## On semi-strictness

2006-05-30 § 2 Comments

**Update**: One correction and one addition; changes in red.

**Second update**: another correction.

I had a couple of very interesting responses to my speculation about n-categories. As well as John Baez’s comment, I had an email from Tom Leinster pointing out his Structures in higher-dimensional category theory, whose section III.7 contains a similar conjecture.

Thinking about what John wrote, I realise that I made a mistake. I was wrong to claim that the full sub-tricategory of **Bicat** determined by the 2-categories is a Gray-category: the problem is that post-whiskering with a pseudo-functor is not 2-functorial, even when the objects are 2-categories. (It looks as though Tom’s section III.3 contains the same error? Note that the 1-cells of his **2-Cat** are pseudo-functors rather than 2-functors.)

So, if we’re looking at what kind of semi-strictness result can be obtained purely from Yoneda, we get something weaker than the Gordon-Power-Street theorem, but still useful. John’s comment seems to be hinting at a way to do better, and I’m starting to see what he’s getting at. The point is that Yoneda is not the only tool available, as the two-dimensional case illustrates. The Yoneda argument shows that every bicategory is biequivalent to a 2-category, but in fact more is true. Given a bicategory ** B**, one can construct a 2-category

*st(*in which a 1-cell is a composable sequence of 1-cells from

**B**)**, and a 2-cell is a 2-cell in**

*B***from “the” composite of the source to “the” composite of the target. Then given a pseudo-functor**

*B**F:*, one can construct a 2-functor

**B**→**C***st(*, and this process preserves identities and composition. Presumably

**B**) → st(**C**)*this*is the construction that John thinks ought to define a triequivalence between

**Bicat**and the tricategory he calls

**Gray**.

**Bicat**is triequivalent to

**Gray**, precisely along these lines

Update: although this is mentioned in another post, I should add here that section 5.6 of [GPS] contains an error. In fact, Bicat is *not* triequivalent to Gray, as explained by Steve Lack.

I’m not sure how this argument would generalise to higher dimensions. Defining *st* more or less seems to require having an “all diagrams commute” sort of coherence theorem. But if we are working with n-categories in which k-ary composition is a primitive operation, the difficulties are obviously lessened, so probably there is a sensible generalisation. I just haven’t thought about what it is. All that said, proving a weak semi-strictness theorem based purely on Yoneda would be an interesting way to get the ball rolling.

I’m still a bit surprised that proving Yoneda for tricategories is said to be so hard, but I’m sure that’s just because I haven’t actually tried to do it! (I recently wrote out a proof of the bicategory version, and while it requires a clear head to keep track of what needs to be done, each individual step is simple.) I’ll have a stab at the tricategory version, which should give me a better idea of what’s hard about it.

Robin wrote:

> Thinking about what John wrote, I realise that I made a mistake. I was

> wrong to claim that Bicat is a Gray-category:

> the problem is that post-whiskering with a pseudo-functor is not

> 2-functorial, even when the objects are 2-categories. (It looks as though

> Tom’s section III.3 contains the same error? Note that the 1-cells of his

> 2-Cat are pseudo-functors rather than 2-functors.)

Guilty (of the error, as well as the appalling notation. It was a long time ago.)

There’s a less subtle way in which Bicat fails to be a Gray-category. This was one of the points I was trying to make in that error-riddled essay. Here I’m assuming that your 2-cells in Bicat are *weak* transformations. In that case, vertical composition of them is not associative or unital. However, it is if you restrict to the full sub-thing of Bicat whose 0-cells are the strict 2-categories.

Miles Gould has been working on the

stconstruction. He’s sticking to low dimensions for now, but has shown that it works for a range of categorified algebraic theories, not just monoidal categories. He also observes that (if you work in the unbiased setting)stis simply the left adjoint to the inclusion of strict structures into weak structures. See his notes. A polished version should appear on the arXiv before too long.Ah yes, thanks. When I wrote “Bicat”, what I really meant was “the full sub-tricategory of Bicat determined by the 2-categories”; I’ve changed it now.

Miles Gould’s work looks interesting. I guess it must be related to this work of Steve Lack (which I think is written up here)?