Hisham Sati and Urs Schreiber
Abstract. The contributions in this volume are intended to indicate core
aspects of a firm and workable mathematical foundation for quantum field
theory and perturbative string theory. Here we provide some motivational
background, as well as the overall picture in which the various articles fit.
The history of theoretical fundamental physics is the story of a search for the
suitable mathematical notions and structural concepts that naturally model the
physical phenomena in question. It may be worthwhile to recall a few examples:
(1) the identification of symplectic geometry as the underlying structure of
classical Hamiltonian mechanics;
(2) the identification of (semi-)Riemannian differential geometry as the un-
derlying structure of gravity;
(3) the identification of group and representation theory as the underlying
structure of the zoo of fundamental particles;
(4) the identification of Chern-Weil theory and differential cohomology as the
underlying structure of gauge theories.
All these examples exhibit the identification of the precise mathematical language
that naturally captures the physics under investigation. While each of these lan-
guages upon its introduction into theoretical physics originally met with some skep-
ticism or even hostility, we do know in retrospect that the modern insights and
results in the respective areas of theoretical physics would have been literally un-
thinkable without usage of these languages. A famous historical example is the
Wigner-Weyl approach and its hostile dismissal from mainstream physicists of the
time (“Gruppenpest”); we now know that group theory and representation theory
have become indispensible tools for every theoretical and mathematical physicist.
Much time has passed since the last major such formalization success in theo-
retical physics. The rise of quantum field theory (QFT) in the middle of the last
century and its stunning successes, despite its notorious lack of formal structural
underpinnings, made theoretical physicists confident enough to attempt an attack
on the next open structural question that of the quantum theory of gauge forces
2010 Mathematics Subject Classification. Primary 81T40; secondary 81T45, 81T30, 81T60,
81T05, , 57R56, 70S05, 18D05, 55U40, 18D50, 55N34, 19L50, 53C08.
Keywords and phrases. Topological field theory, conformal field theory, supersymmetric field
theory, axiomatic quantum field theory, perturbative string theory, conformal nets, monoidal cat-
egories, higher categories, generalized cohomology, differential cohomology, quantization, operads.
Proceedings of Symposia in Pure Mathematics
Volume 83, 2011
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