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Concept# Whitehead theorem

Summary

In homotopy theory (a branch of mathematics), the Whitehead theorem states that if a continuous mapping f between CW complexes X and Y induces isomorphisms on all homotopy groups, then f is a homotopy equivalence. This result was proved by J. H. C. Whitehead in two landmark papers from 1949, and provides a justification for working with the concept of a CW complex that he introduced there. It is a model result of algebraic topology, in which the behavior of certain algebraic invariants (in this case, homotopy groups) determines a topological property of a mapping.
In more detail, let X and Y be topological spaces. Given a continuous mapping
and a point x in X, consider for any n ≥ 1 the induced homomorphism
where πn(X,x) denotes the n-th homotopy group of X with base point x. (For n = 0, π0(X) just means the set of path components of X.) A map f is a weak homotopy equivalence if the function
is bijective, and the homomorphisms f* are bijective for all x in X and all n ≥ 1. (For X and Y path-connected, the first condition is automatic, and it suffices to state the second condition for a single point x in X.) The Whitehead theorem states that a weak homotopy equivalence from one CW complex to another is a homotopy equivalence. (That is, the map f: X → Y has a homotopy inverse g: Y → X, which is not at all clear from the assumptions.) This implies the same conclusion for spaces X and Y that are homotopy equivalent to CW complexes.
Combining this with the Hurewicz theorem yields a useful corollary: a continuous map between simply connected CW complexes that induces an isomorphism on all integral homology groups is a homotopy equivalence.
A word of caution: it is not enough to assume πn(X) is isomorphic to πn(Y) for each n in order to conclude that X and Y are homotopy equivalent. One really needs a map f : X → Y inducing an isomorphism on homotopy groups. For instance, take X= S2 × RP3 and Y= RP2 × S3. Then X and Y have the same fundamental group, namely the cyclic group Z/2, and the same universal cover, namely S2 × S3; thus, they have isomorphic homotopy groups.

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Related concepts (5)

Homotopy group

In mathematics, homotopy groups are used in algebraic topology to classify topological spaces. The first and simplest homotopy group is the fundamental group, denoted which records information about loops in a space. Intuitively, homotopy groups record information about the basic shape, or holes, of a topological space. To define the n-th homotopy group, the base-point-preserving maps from an n-dimensional sphere (with base point) into a given space (with base point) are collected into equivalence classes, called homotopy classes.

Whitehead theorem

In homotopy theory (a branch of mathematics), the Whitehead theorem states that if a continuous mapping f between CW complexes X and Y induces isomorphisms on all homotopy groups, then f is a homotopy equivalence. This result was proved by J. H. C. Whitehead in two landmark papers from 1949, and provides a justification for working with the concept of a CW complex that he introduced there. It is a model result of algebraic topology, in which the behavior of certain algebraic invariants (in this case, homotopy groups) determines a topological property of a mapping.

CW complex

A CW complex (also called cellular complex or cell complex) is a kind of a topological space that is particularly important in algebraic topology. It was introduced by J. H. C. Whitehead to meet the needs of homotopy theory. This class of spaces is broader and has some better properties than simplicial complexes, but still retains a combinatorial nature that allows for computation (often with a much smaller complex). The C stands for "closure-finite", and the W for "weak" topology.