I’ve been away from this blog for longer than I should have. I got stuck in my series on the cotangent complex, partially because I’ve been busy doing other things–namely, trying to learn about the foundations of etale cohomology. As I learn more I might write a few posts. And someday the cotangent complex thing will get finished as a short expository note on my website.

One thing I’ve discovered as of late is that many concepts that I learned earlier in life were in fact shadows or special cases of more powerful and general ones. I’ve consequently had to un-learn many such concepts, to replace them with the newer ones.

**Sheaves**

An example is basic sheaf theory: like many people, I learned this from Hartshorne chapter II, working out the exercises there. But as I have more recently discovered, many of the methods there are *not *the appropriate ones for the general theory of sheaves on a site. As an example, Hartshorne defines sheafification (and many other things) on a topological space using stalks. However, on a site this is meaningless because there is no analogous notion in general.

The stalk of a sheaf (or presheaf) on a space at a point corresponds to the inverse image functor via the inclusion . The analogy in the theory of sites would be the inverse image via a morphism from the site with one point (or something equivalent to this). It turns out, fortunately, in etale cohomology this more general notion does make sense, if is taken to be the spectrum of a separably closed field. So, if is a scheme, it is not topological points that lead to the stalk functors in etale cohomology, but the morphisms for a separably closed field (e.g. the separable closure of the residue fields of the topological points).

It is a curious story that there is an even more general theory of points of a (Grothendieck) topos. A point is a geometric morphism (that is, an adjunction where the left adjoint is exact) between the category of sets and the given topos. The direct and inverse image functors obtained from maps show that there are lots of “points” in the etale topos. In fact, on general so-called “coherent” topoi there is a general theorem of Deligne that there are always enough points to detect isomorphisms of sheaves. Apparently this is a topos-theoretic reformulation of the completeness theorem in first-order logic! I’m far from understanding the story here though. (more…)