Notes on Applied Category Theory

Have you heard the buzz? Applied category theory is gaining ground! But, you ask, what is applied category theory? Upon first seeing those words, I suspect many folks might think either one of two thoughts:

  1. Applied category theory? Isn't that an oxymoron?
  2. Applied category theory? What's the hoopla? Hasn't category theory always been applied?

For those thinking thought #1, I'd like to convince you the answer is No way! It's true that category theory sometimes goes by the name of general abstract nonsense, which might incline you to think that category theory is too pie-in-the-sky to have any impact on the "real world." My hope is to convince you that that's far from the truth.

For those thinking thought #2, yes, it's true that ideas and results from category theory have found applications in computer science and quantum physics (not to mention pure mathematics itself), but these are not the only applications to which the word applied in applied category theory is being applied.

So what is applied category theory?

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Limits and Colimits, Part 2 (Definitions)

Welcome back to our mini-series on categorical limits and colimits! In Part 1 we gave an intuitive answer to the question, "What are limits and colimits?" As we saw then, there are two main ways that mathematicians construct new objects from a collection of given objects: 1) take a "sub-collection," contingent on some condition or 2) "glue" things together. The first construction is usually a limit, the second is usually a colimit. Of course, this might've left the reader wondering, "Okay... but what are we taking the (co)limit of ?" The answer? A diagram. And as we saw a couple of weeks ago, a diagram is really a functor.

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A Diagram is a Functor

Last week was the start of a mini-series on limits and colimits in category theory. We began by answering a few basic questions, including, "What ARE (co)limits?" In short, they are a way to construct new mathematical objects from old ones. For more on this non-technical answer, be sure to check out Limits and Colimits, Part 1. Towards the end of that post, I mentioned that (co)limits aren't really related to limits of sequences in topology and analysis (but see here). There is however one similarity. In analysis, we ask for the limit of a sequence. In category theory, we also ask for the (co)limit OF something. But if that "something" is not a sequence, then what is it?

Answer: a diagram.

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Limits and Colimits, Part 1 (Introduction)

I'd like to embark on yet another mini-series here on the blog. The topic this time? Limits and colimits in category theory! But even if you're not familiar with category theory, I do hope you'll keep reading. Today's post is just an informal, non-technical introduction. And regardless of your categorical background, you've certainly come across many examples of limits and colimits, perhaps without knowing it! They appear everywhere--in topology, set theory, group theory, ring theory, linear algebra, differential geometry, number theory, algebraic geometry. The list goes on. But before diving in, I'd like to start off by answering a few basic questions.

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The Yoneda Lemma

Welcome to our third and final installment on the Yoneda lemma! In the past couple of weeks, we've slowly unraveled the mathematics behind the Yoneda perspective, i.e. the categorical maxim that an object  is completely determined by its relationships to other objects. Last week we divided this maxim into two points...

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The Yoneda Embedding

Last week we began a discussion about the Yoneda lemma. Though rather than stating the lemma (sans motivation)we took a leisurely stroll through an implication of its corollaries - the Yoneda perspective, as we called it:

 An object is completely determined by its relationships to other objects,

i.e.

by what the object "looks like" from the vantage point of each object in the category.

 But this left us wondering, What are the mathematics behind this idea? And what are the actual corollaries? In this post, we'll work to discover the answers.

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The Yoneda Perspective

In the words of Dan Piponi, it "is the hardest trivial thing in mathematics." The nLab catalogues it as "elementary but deep and central," while Emily Riehl nominates it as "arguably the most important result in category theory." Yet as Tom Leinster has pointed out, "many people find it quite bewildering."

And what are they referring to?

The Yoneda lemma.

"But," you ask, "what is the Yoneda lemma? And if it's just a lemma then - my gosh - what's the theorem?"

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Naming Functors

Mathematicians are a creative bunch, especially when it comes to naming things. And category theorists are no exception. So here's a little spin on this xkcd comic. It's inspired by a recent conversation I had on Twitter and, well, every category theory book ever.

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Group Elements, Categorically

On Monday we concluded our mini-series on basic category theory with a discussion on natural transformations and functors. This led us to make the simple observation that the elements of any set are really just functions from the single-point set {✳︎} to that set. But what if we replace "set" by "group"? Can we view group elements categorically as well? The answer to that question is the topic for today's post, written by guest-author Arthur Parzygnat

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What is a Natural Transformation? Definition and Examples, Part 2

Continuing our list of examples of natural transformations, here is Example #2 (double dual space of a vector space) and Example #3 (representability and Yoneda's lemma).

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What is a Natural Transformation? Definition and Examples

I hope you have enjoyed our little series on basic category theory. (I know I have!) This week we'll close out by chatting about natural transformations which are, in short, a nice way of moving from one functor to another. If you're new to this mini-series, be sure to check out the very first post, What is Category Theory Anyway? as well as What is a Category? and last week's What is a Functor?

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What is a Functor? Definitions and Examples, Part 2

Continuing yesterday's list of examples of functors, here is Example #3 (the chain rule from multivariable calculus), Example #4 (contravariant functors), and Example #5 (representable functors).

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What is a Functor? Definition and Examples, Part 1

Next up in our mini series on basic category theory: functors! We began this series by asking What is category theory, anyway? and last week walked through the precise definition of a category along with some examples. As we saw in example #3 in that post, a functor can be viewed an arrow/morphism between two categories.

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What is a Category? Definition and Examples

As promised, here is the first in our triad of posts on basic category theory definitions: categories, functors, and natural transformations. If you're just now tuning in and are wondering what is category theory, anyway? be sure to follow the link to find out!

A category $\mathsf{C}$ consists of some data that satisfy certain properties...

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What is Category Theory Anyway?

A quick browse through my Twitter or Instagram accounts, and you might guess that I've had category theory on my mind. You'd be right, too! So I have a few category-theory themed posts lined up for this semester, and to start off, I'd like to (attempt to) answer the question, What is category theory, anyway? for anyone who may not be familiar with the subject.

Now rather than give you a list of definitions--which are easy enough to find and may feel a bit unmotivated at first--I thought it would be nice to tell you what category theory is in the grand scheme of (mathematical) things. You see, it's very different than other branches of math....

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The Most Obvious Secret in Mathematics

Yes, I agree. The title for this post is a little pretentious. It's certainly possible that there are other mathematical secrets that are more obvious than this one, but hey, I got your attention, right? Good. Because I'd like to tell you about an overarching theme in mathematics - a mathematical mantra, if you will. A technique that mathematicians use all the time to, well, do math. 

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