Arbtirary thoughts on nearly everything from a modernist poet, structural mathematician and functional programmer.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The fundamental group functor

This is something I've always (read: since I learned about it less than 6 months ago) found pretty neat. There's nothing terribly original here-- everything can be found in any algebraic topology book, and in most general topology books, but I don't think categorical language makes its way in there all the time...

The point of this "little" post is to point out that the operation taking a (pointed) topological space $(X,x_0)$ to it's fundamental group, $\pi_1(X,x_0)$ is a functor which preserves products and coproducts... (Did that sentence have a point? Sorry... I'm done.)

First, as a technical point: we need to work int he category of pointed spaces: Top$_*$. (A pointed topological space is just a pair $(X,x_0)$ where $x_0\in X$. The morphisms are continuous functions $f:(X,x_0)\rightarrow (Y,y_0)$ such that $f(x_0)=y_0$. The idea is we are distinguishing a point, just as we do to get the fundamental group.) The reason for this is that it gives a nice way of distinguishing between base points (for our fundamental group) in different path-components-- every selection of base point gives us a new space-- Some are isomorphic. This allows us the avoid the technical nightmare of what to do with non-path-connected spaces. (I.e., we don't get a functor if we're only working in Top) There's another reason for this: Wedge products give Top$_*$ a sensible notion of coproduct-- or at least, one which is actually preserved by the functor.

So, first of all, what does it mean for us to have a functor? A functor is a map between categores which preserves identities and composition of morphisms. In other words, for categories $C$ and $D$, $F:C\rightarrow D$ is a functor if $F(id_c)=id_{F(c)}$ for every object $c\in C$, and for every pair of morphisms
In C, we have that $F(g)\circ F(f) = F(g\circ f)$.

Given a function $f:(X,x_0)\rightarrow(Y,y_0)$, $f$ induces a homomorphism $f_* : \pi_1(X,x_0)\rightarrow \pi_1(Y,y_0)$-- Any path in $X$, when fed through $f$ becomes a path in $Y$. Since the map preserves basepoints, a loop at $x_0$ becomes a loop at $y_0$-- seeing that this is compatible with homotopy isn't too difficult.

To say that $\pi_1(-)$ is a functor means that $f_*(\pi_1(X,x_0)) = \pi_1(\operatorname{Im} f,y_0)$ and that $(id_X)_* = id_{\pi_1(X)}$ (Sorry, commutative diagrams are not working so hot in this $\LaTeX$ package... I'll need to do something about that.) A quick diagram chase shows that this is the case.

Now is where things finally get interesting... and... I'm tired, and will finish this later today.

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