As mathematicians are wont to do, whenever we have a collection of algebraic “objects,” we want to know how to “relate” them. In the case of categories, we saw earlier that maps called functors are what we want to examine.
The next step after defining these structure preserving maps is to wonder what it means for two objects to be “essentially the same.” In Set, bijections do this. In Grp, group isomorphisms do this. In Top, homeomorphisms do this. Etc, etc. If we were to try an analogous procedure for categories, we would say two categories C and D are isomorphic if there exist two functors: and such that and . Saying that two categories are isomorphic means that they are, for all intents and purposes, the same (maybe they differ in notation or something).
As it happens, this tends to be too restrictive a condition (i.e. categories that behave more or less the same tend to not actually be isomorphic). What if, instead of requiring that and , we require that these functors are naturally isomorphic to the appropriate identities? We would then say that C and D are “equivalent” categories.
The first time I ever saw this phenomenon was in algebraic geometry, where one sees that the category of finitely generated reduced -algebras is equivalent to the category of (affine) algebraic varieties over (here is a field). Later on we saw that the category of commutative rings with unity is equivalent to the category of affine schemes equipped with their structure sheaves. Another cool example is that the category of quasi-coherent sheaves over an affine scheme is equivalent to the category of -modules.
For a simpler example, take any poset and consider it as a category. Then reversing the direction of the arrows gives an equivalent category Obviously, this works for any category and its opposite category. I just like the poset case because one can visualize it quite easily.
Simply put: adjunctions are ubiquitous. It took me a long time to see that, and I’m still wading through the ramifications. I gave a (brief) blurb about them in the last post, but let’s up the scrutiny. We say and are an adjoint pair (written ) if there is a natural bijection between maps in C and in D.
Note that, in D, we have the map . The adjunction gives a unique map , and likewise we have a unique map yielding . These maps are called the “unit” and “counit” of the adjuction at or . In fact, the adjunction yields a pair of natural transformations and .
That’s pretty neat. It explicitly shows the “descending chain of equivalence” from isomorphism of categories, equivalence of categories, and adjunction of functors between categories. The naturality of the unit and counit transformations from an adjunction actually implies the “bijection” criterion, so we can really just take the unit-counit thing as a starting point.
I’ll do more on this later. I have class to go to 🙂