Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Absolute proof of consistency of FSN

In section IV of their great little book, Nagel and Newman discuss efforts by Gottlob Frege and then Bertrand Russell to reduce arithmetic to logic. This is clearly another attempt at a relative proof of consistency: if this reduction were successful, then arithmetic would be consistent provided logic is consistent.

Whether this latter statement is true or not, Whitehead and Russell's Principia Mathematica was a landmark achievement: it almost completed the first step in an absolute proof of consistency of arithmetic, since it led to the formalization of an axiomatic system for arithmetic.

In section V, Nagel and Newman describe a formalization of propositional (or sentential) logic, that is, a subset of the logic system in Principia Mathematica (but not a large enough subset to represent arithmetic). The bulk of this section first describes the formalization process, which yields the standard syntax and inference rules of propositional logic (including modus ponens) and then outlines an absolute proof of consistency of this formalized axiomatic system.

This absolute proof of consistency is a proof by contrapositive, which relies on the following true conditional statement:

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Absolute proofs of consistency and meta-mathematics

In earlier posts, we explained why consistency is an important property of axiomatic systems and discussed relative proofs of consistency, in which the proof of consistency of a system is based on the assumption that another axiomatic system is consistent. In this post, we introduce absolute proofs of consistency that do not make any assumptions about any other axiomatic system. Apparently, David Hilbert was the first to study and propose such proofs, according to Nagel and Newman's book (Section III, page 26).

Recall that an axiomatic system is consistent if it cannot derive both a theorem and its negation. What do we mean by the negation of a theorem? Let's take, as a simple example, the theorem: "6 is divisible by 3." Its negation is simply the following statement: "6 is not divisible by 3" or equivalently "It is not the case that 6 is divisible by 3." This second formulation of the negation, although less elegant in English, is preferable because the negation is added to the front of the original theorem. In a formal system, negation is handled by simply adding a symbol for the phrase "it is not the case that." Several symbols have been used for negation, such as ~ and ¬ . We'll use the latter here. So, if T is any theorem in some formal system, then the formula  ¬T is the negation of T.

Remember that our formal system FS did not have a symbol for negation. So we will extend FS into a new formal system called FSN (for FS with Negation), whose alphabet is { E, 0, 1, ¬ }. FSN has exactly one axiom, namely the same as A1 in FSFSN also has the same inference rules as FS, namely IR1 and IR2. But it has one additional inference rule that uses negation. Here is the full description of FSN:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Relative proofs of consistency

In the last post, we defined and explained the importance of the property of consistency for an axiomatic system. The second half of Section II in Nagel and Newman's book describes ways of proving that an axiomatic system is consistent.

But first, note that the question of consistency of Euclidean geometry did not arise. Its axioms were supposed to describe the real world; and something that actually exists cannot be self-contradictory. In other words, existence (or truth) implies internal consistency.

The need for consistency proofs arose much later, with non-Euclidean geometries, which do not obviously model space as we experience it. Non-existence does not imply inconsistency. But any interesting abstract construct had better be internally consistent.

Second, checking the internal consistency of all of the theorems produced so far is typically not a valid proof of consistency, because (interesting) axiomatic systems generate an infinite number of theorems. The proof of consistency must guarantee that not a single theorem, including some that we have not yet produced and that we might never produce, contradicts any other theorem in the system.

One possible way to prove the consistency of an axiomatic system is model-based, where a model is a kind of interpretation.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Consistency of axiomatic systems

The "problem of consistency" is the topic of Section II of Nagel and Newman's book.  This section defines "consistency" and explains when and why it became an important property of axiomatic systems.

The oldest and most famous axiomatic system is that of Euclid, in which he systematized all of the knowledge of geometry (and more) available to him over two thousand years ago. Based on five axioms, Euclid was able to rigorously prove a very large number of known and new theorems (called "propositions" in his Elements). His axioms were supposed to be intuitively true. The first four axioms dealt with line segments, lines, circles and angles (see this Wikipedia entry) and have been viewed as self-evident. In contrast, the fifth axiom, which was equivalent to the following statement: "Through a point outside a given line, only one parallel to the line can be drawn" (page 9), was not intuitively true (apparently because the two lines involved extend to infinity in two directions, similarly to asymptotes).

Since this proposed axiom was not obviously true, many mathematicians tried to prove that it logically follows from the first four axioms. Only in the nineteenth century was it demonstrated that it is NOT possible to prove the parallel axiom from the first four axioms.

This proof that it is impossible to prove a given statement is a great precursor of Gödel's incompleteness theorems.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Formal systems, axioms, inference rules, formal proofs

I'll start this post by describing a simple formal system that I made up.

formal system is comprised of axioms and inference rules. Each axiom and inference rule is defined syntactically, that is, by ordered sequences of symbols that follow strict syntactic rules but do not (necessarily) have any meaning. The set of all symbols allowed in a formal system are explicitly listed in its alphabet, simply, a finite, non-empty set of symbols.

My formal system, let's call it FS,  uses the alphabet {E,0,1} and has only one axiom and two inference rules. Here is the axiom (in the box below):

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Let's get started with Nagel and Newman (Section I)

Let's ease our way into this. I haven't read the Nagel and Newman book in a few years. But I remember it as a short and highly readable overview of the proof. I have a 1986 softcover edition by NYP Press. Today, I want to write about Section I - Introduction. It's really short: under 5 pages.

First, a short quote that makes me feel better about my past failures at REALLY understanding the proof of GIT:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

I just want to understand the proof of Gödel's incompleteness theorems

So this is it! Summer 2013... This is when I get to master the proof of Gödel's incompleteness theorems (thereafter: GIT).

I discovered GIT as an undergraduate student in one of my Artificial Intelligence courses. My instructor was reading Gödel, Escher, Bach and was raving about the book. He even took some of our exam problems from it. But what I remember most is the outline of the proof of GIT, more precisely the first theorem. To be honest, the only part of it that stuck with me was the idea of numbering the formulas. Of course, at the time, I bought a copy of the book. I liked many parts of it but I never finished it.

Years later, while I was teaching computability theory and other computer science topics, I encountered GIT several times. At some point, I decided I wanted to understand the proof of GIT. 

First, I read the classic "Gödel's Proof" by Nagel and Newman. That is a concise and user-friendly overview of the proof. But it was only a proof sketch. So I looked at some textbooks on formal logic, which were neither concise nor user-friendly. I still did not understand the proof.

Finally, a couple of years ago, I came across a promising volume: "Introduction to Gödel’s Theorems" by Peter Smith. I read the first few chapters but then ran out of time (and motivation) to finish it. The following year, I made another attempt: I had to start from scratch and did not get any farther into it the second time around...