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Eilenberg and Mac Lane showed that given a group $G$ there exists a pointed topological space $X_G$ such that $\pi(X_G,\bullet)\cong G$. It is obviously a way to "invert direction" to the functor $\pi_1\colon \mathbf{Top}^\bullet\to \mathbf{Grp}$ to a functor $\mathcal K\colon \mathbf{Grp}\to \mathbf{Top}^\bullet$ such that $\pi_1(\mathcal K(G),\bullet)\cong G$ (almost by definition). This is equivalent to say that there exists a natural transformation (equivalence, in this case) between $\pi_1\circ\mathcal K$ and $\mathbf{1}_{\mathbf{Grp}}$, which turns out to resemble some sort of counity.

It would be wonderful if I could define an adjunction between the two categories in exam, given by the two functors. Everytime I try to think about some sort of unity to this hypotetical adjunction I poorly fail: considering the vast literature in the field of algebraic topology, I believe in only two possible cases. The first, nothing interesting arises from this adjunction. The second, there is no sort of adjunction.

The key point, quite trivial, to answer is: it is well known that an adjunction is uniquely determined by one among unity and counity, provided the one is universal. But $\boldsymbol\varepsilon\colon \pi_1\circ\mathcal K\to \mathbf{1}_{\mathbf{Grp}}$ is an equivalence: can I conclude that it is universal?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

In the more general setting the answer is no. Left adjoints preserve colimits and it is not true that $\pi_{1}(X\vee Y)\cong \pi_{1}(X)\ast\pi_{1}(Y)$ for all spaces $X,Y$ (even compact metric spaces). For instance, if $(\mathbb{HE},x)$ is the usual Hawaiian earring, let $X=Y=C\mathbb{HE}=\mathbb{HE}\times I/\mathbb{HE}\times\{1\}$ be the cone on the Hawaiian earring with basepoint the image of $(x,0)$ in the quotient. It is a theorem of Griffiths that $\pi_{1}(C\mathbb{HE}\vee C\mathbb{HE})$ is uncountable and not the free product of trivial groups.

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Clear, clear. Thanks. :) –  tetrapharmakon Nov 9 '10 at 0:05

Let $\mathcal{C}$ be the homotopy category of connected pointed CW complexes. Then the functor $\pi_1:\mathcal{C}\to\mathbf{Grp}$ does indeed have a right adjoint. The cleanest way to define it is to use the simplicial classifying space functor $B:\mathbf{Grp}\to\mathcal{C}$. For the unit of the adjunction you need a natural homotopy class of maps $X\to B(\pi_1(X))$. This can be done by obstruction theory, by induction up the skeleta of $X$. Alternatively, one can define a more canonical map from $|SX|$ (the geometric realisation of the singular complex) to $B(\pi_1(X))$ by simplicial methods, and then use the fact that there is a natural map $|SX|\to X$ which is a homotopy equivalence when $X\in\mathcal{C}$. The first place I would look for more details would be Peter May's old book on simplicial objects in algebraic topology.

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Goerss-Jardine is probably going to be more useful than Peter May's book, which is really outdated. –  Harry Gindi Nov 8 '10 at 21:21
That copy of the book is copyright-infringing (not that I care), and it's probably better if you can avoid posting it on MO. –  Harry Gindi Nov 9 '10 at 0:58

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