sort of uncertainty (optimally Gaussian) in the state observations of the dynamical ...
17
votes
1answer
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Quotient objects, their universal property and the isomorphism theorems

This is a question that has been bothering me for quite a while. Let me put between quotation marks the terms that are used informally. "Quotient objects" are always the same. Take groups, abelian ...
17
votes
2answers
339 views

Category Theory and Lebesgue Integration.

I'm wondering if there's any Category Theory floating around in the theory of Lebesgue Integration. To avoid things becoming too broad, let's keep this focused on the basics. Here's how I see the ...
17
votes
2answers
425 views

A structural proof that $ax=xa$ forms a monoid

During the discussion on this problem I found the following simple observation: If $M$ is a monoid and $a \in M$ then $\{x: ax = xa\}$ is a submonoid. This is trivial to prove by checking ...
17
votes
2answers
563 views

Categorical description of algebraic structures

There is a well-known description of a group as "a category with one object in which all morphisms are invertible." As I understand it, the Yoneda Lemma applied to such a category is simply a ...
17
votes
0answers
226 views

Existence of a certain functor $F:\mathrm{Grpd}\rightarrow\mathrm{Grp}$

Let $\mathrm{Grpd}$ denote the category of all groupoids. Let $\mathrm{Grp}$ denote the category of all groups. Are there functors $F\colon\mathrm{Grpd}\rightarrow \mathrm{Grp}, ...
16
votes
2answers
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motivation and use for category theory?

From reading the answers to different questions on category theory, it seems that category theory is useful as a framework for thinking about mathematics. Also, from the book Algebra by Saunders Mac ...
16
votes
8answers
427 views

Examples of categories where morphisms are not functions

Can someone give examples of categories where objects are some sort of structure based on sets and morphisms are not functions?
16
votes
1answer
823 views

When is the derived category abelian?

I read in the book Methods of homological algebra of Gelfand and Manin that the derived category of an abelian category $A$ is never abelian. Now to me this seems to be wrong, because if $A=0$ then ...
16
votes
2answers
503 views

Atiyah's definitions of Topological Quantum Field Theory

According to Atiyah, a TQFT is a functor from the category of cobordisms to the category of vector spaces. How does this definition relate with the physics of quantum mechanics? What does the ...
16
votes
1answer
306 views

Why was set theory inadequate as a foundation to the emerging new fields and why category theory isn't?

I'm reading this Wikipedia article on the foundations of mathematics, in the end of the this topic, there is: Toward the middle of the 20th century it turned out that set theory (ZFC or otherwise) ...
16
votes
1answer
649 views

Why should a combinatorialist know category theory?

I know almost nothing about category theory (I have just skimmed the first chapters of Aluffi's algebra book), reading this question got me thinking... why should someone mostly interested in ...
16
votes
2answers
253 views

Basic categories cheat sheet

Has anyone come across a cheat sheet containing basic properties of the most well-known categories (i.e. does it have (co)products, (co)equalizers, (co)limits, etc?)?
16
votes
1answer
396 views

On the large cardinals foundations of categories

(This was cross-posted to MathOverflow.) It is well-known that there are difficulties in developing basic category theory within the confines of $\sf ZFC$. One can overcome these problems when ...
16
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1answer
352 views

Examples of universal constructions in probability theory

I am looking for more examples of universal constructions in probability theory. Like the construction a of Gaussian space from a real Hilbert space, or a Poisson jump process from a measurable space ...
15
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4answers
2k views

Category of all categories vs. Set of all sets

In naieve set theory, you quickly run into existence trouble if you try to do meta-things things like take "the set of all sets". For example, does the set of all sets that don't contain themselves ...