Postcard from Cornwall

A photo taken along the South West Coast Path, as it runs to St Anthony Head in Cornwall. It’s a particularly beautiful stretch of the path, and a quick ferry ride takes us across the bay from the apartment we rent this time of year to join the path. Balm for the soul to be here. Back to logic next week.

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Gerhard Gentzen’s Shorthand Notes

Springer have just published an exceptional volume that should quite certainly be in any university library that has any kind of logic collection. From the blurb of Saved from The Cellar – Gerhard Gentzen’s Shorthand Notes on Logic and Foundations of Mathematics: “Attempts at locating [Gentzen’s] lost manuscripts failed at the time [immediately after his death], but several decades later, two slim folders of shorthand notes were found. In this volume, Jan von Plato gives an overview of Gentzen’s life and scientific achievements, based on detailed archival and systematic studies, and essential for placing the translations of shorthand manuscripts that follow in the right setting. The materials in this book are singular in the way they show the birth and development of Gentzen’s central ideas and results, sometimes in a well-developed form, and other times as flashes into the anatomy of the workings of a unique mind.”

You can freely download part of Jan von Plato’s introduction here (pp. 65 onwards give outlines of what are in Gentzen’s notebooks). Also the “Look inside” facility on the Amazon page here enables you to look at some of the translated notebook pages. The editing and translating of these notes look to be a major achievement, which should be of great interest, and not just to pure historians of logic.

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Maddy on sets, categories, and the multiverse

Here are three large-scale issues. First, in what good sense or senses, if any, does ZFC provide a foundation for mathematics. Second, can category theory provide an alternative(?), or better(?) foundation for some or all mathematics? Third, should set theory should be understood as the study of a single universe, or as the study of a multiverse of set-theoretic universes? Each of these questions is many-faceted, and there are evident connections.

Penelope Maddy takes them all on in a substantial paper ‘Set-theoretic Foundations‘ (forthcoming in a festschrift for Woodin). She writes: “I won’t pretend to sort out all these complex and contentious matters, but I do hope to compile a few relevant observations that might help bring illumination somewhat closer to hand.” Written with her customary lucidity, Maddy does indeed do some useful sorting out, it seems to me. Worth a read if you haven’t seen the paper yet.

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Empty domains #3 – from Vej Kse

The following was posted as a comment to Empty domains #1 by Vej Kse — but I think it is particularly interesting and worth highlighting as a stand-alone post. 

There is an elegant and natural (from a user’s perspective) way to allow empty domains, which has been known in categorical logic and modern type theories (based on de Bruijn’s Automath and Martin-Löf’s type theory) for over 40 years.

It consists in considering formulae only relative to a given context (list) of variables (which must contain all free variables of the formula, and can be empty if the formula is closed). In many-sorted logic, each variable is attributed a sort in the context. In a way, “standard” first-order logic (the one taught in most logic textbooks) amounts to working in a context with a countable number of variables.

In natural deduction for such a system, we want to prove a formula \phi in a variable context \Gamma from a list of formulae \Psi (an hypothesis context), where all involved formulae are well-formed in the context \Gamma . Just like proving an implication in a given hypothesis context amounts to proving the consequent from the context expanded with the antecedent (the variable context hold fixed), proving a universal quantification \forall x \varphi (x) in a variable context amounts to proving \varphi(x) in the context expanded with x (the hypothesis context hold fixed).

The main reason of using a variable context, in my view, is not that it allows empty domains, but that it models more faithfully how mathematicians reason. We do not start our informal proofs by assuming given a countable sequence of variables of our domains of interest; when we write proofs, variable introduction parallels hypothesis introduction: “Let x be a real number …” vs. “Let’s assume the axiom of choice.”. Moreover, mathematicians remember just as well the variables they introduced (stored in the “variable context” part of their memory) as they remember the hypotheses they introduced (stored in the “hypothesis context” part of their memory). “Standard” first-order logic fails to model that memory of the variables introduced.

The standard proof in “standard” first-order logic of \exists x. \varphi(x) from \forall x. \varphi(x) is odd for mathematicians precisely because a variable appears out of nowhere, without ever being introduced.
1. Let’s assume \forall x \varphi(x) ;
2. Eliminate \forall by applying it at y , which gives us \varphi(y) .
3. Introduce \exists , which gives us \exists x. \varphi(x) .
In correcting a student’s work I would write in red next to the second step: “what is this y ? you never introduced it”. The proof should introduce the variable y before using it, which also means that it cannot just be forgotten at the end of the proof, even though it doesn’t appear in the conclusion (it’s still in the memory of the reader). To remove it from the context, a \forall y must be added, giving \forall y (\forall x \varphi(x) \implies \exists x \varphi(x)) .

Advantages of working with variable contexts besides allowing empty domains and being more faithful to ordinary reasoning:
– Leaner semantics: No need to assign values to infinitely many unused variables; we only have to assign values to the variables in the finite context.
– Separation of concerns: The quantifier rules don’t have side-conditions any more, these become well-formedness conditions on the contexts (all variable names must be different so that, when a context is extended, the name must be new) and the formulae (they must be well-formed in the contexts in which they are used, in particular only contain variable names present in those contexts).
– The structure of the quantifier introduction and elimination rules is more transparent: it takes the form of an adjunction, like for the other connectives.
– It repairs the symmetry between assumptions and variables, implication and universal quantification, conjunction and existential quantification (broken by their very different treatments in “standard” first-order logic), paving the way to the propositions-as-types (Curry-Howard) correspondence and modern type theories.

– Prenex normal forms depend on the inhabitedness assumption (and the law of excluded middle) (so we can still use it in Peano arithmetic for instance, just not in general first-order logic).
– The weight of tradition.

Here are a few books in which first-order logic is presented using variable contexts:
– Peter T. Johnstone: “Sketches of an elephant: A topos theory compendium” (Chapter D1);
– Bart Jacobs: “Categorical logic and type theory” (Chapter 4);
– Paul Taylor: “Practical foundations of mathematics” (Section 1.5);
– Richard Bornat: “Proof and disproof in formal logic: An introduction for programmers”.


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Empty domains #2

Here is a long quotation from Oliver and Smiley in their Plural Logic, motivating their adoption of a universally free logic (i.e. one allowing empty domains and empty terms).

If empty singular terms are outlawed, we are deprived of logic as a tool for assessing arguments involving hypothetical particular things. Scientists argued about the now-discredited planet Vulcan just as they argued about the now-accepted proto-continent Pangaea; intellectuals argued about the merits of Ern Malley, the non-existent poet of the great Australian literary hoax. Sometimes of course we may know that the particular thing exists, but at others we may wish to remain agnostic or we may even have good grounds to believe that it doesn’t exist. Indeed, our reasoning may be designed precisely to supply those grounds: ‘Let N  be the greatest prime number. Then … contradiction. So there is no such thing as N’.

Now consider the effect of ruling out an empty domain. For many choices of domain —people, tables, chairs—the requirement that the domain be necessarily non-empty is frankly absurd. One may retreat to the idea that the non-emptiness of the domain is a background presupposition in any argument about the relevant kind of thing. But then we shall be deprived of logic as a tool for assessing arguments involving hypothetical kinds. We may indeed be certain that there is a human hand or two, but for other kinds this may be a matter of debate: think of the WIMPs and MACHOs of dark matter physics, or atoms of elements in the higher reaches of the Periodic Table. Sometimes we will have or will come to have good grounds to believe that the kind is empty, like the illusory canals on Mars or the sets of naive set theory, and again this may be the intended outcome of our reasoning: ‘Let’s talk about sets. They are governed by a (naive) comprehension principle … contradiction. So there are no such things.’

It may be replied that some domains are necessarily non-empty, say the domain of natural numbers. It follows that the absolutely unrestricted domain of things is necessarily non-empty too. But even if this necessity could be made out, and what’s more made out to be a matter of logical necessity, we would still not want the argument ‘∀xFx , so ∃xFx ’ to be valid. As we see it, the topic neutrality of logic means that it ought to cover both unrestricted and restricted domains, so it ought not to validate a pattern of argument which certainly fails in some restricted cases, even if not in all.

I think there are at least two issues here which we might initially pause over. First, in just what sense ought logic to be topic neutral? And second (even if we accept some kind of topic neutrality as a constraint on what counts as logic) how far does a defensible form of neutrality require neutrality about e.g. all(?) questions of existence and/or whether our language actually hooks up to the world? But leave those issues to another post — spoiler alert: I’m not minded to go with Oliver and Smiley’s arguments for a universally free logic. For the moment, what is interesting me is — whatever the force of the arguments — there is a straight parallelism between the considerations which Oliver and Smiley adduce for allowing empty names and for allowing empty domains. Certainly, I see no hint here (or in the surrounding text) that they conceive the cases as raising significantly different issues.

In the previous post, I noted that Wilfrid Hodges’s very briskly offers similar reasons of topic neutrality to argue for allowing for empty domains, but goes on to present a logical system which doesn’t allow for empty names. And, having in mind similar considerations to Oliver and Smiley’s, I suggested that this half-way-house is not a comfortable resting place: if his (and their) reason for allowing empty domains is a good one, then we should equally allow (as  Oliver and Smiley do) empty names. So the story went.

However, it was suggested that Hodges’s position is much more natural that I made out. Taking parts of two comments, Bruno Whittle puts it this way:

On a plausible way of thinking about things, to give the meaning of a name is to provide it with a referent. So to ban empty names is simply to restrict attention to those which have been given meanings. On the other hand,  …  I would say that to give the meaning of a quantifier—to ‘provide it with a domain’—is to specify zero or more objects for it to range over. To insist that one specify at least one seems barely more natural than insisting that one provide at least two (i.e. that one really does provide objects plural!)

But is it in general supposed to be a plausible way of thinking about singular terms that to give one a meaning is to provide it with a reference? Is this claim is supposed to apply, e.g., to functional terms? If it doesn’t, then coping with ’empty’ terms constructed from partial functions, for example, will still arguably need a free logic (even if we have banned empty unstructured names). While if it is still supposed to apply, then I think I need to know more about the notion of meaning in play here.

Set that aside, however. Let’s think some more about what is meant by “outlawing” or “banning” empty names and empty domains in logic — given that we can, it seems, (or so Oliver and Smiley insist) find ourselves inadventently using them, and reasoning with them. To be continued.

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Empty domains #1

From wild mathematical universes back to nothing much at all: the question of empty domains in first-order logic. Not that I have anything very insightful to say:  but I want to get my mind clearer before committing myself to a line in IFL2.

In his nice book Logic (1977), Wilfrid Hodges introduces a tableau system with the following four rules for dealing with quantifiers. Two rules allow us to push a negation past a quantifier — so given \neg\forall x\varphi(x) on a branch you add   \exists x\neg\varphi(x), and dually. Then the rules for dealing with bare quantifiers are as follows.  Given \forall x\varphi(x) on a branch, you can add \varphi(n) for any n already featured on the branch. While given \exists x\varphi(x) on a branch, you can add \varphi(n) for some n which is not already used on the branch.

Compared with the standard rules for tableaux as in e.g. Jeffrey’s Formal Logic: Its Scope and Limits (1967/1981), Hodges’s quantifier instantiation rules are a tad neater, indeed elegantly symmetric — simply: instantiate universals with old names, existentials with new names.

Using ‘\vdash’ for provability in Hodges’s system, we notably do not get \forall x\varphi(x) \vdash \exists x\varphi(x). But that is all to the good, Hodges thinks. That inference fails if we allow the empty domain. “Many logicians add one further derivation rule, which has the effect of decreeing that every domain of quantification has at least one individual in it. From our point of view this would be a mistake. A domain of quantification can perfectly well be empty — as it well may be if the conversation turns to discussing intelligent life on other planets.”

At first blush this is very neat — a more inclusive logic and more elegant rules. What’s not to like? But there’s a price to pay, though. As David Bostock points out in his Intermediate Logic (OUP 1997), in Hodges’s system we do get e.g. \forall x\varphi(x) \vdash \varphi(n) and \varphi(n) \vdash \exists x\varphi(x) so transitivity of derivability fails; and there are other nasty effects. Such consequences do seem pretty unhappy. Bostock diagnoses the source of the trouble to be Hodges’s half-way-house position of wanting to accommodate empty domains while his logic requires that names have denotations. Allow empty names too and of course both \forall x\varphi(x) \vdash \varphi(n) and \varphi(n) \vdash \exists x\varphi(x) fail, and transitivity can be restored.

And indeed, leaving aside nasty effects like transitivity failure, it is difficult to see why it should be a desirable feature of a logic that it allows empty domains but not empty names. After all, if “the conversation turns to discussing intelligent life on other planets” it could equally (back in the nineteenth century) turn to discussing the intramercurial planet Vulcan, or (later) turn to discussing Ern Malley (among poets) or Nat Tate (among painters) or Frederick R. Ewing (among novelists). And if our logic has functions, then we can find ourselves unwittingly discussing partial functions so using more terms which fail to have references. If we want to avoid the mishap of talking of things that don’t exist, then surely we’ll want to avoid not just wholesale foul-ups (empty domains) but local foul-ups (empty terms). If we push Hodges’s rationale for allowing empty domains to its natural conclusion, then, it seems that seems we have to go the full revisionary hog and be free logicians. But free logics — while not horrendous — haven’t the elegant simplicity of Hodges’s system. Do we really have to end up there? Not in an introductory book, that’s for sure! To be continued …

Footnote: what is the natural deduction analogue of Hodges’s system? I think this works: take the usual sort of \exists-elimination rule (given \exists x\varphi(x) start a subproof with  \varphi(n) with n new …), let the \forall-elimination rule allow just instantiation with respect to names already appearing (not in finished subproofs), and add the two rules, from \neg\forall x\neg\varphi infer \exists x\varphi and its dual. But I guess this isn’t an entirely natural presentation of a natural deduction system, if we like thinking Gentzen-style of introduction rules as more fundamental, as meaning-fixing, and elimination rules to be justified as being in harmony with them.


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New foundations?

This I find intriguing:

Can we actually use [homotopy] type theory as the foundation for mathematics? That is, must we consider the objects of mathematics to “really” be built out of sets, with “types” just a convenient fiction for talking about such structures? Or can we consider types to be the basic objects of mathematics, with everything else built out of them?

The answer is undoubtedly yes: the “sets” in type theory can encode mathematics just like the sets of ZFC can.
The real question, therefore, is not “can we?” but “should we?” This is where things get more philosophical. Over the past century, mathematicians and philosophers have become accustomed to the fundamental objects of mathematics being discrete sets, with no spatial or homotopical structure. However, a priori there is no reason this has to be the case.

One of the central insights of category theory and homotopy theory is that no class of mathematical objects should be considered without the corresponding notion of isomorphism or equivalence: we study groups up to isomorphism, spaces up to homeomorphism, categories up to equivalence, and so on. Thus, all mathematical collections naturally form groupoids when equipped with the relevant “notion of sameness”. The theory of all groups is much less tractable, and much less interesting, than the category of all groups; so even though the former is “simpler” in the sense of containing no nontrivial automorphisms, it is reasonable to regard the latter as being at least as fundamental.

One possible objection to treating spaces as fundamental is to ask how we should decide which rules our “spaces as fundamental” should satisfy. [Different mathematical fields] will have their own toposes and their own type theories.

[But] why must we insist on singling out some particular theory as “the” foundation of mathematics? The idea of a “foundation for mathematics” stems from the great discovery of 20th century logic that we can encode mathematics into various formal systems and study those systems mathematically. But in the 21st century, we are sufficiently familiar with this process that we no longer need to tie ourselves to only one such system. In ZFC orthodoxy there is an absolute notion of “set” out of which everything is constructed. Spaces exist, but they are second-class citizens, ultimately reducible to sets, and the basic axioms of set theory don’t apply to them. But from a pluralistic viewpoint, mathematics can be developed relative to any topos, obeying the same general rules of type theory. We have consistent rules for translating between toposes along functors, and there are some toposes in which mathematics looks a bit simpler. However, there is no justification for regarding any particular topos or type theory as the “one absolute universe of mathematics”. Just as modern physicists switch reference frames as needed, modern mathematicians should be free to switch foundational systems as appropriate. Set theory and 20th century logic were a crucial stepping-stone to bring us to a point where we can survey the multitude of universes of mathematics; but once there, we see that there is nothing special about the route we took.

Those sentences are taken from the conclusion of a recent arXiv paper by Michael Shulman on ‘Homotopy type theory: the logic of space‘, a long chapter written for a forthcoming book (I’ve not marked all the lacunae in this quotation which I’ve brutally cut by more than half). Unfortunately, despite Shulman’s expository gifts in some of his other exoteric papers, what comes before I find pretty impenetrable: but I’m sure that the problem is with me lacking enough background, not with Shulman’s ideas. So I’m still promising myself to try to get my head around what, in this vein, is happening in homotopy type theory, at least well enough to see what there this in the more philosophical claims made for it.

But that’s for after I get IFL2 sorted …

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Nerdy annoyance

Lost a number of hours, too many, on a mysterious LaTeX problem. It turns out that fitch.sty (useful for setting Fitch-style proofs) loads a package mdwtab.sty which isn’t fully compatible with the standard tabular environment (useful for setting truth-tables). So when I added  fitch.sty to the preamble to the book source, a few truth-tables mysteriously lost horizontal lines. Took me longer than it should have done to find the culprit. Warning, and a solution, now added to the page on natural deduction packages in LaTeX for Logicians.

Right: back to thinking a bit about how I want to handle empty domains later …

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As good as it gets

We have been to some excellent local concerts over the last few months which I haven’t mentioned here (from the likes of Igor Levit, Rachel Podger and the English Concert, Cuarteto Casals, and a particularly on-form Academy of Ancient Music with Frank de Bruine). But for my birthday we went up to the Wigmore Hall for a performance of Die schöne Müllerin (yes, quite the cheery choice …). The singer was the young Dutch baritone Hank Neven, his accompanist the truly great Schubert pianist Imogen Cooper. This was an extraordinary performance, one of the most moving concerts we have been to for years, with Neven absolutely compelling and Cooper’s playing magical. The audience was completely rapt; at the end many quiet tears around us needed wiping away … with, as they took their bows, the players too evidently moved by the occasion. This truly was Schubert singing as good as it gets.

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David Makinson’s Sets, Logic and Maths

As I go through chapters of my Introduction to Formal Logic, heavily rewriting them for the second edition (only scattered paragraphs are surviving unaltered from the first edition, and I’m adding wholy new chapters too), I’m occasionally pulling other introductory books from my shelves, to check their coverage, to see how they handle particular points and whether they have nice expository ideas I could steal gratefully emulate.

One excellent book which I seem not to have mentioned here before — and parts of which really should get warm recommendations in the Teach Yourself Logic Study Guide — is David Makinson’s Sets, Logic and Maths for Computing (Springer, 2nd ed. 2012). It deserves a full-scale review here: but for the moment, this post is a place-holder, to flag up the existence of this text.

As the title suggests, the book is primarily aimed at computer science students. But the assumed level of mathematical competence is pretty low, and many philosopher students could find this very useful, perhaps as a supplement to more conventionally arranged texts for students one step up from raw beginners at logic. Here, Makinson starts by looking at the kind of mathematical notions which any philosophy student leaning in a logical direction ought to know about — sets, relations, functions; ideas of induction and recursion (and there’s some more, e.g. about trees in the abstract). As he goes along, he introduces logical notions briefly “as they arise in the discussion of more ‘concrete’ material. This is done in ‘logic boxes’. Each box introduces just enough to get on with the task in hand. Much later, in the last three chapters, all this is brought together and extended. By then, the student should have little trouble appreciating what the subject is all about and how natural it all is, and will be ready to use other basic mathematical tools when studying it.”

A great deal of pedagogic thought has evidently gone into the book, and it is very admirably clear, and good at getting across Big Ideas and their motivations without getting bogged down by over-abstraction or unnecessary pernickety detail. So: well worth taking a look at if you don’t know the book (as indeed I didn’t until quite recently).

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