nLab topos of laws of motion




physics, mathematical physics, philosophy of physics

Surveys, textbooks and lecture notes

theory (physics), model (physics)

experiment, measurement, computable physics

Topos Theory

topos theory



Internal Logic

Topos morphisms

Extra stuff, structure, properties

Cohomology and homotopy

In higher category theory


Synthetic differential geometry

synthetic differential geometry


from point-set topology to differentiable manifolds

geometry of physics: coordinate systems, smooth spaces, manifolds, smooth homotopy types, supergeometry



smooth space


The magic algebraic facts




infinitesimal cohesion

tangent cohesion

differential cohesion

graded differential cohesion

singular cohesion

id id fermionic bosonic bosonic Rh rheonomic reduced infinitesimal infinitesimal & étale cohesive ʃ discrete discrete continuous * \array{ && id &\dashv& id \\ && \vee && \vee \\ &\stackrel{fermionic}{}& \rightrightarrows &\dashv& \rightsquigarrow & \stackrel{bosonic}{} \\ && \bot && \bot \\ &\stackrel{bosonic}{} & \rightsquigarrow &\dashv& \mathrm{R}\!\!\mathrm{h} & \stackrel{rheonomic}{} \\ && \vee && \vee \\ &\stackrel{reduced}{} & \Re &\dashv& \Im & \stackrel{infinitesimal}{} \\ && \bot && \bot \\ &\stackrel{infinitesimal}{}& \Im &\dashv& \& & \stackrel{\text{étale}}{} \\ && \vee && \vee \\ &\stackrel{cohesive}{}& \esh &\dashv& \flat & \stackrel{discrete}{} \\ && \bot && \bot \\ &\stackrel{discrete}{}& \flat &\dashv& \sharp & \stackrel{continuous}{} \\ && \vee && \vee \\ && \emptyset &\dashv& \ast }


Lie theory, ∞-Lie theory

differential equations, variational calculus

Chern-Weil theory, ∞-Chern-Weil theory

Cartan geometry (super, higher)



In (Lawvere 97) it was observed that equations of motion in physics can (almost, see below) be formalized in synthetic differential geometry as follows.

Let H\mathbf{H} be an ambient synthetic differential topos (such as the Cahiers topos of smooth spaces and formal smooth manifolds).

The canonical line object 𝔸 1=\mathbb{A}^1 = \mathbb{R} of this models the continuum line, the abstract worldline. Let

D D \hookrightarrow \mathbb{R}

be the inclusion of the first order infinitesimal neighbourhood of the origin of \mathbb{R} – in the internal logic this is D={x|x 2=0}D = \{x \in \mathbb{R}| x^2 = 0\}, externally it is the spectrum of the ring of dual numbers over \mathbb{R}.

Then for XHX \in \mathbf{H} any object which we are going to think of as a configuration space of a physical system. For instance if the system is a particle propagating on a spacetime, then XX is that spacetime. Or XX may be the phase space of the system.

Accordingly the mapping space [,X]H[\mathbb{R}, X] \in \mathbf{H} is the smooth path space of XX. This is the space of potential trajectories of the physical system.

If XX is thought of as phase space, then every point in there determines a unique trajectory starting at that point. This means that time evolution is then an action of \mathbb{R} on XX. As XX here might be any space, we have the collection

Act(H)Topos \mathbb{R}Act(\mathbf{H}) \in Topos

of all \mathbb{R}-actions on objects in H\mathbf{H}. This is again a topos, and hence this is a first version of what one might call a topos of laws of motion.

On the other hand, if we think of XX as configuration space, then it is (in the simplest but common case of physical systems) a tangent vector in XX that determines a trajectory, hence a point in [D,X][D,X]. There is the canonical projection [,X][D,X][\mathbb{R},X] \longrightarrow [D,X] from the smooth path space to the tangent bundle, which sends each path to its tangent vector/derivative at 00 \in \mathbb{R}. A section of this map is hence an assignment that sends each tangent vector to a trajectory which starts out with this tangent. Specifying such a section is hence part of what it means to have equations of motion in physics. Accordingly in Toposes of laws of motion Lawvere called the collection of such data a Galilian topos of laws of motion.

Of course this is not quite yet what is actually used and needed in physics. On p. 9 of (Lawvere 97) this problem is briefly mentioned:

But what about actual dynamical systems in the spirit of Galileo, for example, second-order ODE’s? (Of course, the symplectic or Hamiltonian systems that are also much studied do address this question of states of Becoming versus locations of Being, but in a special way which it may not be possible to construe as a topos;

It turns out that it does exist as a “higher topos”.

In Classical field theory via Cohesive homotopy types it is observed that if H\mathbf{H} to be not just a topos but an infnity-topos, then genuine classical mechanics governed by Hamilton's equations and Hamilton-Jacobi theory arises by actions of \mathbb{R} on objects in the slice (infinity,1)-topos H /BU(1) conn\mathbf{H}_{/\mathbf{B}U(1)_{conn}}, where BU(1) connH\mathbf{B}U(1)_{conn} \in \mathbf{H} is the moduli stack of circle group-principal connections. So

Act(H /BU(1) conn) \mathbb{R}Act\left( \mathbf{H}_{/\mathbf{B}U(1)_{conn}} \right)

is actually a “topos of laws of motion” in the sense of Hamilton-Lagrange-Jacobi classical mechanics. For more on this see Higher toposes of laws of motion.


The notion originates around

and was made more explicit in

Last revised on November 29, 2013 at 13:52:26. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.