nLab Simpson's conjecture



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Carlos Simpson conjectured, in the context of semi-strict infinity-categories that every weak omega-category is equivalent to one that is a strict omega-category except for the units.



it was conjectured (page 27) that

Simpson’s Conjecture: Every weak \infty-category is equivalent to an \infty-category in which composition and exchange laws are strict and only the unit laws are allowed to hold weakly.

For weak unit laws in \infty-categories see

  • Joachim Kock, Weak identity arrows in higher categories (arXiv)


Simpson’s conjecture is proven up to the case of 3-categories with a single object.


One expects several alternative such semi-strictification statements. Eugenia Cheng and Nick Gurski write the following at the end of their paper:

Finally we consider the question of eliminating the distinguished invertible elements by using a stricter form of nn-category. Generalising from the previous sections, we see that we do not need to restrict all the way to strict nn-categories – a semistrict version will suffice. One form of semistrictness has everything strict except interchange (cf. Gray-categories and see Crans 2000b, Crans 2000a); another has everything strict except units (Koch 2005, Simpson 1998). These have both been proposed as solutions to the coherence problem for nn-categories.

However, there are other possible “shades” of semistrictness and the above notions do not appear to be right for the present purposes. Instead, we need a form of semistrict nn-category in which the units and interchange for (n1)(n-1)-cells are strict, but everything else can be weak. This is to eliminate the constraint nn-cells that become distinguished invertible elements in our nn-degenerate situation; we expect that as in the case n=2n = 2 the associator is automatically forced to be the identity.

Hypothesis 5.3. Semistrictness Let n3n \ge 3. Then an nn-degenerate semistrict nn-category in the above sense is precisely a commutative monoid.

E. Cheng and N. Gurski’s, The periodic table of nn-categories for low dimensions I (arXiv)


The conjecture was initially triggered by the claim in

that “semi-strict infinity-groupoids”, in which only the inverses could be weak and everything else strict, model all homotopy types (hence solve the homotopy hypothesis)

In (Simpson 98) it was pointed out that this seems to be wrong for the homotopy type of the 2-sphere.

The issue, however, is quite subtle, as highlighted by Voevodsky here)

(For instance Corollary 5.2 in (Simpson 98) leaves open the possibility that the geometric realization in (Kapranov-Voevodsky 91) is essentially surjective, only that the homotopy groups of the resulting space could not be read off from the groupoid in the obvious way.

Examining KV 91‘s motivation, Simpson noticed a singularity at the origin of Moore paths, which led him to conjecture that weakening invertibility and units (while keeping strict associativity and interchange) would be enough to get at all homotopy types. Specifically, he writes on p. 27

I think that the argument of (K. and V.) (which is unclear on the question of identity elements) actually serves to prove the above statement. I have called the above statement a “conjecture” because I haven’t checked this.

Last revised on June 11, 2022 at 16:25:13. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.