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Category Theory for the Sciences
> Proposed Syllabus for Category Theory Summer Study Group 2015
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May 24, 2015 11:03PM
Cross posted from:
Initial details for putting the group together can be found at
Below is a handful of suggestions and thoughts relating to the study group in terms of platforms to assist us in communicating as well as a general outline for the summer. I’m only “leading” this in the sense that I put my foot forward first, but I expect and sincerely hope that others will be active leaders and participants as well, so please take the following only as a suggestion, and feel free to add additional thoughts and commentary you feel might help the group.
Since many within the group are already members of the Google Group “Advanced Physics & Math – Los Angeles.” I suggest we use the email list here as a base of communication. I believe the group is still “private” but am happy to invite the handful of participants who aren’t already members. Those actively participating are encouraged to change their settings so that they receive emails from the group either as they’re posted, or in batches once a day. Those subscribed only once a week or less frequently are likely to miss out on questions, comments, and other matters.
Alternately we might also use the GoodReads.com discussion group within the “Mathematics Students” group. I believe only about three of us so far may already be goodreads members, so this may require more effort for others to join.
If anyone has an alternate platform suggestion for communicating and maintaining resources, I’m happy to entertain it.
I wouldn’t be opposed to setting up a multi-user WordPress site that we could all access and post/cross-post to. Doing this could also allow for use of LaTeX as well, which may be useful down the line. This would also have the benefit of being open to the public and potentially assisting future students. It also has built-in functionality of notifying everyone of individual posts and updates as they’re entered.
I’ll propose a general weekly meeting online via Google Hangouts on a day and time to be determined. It looks like the majority of respondents are in the Pacific timezone, so perhaps we could shoot for something around 7pm for an hour or so if we do something during weekdays so that East coasters can join without us running too late. If we decide to do something during the weekend, we obviously have a good bit more flexibility.
If we could have everyone start by indicating which days/times absolutely won’t work for them and follow up with their three to four preferred days/times, then we might be able to build a consensus for getting together.
Alternate videoconference options could include Skype, ooVoo, or others, in some part because I know that most participants are already part of the Google ecosystem and know that one or more potential participants is using Google Chromebooks and thus may not be able to use other platforms. Is anyone not able to use Google Hangouts? If we opt for something else, we want something that is ubiquitous for platform, allows screen sharing, and preferably the ability to record the sessions for those who aren’t present.
Ideally the videoconference meetings will be geared toward an inverted classroom style of work in which it would be supposed that everyone has read the week’s material and made an attempt at a number of problems. We can then bring forward any general or specific conceptual problems people may be having and then work as a group toward solving any problems that anyone in the group may be having difficulty with.
I’ll also suggest that even if we can’t all make a specific date and time, that we might get together in smaller groups to help each other out. Perhaps everyone could post one or two regular hours during the week as open “office hours” so that smaller groups can discuss problems and help each other out so that we can continue to all make progress as a group.
Spivak, David I. Category Theory for the Sciences. (The MIT Press, 2014)
Given the diversity of people in the group and their backgrounds, I’ll suggest Spivak’s text which has a gentle beginning and is geared more toward scientists and non-professional mathematicians, though it seems to come up to speed fairly quickly without requiring a large number of prerequisites. It also has the benefit of being free as noted below.
The textbook can be purchased directly through most book retailers. Those looking for cheaper alternatives might find these two versions useful. The HTML version should be exactly in line with the printed one, while the “old version” may not be exactly the same.
Following this, I might suggest we use something like Awody’s text or Leinster’s which are slightly more technical, but still fairly introductory. Those who’d like a more advanced text can certainly supplement by reading portions of those texts as we work our way through the material in Spivak. If all of the group wants a more advanced text, we can certainly do it, but I’d prefer not to scare away any who don’t have a more sophisticated background.
Adámek, Jirí & Herrlich, Horst & Strecker, George E. Abstract and Concrete Categories, The Joy of Cats. (Wiley, 2000) & (Dover, 2009) & (Free downloadable version from authors, 2004:
Awody, Steve. Category Theory (Oxford Logic Guides, #52). (Oxford University Press, 2nd Edition, 2010)
Lawvere, F. William & Schanuel, Stephen H. Conceptual Mathematics: A First Introduction to Categories. (Cambridge University Press, 2nd Edition, 2009)
Leinster, Tom. Basic Category Theory (Cambridge Studies in Advanced Mathematics, #143). (Cambridge University Press, 2014)
Mac Lane, Saunders. Categories for the Working Mathematician (Graduate Texts in Mathematics, #5). (Springer, 2nd Edition, 1998)
The following schedule takes us from now through the end of the summer and covers the entirety of the book. Hopefully everyone will be able to participate through the end, though some may have additional pressures as the beginning of the Fall sees the start of other courses. Without much prior experience in the field myself, I’ve generally broken things up to cover about 35 pages a week, though some have slightly more or less. Many, like me, may feel like the text really doesn’t begin until week three or four as the early chapters provide an introduction and cover basic concepts like sets and functions which I have a feeling most have at least some experience with. I’ve read through chapter two fairly quickly already myself. This first easy two week stretch will also give everyone the ability to settle in as well as allow others to continue to join the group before we make significant headway.
If anyone has more experience in the subject and wishes to comment on which sections we may all have more conceptual issues with, please let us know so we can adjust the schedule as necessary. I suppose we may modify the schedule as needed going forward, though like many of you, I’d like to try to cover as much as we can before the end of the summer.
Week One: May 24 (24 pages)
Decide on best day/time for meeting
Decide on platform for meetings: Google Hangouts /Skype /ooVoo /Other
1 A brief history of category theory
1.2 Intention of this book
1.3 What is requested from the student
1.4 Category theory references
2 The Category of Sets 9
2.1 Sets and functions
2.2 Commutative diagrams
Week Two: May 31 (50 pages)
3 Fundamental Considerations in Set 41
3.1 Products and coproducts
3.2 Finite limits in Set
Week Three: June 7 (40 pages)
3.3 Finite colimits in Set
3.4 Other notions in Set
Week Four: June 14 (31 pages)
4 Categories and Functors, Without Admitting It 115
Week Five: June 21 (38 pages)
Week Six: June 28 (19 pages)
4.5 Databases: schemas and instances
Week Seven: July 5 (36 pages)
5 Basic Category Theory 203
5.1 Categories and functors
Week Eight: July 12 (28 pages)
5.2 Common categories and functors from pure math
Week Nine: July 19 (48 pages)
5.3 Natural transformations
5.4 Categories and schemas are equivalent, Cat » Sch
Week Ten: July 26 (45 pages)
6 Fundamental Considerations of Categories
6.1 Limits and colimits
Week Eleven: August 2 (15 pages)
6.2 Other notions in Cat
Week Twelve: August 9 (26 pages)
7 Categories at Work 375
7.1 Adjoint functors
Week Thirteen: August 16 (32 pages)
7.2 Categories of functors
Week Fourteen: August 23 (19 pages)
Week Fifteen: August 30 (23 pages)
Diagram of category theory definition dependencies
n-lab Category Theory page
Requested/Required Responses from participants:
Preferred platform(s) for communications:
Email and/or online discussions
Platform Can use Can’t use Prefer Not to Use
Platform Can use Can’t use Prefer Not to Use
Dates and times you absolutely CAN’T make for meetings (please include your local time zone):
Dates and times you prefer (please include your local time zone):
One or two time periods during the week you could generally/reliably be available for “office hours”:
Any other thoughts on the material above:
Additional resources for the group
May 29, 2015 10:21AM
It's never too late to join, particularly since the first three chapters are a review of some basic set theory. Since it's been so quiet here in general and many of the participants aren't natively goodreads members, most of the discussion is happening at
which is dedicated to our discussion.
Hope to see everyone there.
May 31, 2015 03:35PM
This sounds like an amazing opportunity to learn over the summer as an undergraduate. I'm in.
Jun 02, 2015 10:38AM
Omega wrote: "This sounds like an amazing opportunity to learn over the summer as an undergraduate. I'm in."
Omega: welcome to the group - there are just over 20 of us now. When you get a moment, be sure to register and fill out your details at
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