first-order and higher-order logic, model theory, set theory, proof theory, computability theory, formal languages, definability, interplay of syntax and semantics, constructive logic, intuitionism, philosophical logic, modal logic, completeness, Gödel incompleteness, decidability, undecidability, ...

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147
votes
27answers
18k views

What are some reasonable-sounding statements that are independent of ZFC?

Every now and then, somebody will tell me about a question. When I start thinking about it, they say, "actually, it's undecidable in ZFC." For example, suppose A is an abelian group such that every ...
133
votes
0answers
11k views

Ultrafilters and automorphisms of the complex field

It is well-known that it is consistent with $ZF$ that the only automorphisms of the complex field $\mathbb{C}$ are the identity map and complex conjugation. For example, we have that ...
121
votes
15answers
23k views

Why worry about the axiom of choice?

As I understand it, it has been proven that the axiom of choice is independent of the other axioms of set theory. Yet I still see people fuss about whether or not theorem X depends on it, and I don't ...
113
votes
13answers
24k views

Knuth's intuition that Goldbach might be unprovable

Knuth's intuition that Goldbach's conjecture (every even number greater than 2 can be written as a sum of two primes) might be one of the statements that can neither be proved nor disproved really ...
91
votes
42answers
20k views

What are the most attractive Turing undecidable problems in mathematics?

What are the most attractive Turing undecidable problems in mathematics? There are thousands of examples, so please post here only the most attractive, best examples. Some examples already appear on ...
87
votes
9answers
14k views

Solutions to the Continuum Hypothesis

Related MO questions: What is the general opinion on the Generalized Continuum Hypothesis? ; Completion of ZFC ; Complete resolutions of GCH; How far wrong could the Continuum Hypothesis be?; When was ...
81
votes
11answers
9k views

Checkmate in $\omega$ moves?

Is there a chess position with a finite number of pieces on the infinite chess board $\mathbb{Z}^2$ such that White to move has a forced win, but Black can stave off mate for at least $n$ moves for ...
81
votes
2answers
7k views

Does every non-empty set admit a group structure (in ZF)?

It is easy to see that in ZFC, any non-empty set $S$ admits a group structure: for finite $S$ identify $S$ with a cyclic group, and for infinite $S$, the set of finite subsets of $S$ with the binary ...
74
votes
16answers
19k views

What if Current Foundations of Mathematics are Inconsistent? [closed]

The title of the question is also the title of a talk by Vladimir Voevodsky, available here. Had this kind of opinion been expressed before? EDIT. Thanks to all answerers, commentators, voters, ...
64
votes
16answers
5k views

When are two proofs of the same theorem really different proofs

Many well-known theorems have lots of "different" proofs. Often new proofs of a theorem arise surprisingly from other branches of mathematics than the theorem itself. When are two proofs really the ...
64
votes
9answers
4k views

Can we unify addition and multiplication into one binary operation? To what extent can we find universal binary operations?

The question is the extent to which we can unify addition and multiplication, realizing them as terms in a single underlying binary operation. I have a number of questions. Is there a binary ...
59
votes
6answers
13k views

How many orders of infinity are there?

Define a growth function to be a monotone increasing function $F: {\bf N} \to {\bf N}$, thus for instance $n \mapsto n^2$, $n \mapsto 2^n$, $n \mapsto 2^{2^n}$ are examples of growth functions. Let's ...
58
votes
38answers
12k views

nontrivial theorems with trivial proofs

A while back I saw posted on someone's office door a statement attributed to some famous person, saying that it is an instance of the callousness of youth to think that a theorem is trivial because ...
57
votes
4answers
7k views

Nelson's program to show inconsistency of ZF

At the end of the paper Division by three by Peter G. Doyle and John H. Conway, the authors say: Not that we believe there really are any such things as infinite sets, or that the Zermelo-Fraenkel ...
56
votes
26answers
7k views

Sexy vacuity …

I included this footnote in a paper in which I mentioned that the number of partitions of the empty set is 1 (every member of any partition is a non-empty set, and of course every member of the empty ...
56
votes
9answers
6k views

Is there any formal foundation to ultrafinitism?

Ultrafinitism is (I believe) a philosophy of mathematics that is not only constructive, but does not admit the existence of arbitrarily large natural numbers. According to wikipedia, it has been ...
55
votes
29answers
6k views

Can infinity shorten proofs a lot?

I've just been asked for a good example of a situation in maths where using infinity can greatly shorten an argument. The person who wants the example wants it as part of a presentation to the general ...
54
votes
13answers
11k views

Logic in mathematics and philosophy

What are the relations between logic as an area of (modern) philosophy and mathematical logic. The world "modern" refers to 20th century and later, and I am curious mainly about the second half of ...
54
votes
2answers
15k views

Is the analysis as taught in universities in fact the analysis of definable numbers?

Ten years ago when I studied in the university I had no idea about definable numbers, but I came to this concept myself. My thoughts were as follows: All numbers are divided into two classes: those ...
53
votes
3answers
2k views

How do I verify the Coq proof of Feit-Thompson?

I probably don't have the appropriate background to even ask this question. I know next to nothing about formal or computer-aided proof, and very little even about group theory. And this question is ...
52
votes
15answers
14k views

Most 'unintuitive' application of the Axiom of Choice?

It is well-known that the axiom of choice is equivalent to many other assumptions, such as the well-ordering principle, Tychonoff's theorem, and the fact that every vector space has a basis. Even ...
51
votes
2answers
5k views

How would you solve this tantalizing Halmos problem?

1-ab invertible => 1-ba invertible has a slick power series "proof" as below, where Halmos asks for an explanation of why this tantalizing derivation succeeds. Do you know one? Geometric series. In ...
50
votes
8answers
6k views

Succinctly naming big numbers: ZFC versus Busy-Beaver

Years ago, I wrote an essay called Who Can Name the Bigger Number?, which posed the following challenge: You have fifteen seconds. Using standard math notation, English words, or both, name a single ...
48
votes
2answers
1k views

Reasons to prefer one large prime over another to approximate characteristic zero

Background: In running algebraic geometry computations using software such as Macaulay2, it is often easier and faster to work over $\mathbb F_p = \mathbb Z / p\mathbb Z$ for a large prime $p$, rather ...
48
votes
2answers
5k views

Does Godel's incompleteness theorem admit a converse?

Let me set up a strawman: One might entertain the following criticism of Godel's incompleteness theorem: why did we ever expect completeness for the theory of PA or ZF in the first place? Sure, one ...
47
votes
7answers
4k views

Has anyone thought about creating a formal proof wiki with verifier?

Mathematics has undergone some rather nice developments recently with the adoption of new techologies, things like on-line journals, the arXiv, this website, etc. I imagine there must be many further ...
47
votes
5answers
5k views

Decidability of chess on an infinite board

The recent question Do there exist chess positions that require exponentially many moves to reach? of Tim Chow reminds me of a problem I have been interested in. Is chess with finitely many men on an ...
47
votes
3answers
3k views

Forcing as a new chapter of Galois Theory

There is a (very) long essay by Grothendieck with the ominous title La Longue Marche à travers la théorie de Galois (The Long March through Galois Theory). As usual, Grothendieck knew what he was ...
46
votes
14answers
5k views

What is the high-concept explanation on why real numbers are useful in number theory?

The utopian situation in mathematics would be that the statement and the proof of every result would live "in the same world", at the same level of mathematical complexity (in a broad sense), unless ...
44
votes
5answers
4k views

Does anyone know a polynomial whose lack of roots can't be proved?

In Ebbinghaus-Flum-Thomas's Introduction to Mathematical Logic, the following assertion is made: If ZFC is consistent, then one can obtain a polynomial $P(x_1, ..., x_n)$ which has no roots in the ...
44
votes
9answers
5k views

How do they verify a verifier of formalized proofs?

In an unrelated thread Sam Nead intrigued me by mentioning a formalized proof of the Jordan curve theorem. I then found that there are at least two, made on two different systems. This is quite an ...
43
votes
18answers
4k views

What are some results in mathematics that have snappy proofs using model theory?

I am preparing to teach a short course on "applied model theory" at UGA this summer. To draw people in, I am looking to create a BIG LIST of results in mathematics that have nice proofs using model ...
43
votes
5answers
5k views

Which graphs are Cayley graphs?

Every group presentation determines the corresponding Cayley graph, which has a node for each group element, and arrows labeled with the generators to get from one group element to another. My main ...
42
votes
7answers
8k views

Reductio ad absurdum or the contrapositive?

From time to time, when I write proofs, I'll begin with a claim and then prove the contradiction. However, when I look over the proof afterwards, it appears that my proof was essentially a proof of ...
42
votes
8answers
5k views

Is all ordinary mathematics contained in high school mathematics?

By high school mathematics I mean Elementary Function Arithmetic (EFA), where one is allowed +,×, xy, and a weak form of induction for formulas with bounded quantifiers. This is much weaker than ...
41
votes
7answers
2k views

How would one even begin to try to prove that a simple number-theoretic statement is undecidable?

This question is closely related to this one: Knuth's intuition that Goldbach might be unprovable. It stems from my ignorance about non-standard models of arithmetic. In a comment on the other ...
41
votes
2answers
5k views

A question about ordinal definable real numbers

If ZFC (Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory with the Axiom of Choice) is consistent, does it remain consistent when the following statement is added to it as a new axiom? "There exists a denumerably ...
40
votes
4answers
4k views

What was Gödel's real achievement?

When I first heard of the existence of Gödel's theorem, I was amazed not just at the theorem but at the fact that the question could be made precise enough to answer: how on earth, even in ...
40
votes
1answer
3k views

Mathematicians wearing hats on arbitrary total orders

I've been pondering the following generalisation of a famous problem (the special case where $T = \mathbb{N})$: Question: We have some totally-ordered set $T$ of mathematicians, each wearing a hat ...
39
votes
7answers
3k views

Is the ultraproduct concept fundamentally category-theoretic?

Once again, I would like to take advantage of the large number of knowledgable category theorists on this site for a question I have about category-theoretic aspects of a fundamental logic concept. ...
39
votes
1answer
2k views

When does $A^A=2^A$ without the axiom of choice?

Assuming the axiom of choice the following argument is simple, for infinite $A$ it holds: $$2\lt A\leq2^A\implies 2^A\leq A^A\leq 2^{A\times A}=2^A.$$ However without the axiom of choice this doesn't ...
38
votes
4answers
1k views

On sentences true in all finite groups

Let $w$ be a group word with two variables $x$ and $y$. Is the sentence $(\forall x)(\exists y)w=1$ true in every group if it is true in every finite group? The same question about the sentence ...
37
votes
5answers
3k views

Has decidability got something to do with primes?

Note: I have modified the question to make it clearer and more relevant. That makes some of references to the old version no longer hold. I hope the victims won't be furious over this. Motivation: ...
37
votes
5answers
3k views

What's wrong with the surreals?

Of all the constructions of the reals, the construction of the surreals seems the most elegant to me. It seems to immediately capture the total ordering and precision of Dedekind cuts at a ...
37
votes
4answers
2k views

Inconsistent theory with long contradiction

What can one say about an inconsistent theory $T$ which has no contradictions (i.e. deductions of $P \wedge \neg P$) of length shorter than $n$, where $n$ is some huge number? There have been some ...
36
votes
4answers
2k views

How undecidable is the spectral gap?

Nature just published a paper by Cubitt, Perez-Garcia and Wolf titled Undecidability of the Spectral Gap, there is an extended version on arxiv which is 146 pages long. Here is from the abstract:"Many ...
35
votes
7answers
6k views

Arguments against large cardinals

I started to learn about large cardinals a while ago, and I read that the existence, and even the consistency of the existence of an inaccessible cardinal, i.e. a limit cardinal which is additionally ...
35
votes
15answers
7k views

Strong induction without a base case

Strong induction proves a sequence of statements $P(0)$, $P(1)$, $\ldots$ by proving the implication "If $P(m)$ is true for all nonnegative integers $m$ less than $n$, then $P(n)$ is true." for ...
35
votes
4answers
2k views

Hilbert's (cancelled) 24th problem

Hilbert's 23 problems, ten of which were presented at the 1900 ICM in Paris, are too famous for any mathematician to not know. If one reads the descriptions of the problems in Hilbert's paper, one ...
35
votes
4answers
3k views

The origin of sets?

The history of set theory from Cantor to modern times is well documented. However, the origin of the idea of sets is not so clear. A few years ago, I taught a set theory course and I did some digging ...