Why the emphasis on Projective Space in Algebraic Geometry?

I have no doubt this is a basic question. However, I am working through Miranda’s book on Riemann surfaces and algebraic curves, and it has yet to be addressed.

Why does Miranda (and from what little I’ve seen, algebraic geometers in general) place so much emphasis on projective space when studying algebraic curves? Why is this the natural setting to conduct algebraic geometry in?

Also, projective spaces and curves in them are hard for me to visualize, and in general I don’t have any good intuition about these objects. Do working algebraic geometers simply not visualize things as much, or are there some nice interpretations of projective spaces and algebraic curves I am missing that would make them seem more natural and give me more intuition about them?


The most appropriate answer will depend on why you are working through a book on Riemann surfaces and algebraic curves, but I will try to give some suggestions.

Since you mention Riemann surfaces, let’s start with some analogy with smooth manifolds. The Whitney embedding theorem says that any smooth manifold can be embedded in $\mathbb{R}^N$ for $N$ sufficiently large, so we can always think of a smooth manifold as a submanifold of $\mathbb{R}^N$. This occasionally helps with intuition and visualization, and can simplify some constructions.

In the case of complex manifolds (e.g. Riemann surfaces), you might ask whether the same holds true holomorphically, i.e. whether any complex manifold can be holomorphically embedded in $\mathbb{C}^N$ for $N$ sufficiently large. It turns out that usually the answer is no. It is an easy consequence of the Liouville theorem that no compact complex manifold is a complex submanifold of $\mathbb{C}^N$. If you only care about compact complex manifolds, then $\mathbb{CP}^N$ turns out to be the best possible (see e.g. the Kodaira embedding theorem, which characterizes which compact complex manifolds are complex submanifolds of $\mathbb{CP}^N$).

If your motivation is the study of solutions to polynomial equations, then as mentioned in other answers and comments, projective spaces are the appropriate completions of affine space that allow as many solutions as possible, allowing various formulas (e.g. couting intersections) work without additional qualification.

About visualization: for curves in $\mathbb{CP}^2$, first take some affine chart $\mathbb{C}^2 \subset \mathbb{CP}^2$, and then look at the intersection with some “real slice” $\mathbb{R}^2 \subset \mathbb{C}^2$. For example if we look at the curve in $\mathbb{CP}^2$ given by the zero set of $x^2-yz$, by working on the affine chart $z\neq0$ this becomes $y = x^2$ on $\mathbb{C}^2$, and if we restrict to real $x,y$ we get a parabola.

Source : Link , Question Author : Potato , Answer Author : Jonathan

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