Is there any evidence for the classification of topological 4-manifolds, aside from Freedman's 1982 paper "The topology of four-dimensional manifolds", Journal of Differential Geometry 17(3) 357–453? The argument there is extraordinarily complicated and a simpler proof would be desirable.

Is there evidence from any other source that would suggest that topological 4-manifolds are so much simpler than smooth 4-manifolds, or does it all hinge on Freedman's proof that Casson handles are homeomorphic to standard handles?

My question is motivated from a number of points of view:

The classification of topological 4-manifolds is now 30 years old and an easier version of the proof has not emerged. In contrast, Donaldson's invariants have been superseded by more easily computed invariants. This is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs for such a far-reaching topological result, particularly as it is so regularly used in proof-by-contradiction arguments against results in smooth 4-manifold theory.

As the Bing topologists familiar with these arguments retire, the hopes of reproducing the details of the proof are fading, and with it, the insight that such a spectacular proof affords. I am delighted to see that the MPIM, Bonn is running a special semester on this topic next year. Hopefully this will introduce these techniques to a new generation of mathematicians (and save them from having to reinvent them!)

It may be possible to refine the proof to gain more control over the resulting infinite towers - and perhaps get Hoelder maps rather than homeomorphisms, for example. This would require either a better exposition of the fundamental result or some new independent insight, which was the basis of my question.

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