Sunday, March 19, 2017

Monoidal categories and the tensor product

Last time we discussed the category theory product which forms another category from two categories. Suppose now that we start with one category \(C\) and form the product with itself \(C\times C\). It is natural to see if there is a functor from \(C\times C\) to \(C\). If such a functor exists and moreover it respects associativity and unit elements, then the category \(C\) is called a monoidal category. By abuse of notation, the functor above is called the tensor product, but this is not the usual tensor product of vector space. The tensor product of vector space is only one concrete example of a monoidal product. To get to the ordinary tensor product we need to inject physics into the problem. 

The category \(C\) we are interested in is that of physical systems where the objects are physical systems, and arrows are compositions of physical systems. The key physical concepts needed are that of time and dynamical degree of freedom inside Hamiltonian formalism.

Time plays an distinguished role in quantum mechanics both in terms of formalism (remember that there is no time operator) and in how quantum mechanics can be reconstructed. 

The space in Hamiltonian formalism is a Poisson manifold which is not necessarily a vector space but because the Hilbert space \(L^2 (R^3\times R^3)\) is isomorphic to \(L^2 (R^3 ) \otimes L^2 (R^3 )\) let's discuss monoidal categories for vector spaces obeying an equivalence relationship. Hilbert spaces form a category of their own and there is a functor mapping physical systems into Hilbert spaces. This is usually presented as the first quantum mechanics postulate: each physical system is associated with a complex Hilbert space H.

For complete generality of the definition of the tensor product we consider two distinct vector space V and W for which we first consider the category theory product (in this case the Cartesian product) but for which we make the following identifications:
  • \((v_1, w)+(v_2, w) = (v_1 + v_2, w)\)
  • \((v, w_1)+(v, w_2) = (v, w_1 + w_2)\)
  • \(c(v,w) = (cv, w) = (v, cw)\)
For physical justification think of V and W as one dimensional vector spaces corresponding to distinct dynamical degrees of freedom. Linearity is a property of vector spaces and we expect this property to be preserved if vector spaces are to describe nature. Bilinearity in the equivalence relationship above arises because the degrees of freedom are independent.

Now a Cartesian product of vector spaces respecting the above relationships is a new mathematical object: a tensor product.

The tensor product is unique up to isomorphism and respects the following universal property:

There is a bilinear map \(\phi : V\times W \rightarrow V\otimes W\) such that given any other vector space Z and a bilinear map \(h: V\times W \rightarrow Z\) there is a unique linear map \(h^{'}: V\otimes W \rightarrow Z\) such that the diagram below commutes.

This universal property is very strong and several mathematical facts follows from it: the tensor product is unique up to isomorphism (instead of Z consider another tensor product \(V\otimes^{'}W\) ), the tensor product is associative, and there is a natural isomorphism between  \(V\otimes W\) and \(W\otimes V\) making the tensor product an example of a symmetric monoidal category, just like the category of physical systems under composition.

This may look like an insignificant trivial observation, but it is extremely powerful and it is the starting point of quantum mechanics reconstruction. On one hand we have composition of physical systems and theories of nature describing physical systems. On the other hand we have dynamical degrees of freedom and the rules of quantum mechanics. The two things are actually identical and each one can be derived from the other. To do this we need one additional ingredient: time viewed as a functor. Please stay tuned.

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