College Math Teaching

March 15, 2015

Compact spaces and Tychonoff’s Theorem I

Note to the reader: when I first started this post, I thought it would be a few easy paragraphs. The size began to swell, so I am taking this post in several bite sized parts. This is part I.

Pretty much everyone knows what a compact space is. But not everyone is up on equivalent definitions and on how to prove that the arbitrary product of compact spaces is compact.
The genesis of this blog post is David Wright’s Proceedings of the American Mathematical Society paper (1994) on Tychonoff’s Theorem.

Since I am also writing for my undergraduate topology class, I’ll keep things elementary where possible and perhaps put in more detail than a professional mathematician would have patience for.

I should start by saying why this topic is dear to me: my research area is knot theory; in particular I studied embeddings of the circle into the 3-dimensional sphere S^3 , which can be thought of as the “compactification” of R^3 ; basically one starts with R^3 and then adds a point \infty and declares that the neighborhoods of this new point will be generated by sets of the following form: \{ (x,y,z) | x^2 + y^2 + z^2 > M^2 \} The reason we do this: we often study the complement of the embedded circle, and it is desirable to have a compact set as the complement.

I’ve also studied (in detail) certain classes of embeddings of the real line into non-compact manifolds; to make this study a bit more focused, I insist that such embeddings be “proper” in that the inverse image of a compact set be compact. Hence compactness comes up again, even when the objects of study are not compact.

So, what do we mean by “compact”?

Instead of just blurting out the definition and equivalent formulations, I’ll try to give some intuition. If we are talking about a subset of a metric space, a compact subset is one that is both closed and bounded. Now that is NOT the definition of compactness, though it is true that:

Given a set X \subset R^n , X is compact if and only if X is both closed (as a topological subset) and bounded (in that it fits within a sufficiently large closed ball). In R^1 compact subsets can be thought of as selected finite unions and arbitrary intersections of closed intervals. In the higher dimensions, think of the finite union and arbitrary intersections of things like closed balls.

Now it is true that if f:X \rightarrow Y is continuous, then if X is a compact topological space, then f(X) is compact (either as a space, or in the subspace topology, if f is not onto.

This leads to a big theorem of calculus: the Extreme Value Theorem: if f:R^n \rightarrow R is continuous over a compact subset D \subset R^n then f attains both a maximum and a minimum value over D .

Now in calculus, we rarely use the word “compact” but instead say something about D be a closed, bounded subset. In the case where n = 1 we usually say that D =[a,b] , a closed interval.

So, in terms of intuition, if one is thinking about subsets of R^n , one can think of a compact space as a domain on which any continuous real valued function always attains both a minimum and a maximum value.

Now for the definition
We need some terminology: a collection of open sets U_{\alpha} is said to be an open cover of a space X if \cup_{\beta \in I } U_{\beta} = X and if A \subset X a collection of open sets is said to be an open cover of A if A \subset \cup_{\beta \in I } U_{\beta} A finite subcover is a finite subcollection of the open sets such that \cup^k_{i=1} U_i = \cup_{\beta \in I} U_{\beta} .

Here is an example: (\frac{3}{4}, 1] \cup^{\infty}_{n=1} [0, \frac{n}{n+1}) is an open cover of [0,1] in the subspace topology. A finite subcover (from this collection) would be [0, \frac{4}{5}) \cup (\frac{3}{4}, 1]

Let X be a topological space. We say that X is a compact topological space if any open over of X has a finite subcover. If C \subset X we say that C is a compact subset of X if any open cover of C has a finite subcover.

Prior to going through examples, I think that it is wise to mention something. One logically equivalent definition is this: A space (or a subset) is compact if every cover by open basis elements has a finite subcover. Here is why: if X is compact, then ANY open cover has a finite subcover, and an open cover by basis elements is an open cover. On the other hand: if we assume the “every open cover by open basis elements has a finite subcover” condition: then if \mathscr{U} is an open cover, then we can view this open cover as an open cover of the basis elements whose union is each open U_{\beta} \in \mathscr{U} . This open cover of basis elements has a finite subcover of basis elements..say B_1, B_2, ....B_k . Then for each basis element, choose a single U_i \in \mathscr{U} for which B_i \subset U_i . That is the required open subcover.

Now, when convenient, we can assume that the open cover in question (during a proof) consists of basic open sets. That will simplify things at times.

So, what are some compact spaces and sets, and what are some basic facts?

Let’s see some compact sets, some non compact sets and see some basic facts.

1. Let X be any topological space and A \subset X a finite subset. Then A is a compact subset. Proof: given any open cover of A choose one open set per element of A which contains said element.

2. Let R have the usual topology. Then the integers Z \subset R^1 is not a compact subset; choose the open cover \cup^{\infty}_{n = -\infty} (n - \frac{1}{4}, n+ \frac{1}{4}) is an infinite cover with no finite subcover. In fact, ANY unbounded subset A \subset R^n in the usual metric topology fails to be compact: for a \in A with d(a, 0) \geq n choose B_a(\frac{1}{n}) ; clearly this open cover can have no finite subcover.

3. The finite union of compact subsets is compact (easy exercise).

4. If C \subset X is compact and X is a Hausdorff topological space (T_2 ) then C is closed. Here is why: let x \notin C and for every c \in C choose U_c, V_c open where x \in U_c, c \in V_c . Now \cup_{c \in C}V_c is an open set which contains C and has a finite subcover \cup_{i=1}^k V_i Note that each U_i is an open set which contains x and now we have only a finite number of these. Hence x \in \cap^k_{i=1} U_i which is disjoint from \cup_{i=1}^k V_i which contains C . Because x was an arbitrary point in X -C , X-C is open which means that C is closed. Note: this proof, with one minor addition, shows that a compact Hausdorff space is regular (T_3 ) we need only show that a closed subset of a compact Hausdorff space is compact. That is easy enough to do: let \mathscr{U} be an open cover for C ; then the collection \mathscr{U} \cup (X-C) is an open cover for X , which has a finite subcover. Let that be \cup^k_{i=1} U_i \cup (X-C) where each U_i \in \mathscr{U} . Now since X-C does not cover C, \cup^k_{i=1} U_i does.

So we have proved that a closed subset of a compact set is compact.

5. Let R (or any infinite set) be given the finite complement topology (that is, the open sets are the empty set together with sets whose complements consist of a finite number of points). Then ANY subset is compact! Here is why: let C be any set and let \mathscr{U} be any open cover. Choose U_1 \in \mathscr{U}. Since X -U_1 is a finite set of points, only a finite number of them can be in C , say c_1, c_2, ...c_k . Then for each of these, select one open set in the open cover that contains the point; that is the finite subcover.

Note: this shows that non-closed sets can be compact sets, if the underlying topology is not Hausdorff.

6. If f: X \rightarrow Y is continuous and onto and X is compact, then so is Y . Proof: let \cup_{\beta \in I} U_{\beta} cover Y and note that \cup_{\beta}f^{-1}(U_{\beta}) covers X , hence a finite number of these open sets cover: X = \cup^{k}_{i=1}f^{-1}(U_i). Therefore \cup^k_{i=1}U_i covers Y . Note: this shows that being compact is a topological invariant; that is, if two spaces are homeomorphic, then either both spaces are compact or neither one is.

7. Ok, let’s finally prove something. Let R^1 have the usual topology. Then [0, 1] (and therefore any closed interval) is compact. This is (part) of the famous Heine-Borel Theorem. The proof uses the least upper bound axiom of the real numbers.

Let \mathscr{U} be any open cover for [0,1] . If no finite subcover exists, let x be the least upper bound of the subset F of [0,1] that CAN be covered by a finite subcollection of \mathscr{U} . Now x > 0 because at least one element of \mathscr{U} contains 0 and therefore contains [0, \delta ) for some \delta > 0 . Assume that x < 1 . Now suppose x \in F , that is x is part of the subset that can be covered by a finite subcover. Then because x \in U_{\beta} for some U_{\beta} \in \mathscr{U} then (x-\delta, x + \delta) \subset U_{\beta} which means that x + \delta \in F , which means that x isn’t an upper bound for F .

Now suppose x \notin F ; then because x < 1 there is still some U_{\beta} where (x-\delta, x+ \delta) \subset U_{\beta} . But since x = lub(F) then x - \delta \in F and so [0, x- \delta ) \subset F . So if F can be covered by \cup^k_{i=1} U_i then \cup^k_{i=1} U_i \cup U_{\beta} is a finite subcover of [0, x + \delta ) which means that x was not an upper bound. It follows that x = 1 which means that the unit interval is compact.

Now what about the closed ball in R^n ? The traditional way is to show that the closed ball is a closed subset of a closed hypercube in R^n and so if we show that the product of compact spaces is compact, we would be done. That is for later.

8. Now endow R^1 with the lower limit topology. That is, the open sets are generated by basis elements [a, b) . Note that the lower limit topology is strictly finer than the usual topology. Now in this topology: [0,1] is not compact. (note: none of (0,1), [0,1), (0, 1] are compact in the coarser usual topology, so there is no need to consider these). To see this, cover [0,1] by \cup ^{\infty}_{n=1} [0, \frac{n}{n+1}) \cup [1, \frac{3}{2}) and it is easy to see that this open cover has no finite subcover. In fact, with a bit of work, one can show that every compact subset is at most countable and nowhere dense; in fact, if A is compact in the lower limit topology and a \in A there exists some y_a where (y_a, a) \cap A = \emptyset .

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1 Comment »

  1. […] In the first post in this series, we gave an introduction to “compactness”. […]

    Pingback by Compact Spaces and the Tychonoff Theorem IV: conclusion | College Math Teaching — March 17, 2015 @ 9:14 pm


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