I have a rather naive question for the participants here. I’m at the Max Planck 4-manifolds semester, currently sitting through many talks about knot concordance and various filtrations of the knot concordance group.
Do any of you have a feeling for how knot concordance should be organized, say if one was looking for some global structure? In the purely 3-dimensional world there are many very “tidy” ways to organize knots and links. There’s the associated 3-manifold, geometrization. There’s double branched covers and equivariant geometrization, arborescent knots and tangle decompositions. I find these perspectives to be rather rich in insights and frequently they’re computable for reasonable-sized objects.
But knot concordance as a field feels much more like the Vassiliev invariant perspective on knots: graded vector spaces of invariants. Typically these vector spaces are very large and it’s difficult to compute anything beyond the simplest objects.
My initial inclination is that if one is looking for elegant structure in knot concordance, perhaps it would be at the level of concordance categories. But what kind of structure would you be looking for on these objects? I don’t think I’ve seen much in the way of natural operations on slice discs or concordances in general, beyond Morse-theoretic cutting and pasting. Have you?
A preprint of Lins and Lins appeared on the arXiv today, posing a challenge [LL]. In this post, I’m going to discuss that challenge, and describe a recent algorithm of Scott–Short [SS] which may point towards an answer.
The Lins–Lins challenge
The theory of 3-manifolds is now very advanced, and we can even say in a certain sense that we understand ‘all’ 3-manifolds (as I discussed in an earlier post). But that understanding is very theoretical; the Lins–Lins challenge is to put this theory into practice.
They ask: ‘Are the two closed, hyperbolic 3-manifolds given by Dehn surgery on the following two framed links homeomorphic?’
(I’ve taken the liberty of copying the diagrams from their paper.)
The place to be in May for a quantum topologist is Vietnam. After some wonderful-sounding mini-courses in Hanoi, the party with move to Nha Trang (dream place to visit) for a quantum topology conference.
I’d like to tell you very briefly about some exciting developments which I expect will be at the centre of the Nha Trang conference, and which I expect may significantly effect the landscape in quantum topology. The preprint in question is -Efficient triangulations and the index of a cusped hyperbolic -manifold by Garoufalidis, Hodgson, Rubinstein, and Segerman (with a list of authors like that, you know it’s got to be good!). (more…)
This past week, Ciprian Manolescu posted a preprint on ArXiv proving (allegedly- I haven’t read the paper beyond the introduction) that the Triangulation Conjecture is false.
-equivariant Seiberg-Witten Floer homology and the Triangulation Conjecture.
This is big news. I feel it’s the last nail in the coffin of the Hauptvermutung. I’d like to tell you a little bit about the conjecture, and about Manolescu’s strategy, and what it has to do with low dimensional topology. (more…)
This fall, the topology group at OSU is reading through Dani Wise’s lecture notes on cube complexes, based on his series of talks at the CBMS-NSF conference back in 2011. Henry Wilton and Daniel Moskovich have written on this blog about Wise’s work and its role in the proof of the Virtual Haken Conjecture. This is just a quick note to say how impressed I’ve been with the lecture notes. They start from the very beginning, include a lot of good examples and have proved to be very accessible for all of us non-experts (which includes me).
It’s just too bad that Wise’s notes are no longer available on the conference web page. (Now that a paper copy is available from the AMS, the PDF file has been replaced with a note saying that the editor insisted they be taken down.) You can still e-mail Dani Wise to request a copy, but I expect that some people (such as beginning graduate students) might be reluctant to e-mail someone they don’t know like this. I can assure you, he was very gracious when I asked him for a copy and seems to be very eager to distribute the notes widely. But, if you have any thoughts on how the PDF file could be distributed more efficiently, I would love to hear about it in the comments.
Before I get back to train tracks (as I had promised in my last post), I wanted to point out some interesting recent work on topologically minimal surfaces. The definition of topologically minimal surfaces was introduced by Dave Bachman  as a topological analogue of higher index geometrically minimal surfaces, suggested by work of Hyam Rubinstein. I discussed these in detail in my series of posts on axiomatic thin position, but here’s the rough idea: An incompressible surface has topological index zero because there is no way to compress it, so it’s similar to a local minimum, i.e. an index-zero critical point of a Morse function. A strongly irreducible Heegaard surface has topological index one because there are two distinct ways to compress it, similar to how there are two distinct ways to descend from an index-one critical point (a saddle) in a Morse function. An index two surface will be weakly reducible, but there will be an essential loop of compressions, in the sense that consecutive compressing disks will be disjoint, but the loop is homotopy non-trivial in the complex of compressing disks. This should remind you of an index-two critical point in a Morse function, in which there is a loop of directions in which to descend. Then index-three surfaces have an essential sphere of compressions and so on. Initially, it was unclear how common higher index surfaces would be. I would have guessed that they weren’t very common, and I think Dave felt the same. But a number of recent results indicate quite the opposite.
Someone recently pointed out to me a paper by A. J. Pajitnov  proving a very interesting connection between circular Morse functions and (linear) Morse functions on knot complements. (A similar result is probably true in general three-manifolds as well.) Recall that a (linear) Morse function is a smooth function from a manifold to the line in which there are a finite number of critical points (where the gradient of the function is zero), and each critical point has one of a number of possible forms. For a two-dimensional manifold the possible forms are the familiar local minimum, saddle or local maximum. This post is about three-dimensional Morse functions, in which case the possible forms are slight generalizations of local minima, maxima and saddles. A circular Morse function is a function with the same conditions on critical points, but whose range is the circle rather than the line. For a three-dimensional manifold, the minimal number of critical points in a linear Morse function is twice the Heegaard genus plus two, and for knot complements it’s twice the tunnel number plus two. (In particular, one can construct a Heegaard splitting or unknotting tunnel system directly from a Morse function, but that’s for another post.) The minimal number of critical points in a circular Morse function is called the Morse-Novikov number, and is equal to the minimal number of handles in a circular thin position for the manifold (usually a knot complement). Pajitnov has a very clever argument to show that the (circular) Morse-Novikov number of a knot complement is bounded above by twice its (linear) tunnel number. Below, I want to outline a slightly different formulation of this proof in terms of double sweep-outs, though I should stress that the underlying idea is the same.
SnapPy 1.7 is out. The main new feature is the ptolemy module for studying representations into PSL(n, C). This code was contributed by Mattias Görner, and is based on the the following two very interesting papers:
- Stavros Garoufalidis, Matthias Goerner, Christian K. Zickert: Gluing equations for PGL(n,C)-representations of 3-manifolds.
- Stavros Garoufalidis, Dylan P. Thurston, Christian K. Zickert: The complex volume of SL(n,C)-representations of 3-manifolds.
You can get the latest version of SnapPy at the usual place.