Acta Mathematica Vietnamica



Balloons and Hoops and their Universal Finite-Type Invariant, BF Theory, and an Ultimate Alexander Invariant
Dror Bar-Natan



Balloons are 2D spheres. Hoops are 1D loops. Knotted balloons and hoops (KBH) in 4-space behave much like the first and second homotopy groups of a topological space—hoops can be composed as in π 1, balloons as in π 2, and hoops “act” on balloons as π 1 acts on π 2. We observe that ordinary knots and tangles in 3-space map into KBH in 4-space and become amalgams of both balloons and hoops. We give an ansatz for a tree and wheel (that is, free Lie and cyclic word)-valued invariant ζ of (ribbon) KBHs in terms of the said compositions and action and we explain its relationship with finite-type invariants. We speculate that ζ is a complete evaluation of the BF topological quantum field theory in 4D. We show that a certain “reduction and repackaging” of ζ is an “ultimate Alexander invariant” that contains the Alexander polynomial (multivariable, if you wish), has extremely good composition properties, is evaluated in a topologically meaningful way, and is least wasteful in a computational sense. If you believe in categorification, that should be a wonderful playground.

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