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M. D. Sheppeard
April 29, 2008
Classical gravity, whatever its domain of applicability, does not address
the fact that the matter we know about has quantised gravitational charges,
such as rest masses or energy levels for bound systems. A theory capable of
deriving all such rest masses, which we assume exists, presumably encom-
passes both standard model physics and general relativity in certain limits,
and so requires a degree of mathematical sophistication far beyond century
old continuum techniques, or ad hoc deformations thereof. At the same
time, concepts must be accessible to physicists, along with new computa-
Higher operad combinatorics is an example of such a tool. That is,
within the context of certain ideas about quantum gravity, which will be
explained, this mathematics is capable of both (i) reformulating standard
model techniques and (ii) deﬁning simple quantum mass observables which
have some contact with empirical reality.
Classical gravity is considered to arise roughly in the following manner.
Firstly, cosmology is truly quantum and one may choose to abandon a global
ontological reality since all observables are to be deﬁned in terms of the
geometry of measurement conditions, from the point of view of diﬀerent
classes of constrained observers. The main constraint on an observation
is one of scale, such as a choice of beam energy for the LHC. Standard
model physics occupies a low energy tier marked by a ﬁxed value of , but
a whole hierarchy of scales is presumed to exist. As a formalism, general
relativity requires the entire hierarchy of quantum scales, since it exhibits
certain similar features, but physically GR may only apply to low redshift
In this case dark energy is replaced, most simply, by a variation in the
speed of light and also in (see Riofrio  and Pitkanen ), so that ﬁne
structure is preserved (please note that Big Bang nucleosynthesis, for in-
stance, is not an issue in this proposal). Then GR’s domain of applicability
is limited by its independent ﬁxing of c and . The early universe, from this
vantage point, is characterised by largely classical behaviour (small ) and
large scale thermal contact due to a divergent c. The quantities c and are
quantised, leading to a hierarchy of distance scales labeled by ordinals N
where q = e
will appear as a fundamental deformation parameter. Or-
dinary quantum physics corresponds to a ﬁxed at N = 2. A holographic
emergent 3-vector time (or background temperature) T is identiﬁed with
an entropy increasing process dual to a contraction of space that occurs
for high energy observables. Note that this concept of time is observer de-
pendent and not tied to ﬁxed foliations of a classical reality. Rather, our
estimates of cosmic time arise from the level of quantum complexity, or
Hegelian consciousness, that we employ in our observations (ie. at a ﬁxed
). Unfortunately, mass appears to require operators that span the entire
Here we wish to investigate a new tricategorical  regime at N =
3 by relating special properties of 3-categories to the dimension of space,
colour in QCD, 3 stranded braids, and the number of generations in the low
energy particle spectrum. This appears to be possible only by attributing
to the parameter N = 3 an extremely fundamental signiﬁcance, associated
to unknown axioms for higher toposes and N-dimensional multicategories.
This approach is therefore quite distinct from other topos theoretic ideas for
gravity. The proposal contains 3 sections:
1. describes the axiomatic nature of higher topos quantum gravity
2. outlines the technical core of the proposed research
3. notes connections to a broader research program
1 Higher Topos Quantum Gravity
Ordinary geometry is supposed to emerge from a framework which ﬁrst
deﬁnes observables for a ﬁnite range of input criteria, determined by the ab-
stract constraints of speciﬁc experimental questions. This discrete language
must transcend the mathematics of points in a classical space.
A topos is the modern generalisation of the concept of space. It has
N = 2 levels of arrows, namely objects and 1-arrows. The canonical exam-
ple of a topos is the category of sets, equipped with the two valued Boolean
logic of set union and intersection. Although not necessarily Boolean, all
spatial toposes involve distributive lattices with lower (empty set) and upper
(whole set) bounds. A generalisation of the axioms to the logic of quantum
mechanics was considered in . Although this work required higher di-
mensional categorical structures, it is also an N = 2 construction, basically
because the two element set subobject classiﬁer  is replaced by the qubit
in the category of complex vector spaces), corresponding to
two outcome experiments such as the observation of electron spin.
We will consider rest mass as a kind of three outcome experiment. But
to begin with, let us consider multiple experiments constructed from N = 2
logic. The standard functor F : Set → Vect sends a set S to a basis for
F(S). This selection of a single measurement basis may be generalised to
multicategories, which allow multiple sources
for 1-arrows. Since quantum processes invariably involve either multiple in-
puts and/or multiple outputs, we will consider this kind of categorical arrow
to be the natural one to use. An operad is just a one object multicategory
built from such arrows.
The set of n leaved one level rooted trees labels, in particular, a sequence
of spherical polytopes of dimension d = n −3. For 5 leaves one obtains the
2-sphere in the form of the Stasheﬀ associahedron:
• . . . . .
The vertices of this polytope are labeled by all possible 5-leaved rooted
binary trees, the edges by one edge contractions of such trees and the faces
by two edge contractions, which contain only two internal vertices.
What is the real physical reason for considering such sets of topological
spaces? To begin with, we would like to a ﬁnd an N = 2 shadow of the
hierarchy in ordinary quantum theory (namely Feynman calculi) in a form
which puts more emphasis on elementary categorical notions associated to
the logic of measurement than on the particulars of speciﬁc models that rely
on the ad hoc use of complex geometry. This means viewing a continuum
set of numbers (nominally an N = 1 entity) such as the complex numbers,
on the one hand as a weak terminal object  in the model category, but
more importantly as an N = ∞limit of allowable measurement values. This
also reﬂects the ω-categorical nature of topological spaces. So although we
will now describe some interesting sets of matrices, complex numbers will
only appear because they reﬂect an inﬁnite number of degrees of freedom
which cannot be properly accounted for by the N = 2 physics alone. And
note that mathematically speaking, the N = 2 case covers almost all 20th
century mathematics. It is the 2 of duality, the 2 of matrices, the 2 of spin
and the 2 of supersymmetry. But mass operators live at N = 3.
As a quantum number, in what way is rest mass analogous to spin? An
experimenter may construct a beam with particles exhibiting random spin
states and the beam is split into two by a magnetic ﬁeld. On the other hand,
a charged lepton beam is usually in a selective electron state due to the low
energy environment of the experiment. But it is feasible that a random
charged lepton beam could be constructed, in which case the magnetic ﬁeld
of a mass spectrometer would yield three divergent trajectories in a manner
similar to the two paths of the Stern-Gerlach experiment. One could argue
that the two experimental conﬁgurations are quite distinct, but we focus
only on the 3-valued aspect of rest mass.
This suggests analysing mass via a ternary extension of qubit logic, at
the fundamental level of higher topos axioms. Fortunately, although topos
models require the existence of inﬁnite sets and uncountable bases, for our
purposes the ﬁnite objects provide suﬃcient material with which to work.
In fact, by principle, the complexity of a measurement dictates both the
categorical dimension N and the ﬁnite degrees of freedom required to specify
and compute observables.
An example of an N indexed construction, which recovers a classical
structure in the N →∞ limit that arises from a basic categorical duality, is
the quantum Fourier transform  and the Weyl torus with noncommutative
UV = qV U (2)
where U and V are taken here to be matrix operators under the convolution
product of functions on the discrete torus. For q = −1, the Fourier transform
is speciﬁed by powers of the Pauli matrix
That is, any 2 ×2 complex matrix of the form
has eigenvalues A + B and A − B. In particular, the spin eigenvalues are
±1. The 3 ×3 circulant matrices with real eigenvalues are of the form
M = η
for real η, r and θ. These matrices are written in terms of powers of the cyclic
permutation (312). Brannen  has shown that for r
, recovers Koide’s  relation
for the charged lepton masses, which was used to predict the τ mass and is
still correct to within experimental precision with a phase θ = 0.222222047(17).
Note that a similar relation may be applied to the triplet of neutrino masses
and presumably also to other particle triplets. A primary goal of this re-
search is to derive these phase parameters from fundamental principles.
Remark 1.1 For Hilbert spaces H of prime power dimension D, the D×D
Fourier transform may be used to construct a set of D+1 mutual unbiased
bases for H. In the case of spin, one may choose the bases for measurement
in the x, y and z spatial directions. Again, the discrete torus appears as a
phase space. The special nature of primes N is expected to appear explicitly
in the higher topos axioms, or at least via their recursiveness, because one
important aspect of the scale hierarchy is its relation to categoriﬁed counting
as set cardinality.
If inertial mass arises as a topos quantum number, what role might the
equivalence principle play in this framework? Observe that the extrinsic
Euclidean curvature of particle trajectories is correlated with the quantum
numbers. The Euclidean geometry acts as a measurement template on which
rods and clocks have been speciﬁed. Equating this inertial mass with a
universal gravitational charge says that the experimenter’s clock keeps time
with an emergent cosmic clock.
If cosmology is the net eﬀect of large numbers of histories, then the index
N is correlated with the number of particles in an experimental constraint.
In fact, a major motivation for this approach comes from the (categorical)
dimension raising nature of adding input nodes to operad trees, or the di-
mension raising nature of Gray tensor products  for bicategories .
A new element here is the Machian use of the apparent cosmic time T,
which appears with the assertion that the aforementioned particle collection
is in fact the collection of all bodies in an observable universe . The total
observed mass of the universe is seen to increase with T, although energy is
conserved, in line with the decreasing temperature which T also represents.
Thus when a given charged lepton selects a path in the mass spectrometer,
it determines the classical past which led to this scenario. (This is taken
to be an illustration of the absurdity of considering gravity to be entirely
This comes back to the diﬃculties in deﬁning time, as discussed by
Descartes and Newton . Recall that Newton’s absolute space was in-
troduced as a necessity only once he had rejected the use of moving bodies
to deﬁne a background, with respect to which motion could be deﬁned.
Concrete macroscopic clocks are constructed from motions with predictable
physical behaviour. Since motion between bodies is relative, and no body is
truly free of external forces, the only potentially ideal clock is a whole uni-
verse of classical bodies along with a theory describing the inertial behaviour
of these bodies, which is assumed to be a quantum theory.
We can now begin to address Harvey Brown’s question : why are the
same clocks able to describe the electromagnetic, weak and strong forces?
Because all concrete clocks are modeled on the cosmic time that emerges
from the mathematical measurement templates used to deﬁne the quantum
numbers of localisable states of matter. Note that T-duality, for instance, is
one possible consequence of these ideas, since the concentration of mass in
a high curvature limit should correspond to the universal observed mass of
a selected past on the largest scales.
Now let us ask what kind of mathematics might capture the logic of the
hierarchy and models such as an ω-categorical resolution of the quantum
Fourier transform. In the 1-topos setting  one views the one dimensional
vector space as an analogue of the one point set, and the zero vector space
(with one element) as an analogue of the empty set. The qubit space replaces
the two point space of Boolean logic. Now the topos Set is really the
category of sheaves over a point, but what is this point? As a space, it is
the simplest lattice 0 → 1 mapping the empty set into the full space. All
kinds of abstract (Stone) dualities, including that associated to the classical
Fourier transform, are derived from the correspondence between a suitable
category of lattices underlying spatial toposes, and its categorical dual .
One may consider even a braided monoidal category as a quantum topos
, where the braiding c : X ⊗ Y → Y ⊗ X is associated to the noncom-
mutativity of a meet operator ∧
in a quantum lattice. But the monoidal
structure will be weakened in the polytope laws that we need to consider, in
particular the six faces of the parity cube. So categoriﬁed knot invariants,
such as Khovanov homology, are not expected to pick up the generational
structure. Note that this was also observed in the B
of particle states by Bilson-Thompson , which we view as a low energy
set of diagrams incorporating categorical duality but not triality. What we
seek is a suitable N = 3, ie. ternary, analogue of (co)homological invariants.
2 Higher Operad Combinatorics
The resolution of useful categories, or categorical coherence laws, into hierar-
chical structures is what operads are about. Alternatively, operads generalise
the process of function substitution for functions of any number of variables.
An n-operad is indexed by an n-ordinal. An ordinary 1-ordinal m ∈ N
represented by an m leaved rooted tree. Rooted trees with two levels of
label 2-ordinals. For our purposes a 1-operad is a sequence of polytopes
O(m) of dimension m − 1 that satisﬁes the operad rules, for instance the
associahedra appearing above, which directly correspond to the 1-ordinal
labels. The combinatorics of associahedra, and the motivic cohomology of
(real) moduli spaces tiled by associahedra, are known to be closely related
to zeta function algebras appearing in QFT amplitudes .
Instead of resolving the 1-ordinal tree into bracketings on m+1 letters,
one may demand trees with all nodes at separated levels. The vertices of
these polytopes, the permutohedra, are labeled by permutations on m sym-
bols because these denote the ordering of internal nodes in a given direction,
up or down. The distinction between permutohedra and associahedra is cru-
cial to the breaking of monoidal structure in a categoriﬁed setting, because
it marks the sixth side
of the cube on which the pentagon law sits on the other ﬁve sides. The
permutohedra may be labeled by 2-ordinal trees which extend the 1-ordinal
trees by single branches at every branch, as in the example above.
Finally, a third sequence of polytopes to be considered is the humble n
dimensional cube. The vertices of an n-cube are labeled by the 2
sets of parity words of length n. For example, the 3-cube has vertices −−−,
−−+, +−−, −+−, −++, +−+, ++− and +++. Edges are directed
according to an increase in positivity, making + + + the target vertex of
the cube. Parity words correspond to bracketings of (n + 1) letters. For
instance, the 4 vertices of the parity square label ABC, A(BC), (AB)C and
(ABC). Observe that a 2-arrow α
ﬁlling such a square represents broken associativity. As a face of the 3-cube,
this square is a categoriﬁed version (a pseudonatural transformation) of an
associator arrow from the pentagon law.
To each permutation on n symbols one may assign a sequence of n − 1
signs, called the signature. For example, the signature of (312) is −+ follow-
ing the decrease and increase in the numerical symbols. Thus the signature
types of S
, which label the vertices of the permutohedron in dimension
n, form a parity cube C
vertices in dimension n. For example, the
descends to the square. It is possible  to factorise these
vertex maps through the associahedron A
in any dimension. In a sequence of the form
there is only one extra natural map to discuss, namely the map from the
3-cube to the hexagon S
which maps paths in the cube from the source
to the target onto vertices of the hexagon. The faces of the cube, which
lie between two adjacent paths, then correspond to edges of the hexagon.
Note that length 3 paths are represented directly by all permutations of the
directions x, y and z.
An N = 3 analogue of the Weyl relations takes the hexagonal form
UV W = qWV U simply by virtue of being a one dimensional equation. The
three dimensional equation, by deﬁnition, cannot be written on a line. The
N = 3 circulant Fourier transform basis, in terms of (312), corresponds to a
cycle of three vertices on the hexagon that divide the cube into three pairs
of faces, each pair marked by a spatial direction or a braid on three strands
composed of the two generators marking the edges of the hexagon. Similarly
the two spin operators, σ
and the identity, label the two paths of the square
, namely yx and xy. On the cube, the edges of the xy squares mark out
four faces, so the composition of two faces, or the B
braid, might represent
fermionic spin, as observed in .
Remark 2.1 Actually, a parity cube (of smoothings) also describes the
Khovanov homology of the 3 crossing trefoil knot, which famously decorates
the associahedron A
when crossings are marked on the squares. The fun-
damental group of the complement of a trefoil is the braid group B
has many nice properties, such as covering the modular group PSL(2, Z).
The Jones polynomial of the (left handed) trefoil at any cubed root of unity
is exactly 1 and this normalises J(K) for all torus knots.
A crucial observation here is that the discrete U(1) transform involves
only 1-categorical resolutions, whereas a complete mass operator is expected
to be at least 3 dimensional. Loday has investigated a number of ternary
algebras and operads related to the interplay between these sequences of
polytopes, but it is unclear how mass operators might be deﬁned with such
The proposal is to consider N = 3 type invariants, potentially related to
mass, which are constructed from fundamental geometric principles. First
observe that an Euler characteristic is an alternating sum of possibly quan-
tum dimensions. In the example of Khovanov homology for the trefoil, the
signs correspond to the total parity of the vertex of the cube, and in general
the sign is a parity check bit for choices of smoothing over all crossings on
the knot. The signs are thus closely related to logical bits, or rather qubits,
and we seek an extension to invariants based on the cubed roots of unity of
Write the Euler characteristic as a 2×2 circulant matrix where A collects
the even parity terms and B the odd parity. For example, a triangulated
closed surface has
V +F E
E V +F
The usual χ is recovered as an eigenvalue of the matrix. Poincare dual-
ity, namely the interchange of faces and vertices on dual surfaces, preserves
this 2-valued invariant. Poincare duality underlies the ubiquitous categor-
ical string diagrams for which knot and ribbon invariants are constructed,
whereas a ternary analogue would cycle the three axiomatic levels of points,
lines and faces. By always distinguishing points, the boundary of a boundary
may not vanish and one must replace the fundamental monadic law d
by, one guesses, d
= 0. Note that d
is the label at the source of a cube, in
analogy with the deﬁning square of a monad.
At a more sophisticated level, one seeks a ternary analogue of Connes’
cyclic homology, which itself applies to quantum tori. Since nonassociativ-
ity is endemic here, noncommutative geometry alone cannot capture the
desired algebraic structures. Note that in labeling braid strands by higher
categorical objects, one needs to keep track of groupings of strands
corresponding to bracketings of objects in the category. This consideration
led Bar-Natan  to a series of genuine 2-operad polytopes known as the
Remark 2.2 In three dimensions, this 120 vertex polytope extends the per-
mutohedron by replacing all vertices with pentagons and adding additional
squares. The S
hexagons become 12 sided with the addition of associator
maps. Observe that these dodecagons may reduce to both the permutohe-
dron hexagon and the hexagon laws for braided monoidal categories.
The dimension of an operad polytope increases as the number of branches
at the top level increases. If category objects are represented by strands, as
is common in diagram methods, then one associates larger B
with higher dimension. This is what happens, for instance, in the Feynman
chord diagrams of Kreimer et al, where the algebra of multiple zeta values
giving the amplitudes matches n to the depth (number of integers) in the
zeta argument. We would also like to better understand how the motivic
multiple zeta amplitudes, arising from cohomology computed using operad
polytopes , are transformed into the knot diagrams.
In any case, Bar-Natan’s grouped strands replace an ordinary associator
1-arrow, and the latter was categoriﬁed to a face of the parity cube. Follow-
ing the Khovanov categoriﬁcation, consider a cobordism between the central
strands of the two possible reassociations. When viewed from above, this
cobordism is a half twisted ribbon. That is, a ribbon is the simplest cobor-
dism resolving a crossing. The composition of two such faces becomes either
a fully twisted ribbon or an untwisted one. Again, it would be interesting
to compare such cobordisms with the charge representation of .
The three edge side of the Bar-Natan  pentagon has been described
by the gluing of three tetrahedron graphs,
each representing one face of the parity cube. These knotted trivalent graphs
are yet another route to invariants that might pick up the higher operad com-
binatorics of the permutoassociahedra. In this representation, ﬁve tetrahe-
dra bound a triangular 4-simplex, leading to constructions common to spin
foam quantum gravity. In fact, the noncommutative Fourier transform and
path integrals of Kapranov are based on the idea of noncommutative poly-
nomial paths, drawn on cubic lattices as above.
The higher realm of 3-operads must combine all the aforementioned ele-
ments, and more. Simply specifying the low dimensional polytopes at N = 3
would be a time consuming task.
3 Relation to other research
Ribbon networks are interpreted as logical statements in the internal lan-
guage of a higher topos, in analogy to the Venn diagrams of set theory,
which were extended by C. S. Peirce, who in many ways founded categorical
thinking in the 19th century. A long term research goal is to outline in detail
a statement of quantum gravitational principles in this, as yet undeveloped,
More concretely, previous occurrences of ribbon techniques in QFT may
be revisited using such interpretations; for instance, the ribbon diagrams
of ’t Hooft for QCD. Placing Bilson-Thompson  braids on a cube shows
a correspondence between QCD colour and spatial directions. This corre-
spondence arises in a number of ways, most notably via comparisons to the
computation of gluon amplitudes using 1-operad techniques . Given the
primary importance of these processes to LHC physics, more work needs to
be done on translating MHV tools into categorical ones.
It is worth investigating simple characterisations of ternary toposes in
analogy to the axioms of a topos as motivated by the Boolean category Set.
For instance, the basic characterising pullback square, deﬁned by the two
target arrows, would be replaced by the three target faces of a cube. Unlike
duality, which is described by a single pair of functors, triality requires a
triple of dual processes, and hence three parity cubes. M. Rios has pointed
out that these cubes are labeled by pairs of three logic symbols, say 0, 1 and
2. There are 27 elementary functions in ternary logic, corresponding to the
27 dimensions of the 3 ×3 octonion Jordan algebra.
Another motivation for this view of quantum causality is twistor theory
and the H
sheaf cohomology solutions for massless ﬁelds. Sparling has
considered an interesting three time twistor triality. The idempotent oper-
ators of Brannen  may be thought of as points in projective space using
the Jordan algebra characterisation of projective geometry. Twistor space
is a model for 6 dimensional moduli, such as the triple (M
viewed as a ternary analogue of the pair (M
) which underlies a
lot of number theory and also Grothendieck’s work on ribbon graphs. The
orbifold Euler characteristic of M
is -6, which is another way to ﬁx the
number of generations at 3, and may be computed using ribbon techniques.
Note also that the six point space is represented by a particular 2-ordinal
tree with six branches which was instrumental in (Tamarkin’s observations
and) Batanin’s extension of conﬁguration space compactiﬁcations.
The sum of indices for this moduli triple is 12, which appears to count the
dimensions of F theory: three times from the genus, three spatial directions
from the torus and six so called compactiﬁed dimensions from the gluon
points on the sphere. Since quantum directions are selected by idempotents,
one can take this idea seriously, along with many other coincidences related
to string theoretic parameters. Note that the two extra time directions
are associated with the cosmic expansion and hence the genus two moduli
represents non standard massless degrees of freedom.
The thermodynamic emergence of time with a cosmic scale parameter
is reminiscent of the canonical evolution parameter of Connes’ noncommuta-
tive spaces. Pitkanen  and Brannen  both have well developed programs
based on closely related physical ideas. Connections between stringy black
holes and quantum computation also use ternary mathematics, such as Cay-
ley’s hyperdeterminant. In short, there are many reasons to hope that this
is a fruitful line of research.
 D. Bar-Natan. Nonassociative tangles.
 S. O. Bilson-Thompson. A topological model of composite preons.
 C. A. Brannen. http://carlbrannen.wordpress.com/.
 H. Brown. Time and motion. http://pirsa.org/06110043/.
 M. A. Nielsen I. L. Chuang. Quantum computation and quantum
information. Cambridge, 2000.
 Y. Koide. Fermion-boson two body model of quarks and leptons and
Cabibbo mixing. Lett. Nuovo Cim., 34:201, 1982.
 S. Mac Lane I. Moerdijk. Sheaves in Geometry and Logic. Springer,
 M. Pitkanen. http://matpitka.blogspot.com/.
 L. Riofrio. http://riofriospacetime.blogspot.com/.
 J. L. Loday M. O. Ronco. Adv. Math., 139:293–309, 1998.
 M.D. Sheppeard. Gluon phenomenology and a linear topos. Ph D
thesis, University of Canterbury, 2007.
 R. Gordon A.J. Power R. Street. Coherence for tricategories. Mem.
Amer. Math. Soc., 117(558), 1995.
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