Props in network theory

John C. Baez, Brandon Coya, Franciscus Rebro

Long before the invention of Feynman diagrams, engineers were using similar diagrams to reason about electrical circuits and more general networks containing mechanical, hydraulic, thermodynamic and chemical components. We can formalize this reasoning using props: that is, strict symmetric monoidal categories where the objects are natural numbers, with the tensor product of objects given by addition. In this approach, each kind of network corresponds to a prop, and each network of this kind is a morphism in that prop. A network with $m$ inputs and $n$ outputs is a morphism from $m$ to $n$, putting networks together in series is composition, and setting them side by side is tensoring. Here we work out the details of this approach for various kinds of electrical circuits, starting with circuits made solely of ideal perfectly conductive wires, then circuits with passive linear components, and then circuits that also have voltage and current sources. Each kind of circuit corresponds to a mathematically natural prop. We describe the `behavior' of these circuits using morphisms between props. In particular, we give a new construction of the black-boxing functor of Fong and the first author; unlike the original construction, this new one easily generalizes to circuits with nonlinear components. We also use a morphism of props to clarify the relation between circuit diagrams and the signal-flow diagrams in control theory. Technically, the key tools are the Rosebrugh-Sabadini-Walters result relating circuits to special commutative Frobenius monoids, the monadic adjunction between props and signatures, and a result saying which symmetric monoidal categories are equivalent to props.

Keywords: circuit, functorial semantics, network, PROP, symmetric monoidal category

2010 MSC: 18C10, 18D10, 94C05, 94C15

Theory and Applications of Categories, Vol. 33, 2018, No. 25, pp 727-783.

Published 2018-08-01.

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