# From a constructive perspective, what are the ordinal numbers?

From a constructive and computational perspective, what are the ordinal numbers?

On the one hand, it seems you can represent ordinal numbers symbolically using something like Cantor Normal Form notation. Then the ordinals are discrete, symbolic entities, and things like "$$\leq$$" become decidable.

On the other hand, you can represent the ordinals recursively as monotonically nondecreasing sequences of smaller ordinals, and then define an undecidable $$\leq$$ relation: An ordinal $$(\alpha_i)$$ is greater than or equal to $$(\beta_i)$$ if for every element of $$\beta_j$$ there is an element $$\alpha_i$$ such that $$\alpha_i \geq \beta_j$$. I struggle to see how this could be useful though.

nLab also mentions the Plump Ordinals, but I'm not sure what they are.

For an application, let $$\mathrm{On}$$, denote the class of all ordinals. Let $$\alpha : \mathrm{On} \to \mathbb{R}$$ be a mapping from $$\mathrm{On}$$ to real numbers. For any finite set $$S = \{i_1, \ldots, i_n\} \subseteq \mathrm{On}$$ where $$i_1 < \cdots < i_n$$, define the quantity $${\mathcal K}_S(\alpha) = \sqrt{\alpha_{i_1}^{2^1} + \sqrt{\alpha_{i_2}^{2^2} + \cdots \sqrt{\alpha_{i_n}^{2^n}}} }$$ Say that a real $$\mathcal{K}(\alpha)$$ is the limit of $$S \mapsto \mathcal{K}_S(\alpha)$$ when for every $$\epsilon > 0$$ there exists a finite $$S \subseteq \mathrm{On}$$ such that for all finite $$T \subseteq \mathrm{On}$$, if $$S \subseteq T$$ then $$|\mathcal{K}_S(\alpha) - \mathcal{K}(\alpha)| < \epsilon$$.

Examples:

• if $$\alpha_n = 2$$ then $$\mathcal{K}(\alpha) = \sqrt{2^{2^1} + \sqrt{2^{2^2} + \sqrt{2^{2^3} + \dotsb}}} = 2\phi$$ where $$\phi$$ is the Golden ratio.

• given $$x \in \mathbb{R}$$, take $$\alpha_n = \begin{cases} 1 & \text{if n \neq \omega,}\\ x & \text{if n = \omega} \end{cases}$$ Then $$\mathcal{K}(\alpha)$$ is the limit if the sequence $$x, \sqrt{1+x^2}, \sqrt{1+\sqrt{1+x^4}}, \sqrt{1+\sqrt{1+\sqrt{1+x^8}}}, \ldots$$. This is a continued radical which is "transfinite".

• Somewhat related: mathoverflow.net/questions/325876/… Apr 26 '20 at 12:58
• In a different world this would not be a research-level question. Apr 26 '20 at 13:23
• @AndrejBauer, I'm sure it's clear to some, but not to me. What does your comment mean? That this should be common knowledge but isn't? Apr 26 '20 at 13:56
• What does Cantor normal form have to do with decidability of $\leq$? Apr 26 '20 at 13:58
• Does this answer your question? Ordinals in constructive mathematics ? (references) Apr 26 '20 at 14:19

Supplemental: If I understand your application correctly, then it has nothing to do with ordinal notations, ordinal representations, or intuitionistic ordinals. It is a case of the limit of a net from topology. Specifically, let $$D$$ be the set of all finite subsets of the index set $$I$$ of ordinals (from your application), ordered by $$\subseteq$$. Then $$D$$ is a directed set, and the number $$\mathcal{K}(\alpha)$$ is precisely the limit of the map $$f : D \to \mathbb{R}$$ defined by $$f(S) = \mathcal{K}_S(\alpha)$$.