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We now set aside our discussion of the finite time extinction results for Ricci flow with surgery (Theorem 4 from Lecture 2), and turn instead to the main portion of Perelman’s argument, which is to establish the global existence result for Ricci flow with surgery (Theorem 2 from Lecture 2), as well as the discreteness of the surgery times (Theorem 3 from Lecture 2).
As mentioned in Lecture 1, local existence of the Ricci flow is a fairly standard application of nonlinear parabolic theory, once one uses de Turck’s trick to transform Ricci flow into an explicitly parabolic equation. The trouble is, of course, that Ricci flow can and does develop singularities (indeed, we have just spent several lectures showing that singularities must inevitably develop when certain topological hypotheses (e.g. simple connectedness) or geometric hypotheses (e.g. positive scalar curvature) occur). In principle, one can use surgery to remove the most singular parts of the manifold at every singularity time and then restart the Ricci flow, but in order to do this one needs some rather precise control on the geometry and topology of these singular regions. (In particular, there are some hypothetical bad singularity scenarios which cannot be easily removed by surgery, due to topological obstructions; a major difficulty in the Perelman program is to show that such scenarios in fact cannot occur in a Ricci flow.)
In order to analyse these singularities, Hamilton and then Perelman employed the standard nonlinear PDE technique of “blowing up” the singularity using the scaling symmetry, and then exploiting as much “compactness” as is available in order to extract an “asymptotic profile” of that singularity from a sequence of such blowups, which had better properties than the original Ricci flow. [The PDE notion of a blowing up a solution around a singularity, by the way, is vaguely analogous to the algebraic geometry notion of blowing up a variety around a singularity, though the two notions are certainly not identical.] A sufficiently good classification of all the possible asymptotic profiles will, in principle, lead to enough structural properties on general singularities to Ricci flow that one can see how to perform surgery in a manner which controls both the geometry and the topology.
However, in order to carry out this program it is necessary to obtain geometric control on the Ricci flow which does not deteriorate when one blows up the solution; in the jargon of nonlinear PDE, we need to obtain bounds on some quantity which is both coercive (it bounds the geometry) and either critical (it is essentially invariant under rescaling) or subcritical (it becomes more powerful when one blows up the solution) with respect to the scaling symmetry. The discovery of controlled quantities for Ricci flow which were simultaneously coercive and critical was Perelman’s first major breakthrough in the subject (previously known controlled quantities were either supercritical or only partially coercive); it made it possible, at least in principle, to analyse general singularities of Ricci flow and thus to begin the surgery program discussed above. (In contrast, the main reason why questions such as Navier-Stokes global regularity are so difficult is that no controlled quantity which is both coercive and critical or subcritical is known.) The mere existence of such a quantity does not by any means establish global existence of Ricci flow with surgery immediately, but it does give one a non-trivial starting point from which one can hope to make progress.