Friday, March 8, 2013

A presheaf that has no associated sheaf

In his paper Basically bounded functors and flat sheaves (Pacific Math. J, vol. 57, no. 2, 1975, p. 597-610), William C. Waterhouse gives a nice example of a presheaf that has no associated sheaf. This is Theorem 5.5 (page 605).  I thank François Loeser for having indicated this paper to me, and for his suggestion of explaining it here!

Of course, such a beast is reputed not to exist, since it is well known that any presheaf has an associated sheaf, see for example Godement's book Topologie algébrique et théorie des faisceaux, pages 110-111.
That is, for any presheaf $F$ on a topological space, there is a sheaf $G$ with a morphism of presheaves $\alpha\colon F\to G$ which satisfies a universal property: any morphism from $F$ to a sheaf factors uniquely through $\alpha$.

Waterhouse's presheaf is a more sophisticated example of a presheaf, since it is a presheaf on the category of affine schemes for the flat topology. Thus, a presheaf $F$ on the category of affine schemes is the datum, 

  • of a set $F(A)$ for every ring $A$, 
  • and of a map $\phi_*\colon F(A)\to F(B)$ for every morphism of rings $\phi\colon A\to B$,

subject to the following conditions:

  • if $\phi\colon A\to B$ and $\psi\colon B\to C$ are morphism of rings, then $(\psi\circ\phi)_*=\psi_*\circ\phi_*$;
  • one has ${\rm id}_A)_*={\rm id}_{F(A)}$ for every ring $A$.

Any morphism of rings $\phi\colon A\to B$ gives rise to two morphisms $\psi_1,\psi_2\colon B\to B\otimes B$ respectively defined by $\psi_1(b)=b\otimes 1$ and $\psi_2(b)=1\otimes b$, and the two compositions $A\to B\to B\otimes_A B$ are equal. Consequently, for any presheaf $F$, the two associated maps $F(A) \to F(B) \to F(B\otimes_A B)$ are equal.

By definition, a presheaf $F$ is a sheaf for the flat topology if for any faithfully flat morphism of rings, the map ${\phi_*} \colon F(A)\to F(B)$ is injective and its image is the set of elements $g\in F(B)$ at which the two natural maps $(\psi_1)_*$ and $(\psi_2)_*$ from $F(B)$ to $F(B\otimes_A B)$ coincide.

Here is Waterhouse's example.

For every ring $A$, let $F(A)$ be the set of all locally constant functions $f$ from $\mathop{\rm Spec}(A)$ to some von Neumann cardinal such that $f(\mathfrak p)<\mathop{\rm Card}(\kappa(\mathfrak p))$ for every $\mathfrak p\in\mathop{\rm Spec}(A)$.

This is a presheaf. Indeed, let $\phi\colon A\to B$ is a ring morphism, let $\phi^a\colon\mathop{\rm Spec}(B)\to \mathop{\rm Spec}(A)$ be the associated continuous map on spectra. For $f\in F(A)$, then $f\circ\phi^a$ is a locally constant map from ${\rm Spec}(B)$ to some von Neumann cardinal. Moreover, for every prime ideal $\mathfrak q$ in $B$, with inverse image $\mathfrak p=\phi^{-1}(\mathfrak q)=\phi^a(\mathfrak q)$, the morphism $\phi$ induces an injection from the residue field $\kappa(\mathfrak q)$ into $\kappa(\mathfrak p)$, so that $f\circ\phi^a$ satisfies the additional condition on $F$, hence $f\circ\phi^a\in F(B)$.

However, this presheaf has no associated sheaf for the flat topology. The proof is by contradiction. So assume that $G$ is a sheaf and $\alpha\colon F\to G$ satisfies the universal property.

First of all, we prove that the morphism $\alpha$ is injective: for any ring $A$, the map $\alpha_A\colon F(A)\to G(A)$ is injective. For any cardinal $c$ and any ring $A$, let $L_c(A)$ be the set of locally constant maps  from ${\rm Spec}(A)$ to $c$. Then $L_c$ is a presheaf, and in fact a sheaf. There is a natural morphism of presheaves $\beta_c\colon F\to L_c$, given by $\beta_c(f)(\mathfrak p)=f(\mathfrak p)$ if $f(\mathfrak p)\in c$, that is, $f(\mathfrak p)<c$, and $\beta_c(f)(\mathfrak p)=0$ otherwise. Consequently, there is a unique morphism of sheaves $\gamma_c\colon G\to L_c$ such that $\beta_c=\gamma_c\circ\alpha$. For any ring $A$, and any large enough cardinal $c$, the  map $\beta_c(A)\colon F(A)\to L_c(A)$ is injective. In particular, the map $\alpha(A)$ must be injective.

Let $B$ be a ring and $\phi\colon A\to B$ be a faithfully flat morphism. Let $\psi_1,\psi_2\colon B\to B\otimes_A B$ be the two natural morphisms of rings defined above. Then, the equalizer $E(A,B)$ of the two maps $(\psi_1)_*$ and $(\psi_2)_*$ from $F(B)$ to $F(B\otimes_A B)$ must inject into the equalizer of the two corresponding maps from $G(B)$ to $G(B\otimes_A B)$. Consequently, one has an injection from $E(A,B)$ to $G(A)$.

The contradiction will become apparent once one can find rings $B$ for which $E(A,B)$ has a cardinality as large as desired. If ${\rm Spec}(B)$ is a point $\mathfrak p$, then $F(B)$ is just the set of functions $f$ from the point $\mathfrak p$ to some von Neumann cardinal $c$ such that $f(\mathfrak p)<{\rm Card}(\kappa(\mathfrak p))$. That is, $F(B)$ is the cardinal ${\rm Card}(\kappa(\mathfrak p))$ itself. And since ${\rm Spec}(B)$ is a point, the coincidence condition is necessarily satisfied, so that $E(A,B)= {\rm Card}(\kappa(\mathfrak p))\leq G(A)$.

To conclude, it suffices to take a faithfully flat morphism $A\to B$  such that $B$ is field of cardinality strictly greater than $G(A)$. For example, one can take $A$ to be a field and $B$ the field of rational functions in many indeterminates (strictly more than the cardinality of $G(A)$).

What does this example show? Why isn't there a contradiction in mathematics (yet)?

Because the definition of sheaves and presheaves for the flat topology that I gave above was definitely defective: it neglects in a too dramatic way the set theoretical issues that one must tackle to define sheaves on categories. In the standard setting of set theory provided by ZFC, everything is a set. In particular, categories, presheaves, etc. are sets or maps between sets (themselves represented by sets).  But the presheaf $F$ that Waterhouse defines does not exist as a set, since there does not exist a set $\mathbf{Ring}$ of all rings, nor a set $\mathbf{card}$ of all von Neumann cardinals.

The usual way (as explained in SGA 4) to introduce sheaves for the flat topology consists in adding the axiom of universes — there exists a set $\mathscr U$ which is a model of set theory. Then, one does not consider the (inexistent) set of all rings, or cardinals, but only those belonging to the universe $\mathscr U$—one talks of $\mathscr U$-categories, $\mathscr U$-(pre)sheaves, etc.. In that framework, the $\mathscr U$-presheaf $F$ defined by Waterhouse (where one restricts oneself to algebras and von Neumann cardinals in $\mathscr U$) has an associated sheaf $G_{\mathscr U}$. But this sheaf depends on the chosen universe: if $\mathscr V$ is an universe containing $\mathscr U$, the restriction of $G_{\mathscr V}$ to algebras in $\mathscr U$ will no longer be a $\mathscr U$-presheaf.

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