At Graham Priest's talk for the CUNY set theory seminar yesterday, an issue arose concerning the possibility (or impossibility) of a stronger-than usual form of the arithmetic fixed-point lemma often used to prove the Gödel incompleteness theorem.

The fixed-point lemma, treated in previous MO questions, is commonly described as asserting that for any formula $\varphi(x)$ in the language of arithmetic, with a free variable $x$, there is a sentence $\psi$ such that $PA\vdash\psi\leftrightarrow\varphi({\ulcorner}\psi{\urcorner})$, where ${\ulcorner}\psi{\urcorner}$ denotes the Gödel code of $\psi$. Stronger versions of the fixed-point lemma weaken PA to the theory of Robinson's Q or make the conclusion for more complex webs of fixed points, and these strengthenings are well-known. The fixed-point lemma leads easily to the first incompleteness theorem, since with it one can produce a sentence $\psi$ asserting its own unprovability, and such a statement cannot be provable (or else we would prove something false) and hence is both true and unprovable.

The stronger-than-usual form of the fixed-point lemma desired in the context of one of the speaker's arguments was to find a sentence $\psi$ that was not only provably equivalent to $\varphi({\ulcorner}\psi{\urcorner})$, but was syntactically identical to this assertion. That is, what was needed was what we might call a strong fixed-point, a sentence $\psi$ syntactically of the form $\varphi({\ulcorner}\psi{\urcorner})$.

This appears to be impossible for any of the standard methods of Gödel coding, since for each of these the code ${\ulcorner}\psi{\urcorner}$, as a number, is much larger than the length of $\psi$ as a formula. For example, the code of a sequence of length $k$ is typically much larger than $k$. For such coding, if we understand $\varphi(n)$ to be $\varphi(1+\cdots+1)$, where the substituted term is $n$ many $1$s added, it could never be that $\psi$ is literally the same as $\varphi({\ulcorner}\psi{\urcorner})$, since the latter assertion has length strictly longer than ${\ulcorner}\psi{\urcorner}$, and this is larger than the length of $\psi$. Carl Mummert made a similar point in the latter part of his answer to the MO question mentioned above.

My question is: Is there some method of Gödel coding which would support the strong fixed-point lemma?

And if not, how would one prove such a thing?

Graham suggested that in Gödel's original work, the version of the Gödel sentence produced had the strong fixed-point property, of being literally the same as the assertion that this sentence was not provable.

It occurred to me that if one makes the move beyond what is now considered the usual language of arithmetic $\{+,\cdot,0,1,\lt\}$, for example by adding the function symbols for primitive recursive functions, then one can achieve something very like a strong fixed point. (And perhaps this is close to what Gödel did?)

Theorem. For any formula $\varphi(x)$ with one free variable, there is a closed term $t$ in the language of arithmetic augmented by primitive recursive functions, whose value is precisely ${\ulcorner}\varphi(t){\urcorner}$. Thus, $\varphi(t)$ is a strong fixed point, in the sense that it asserts that $\varphi$ holds of a term whose value is its own Gödel code.

Proof. Let $\text{Sub}(x,y)$ be the primitive recursive function such that $\text{Sub}({\ulcorner}\alpha(x){\urcorner},k)={\ulcorner}\alpha(k){\urcorner}$, substituting $k$ as a term $1+\cdots+1$ in each free occurence of $x$ in $\alpha(x)$. Let $n={\ulcorner}\varphi(\text{Sub}(x,x)){\urcorner}$ and let $t=\text{Sub}(n,n)$, as a syntactic term, using $1+\cdots+1$ to represent $n$. The actual value of the term $t$ can be obtained by evaluating $\text{Sub}(n,n)$, which in light of the definition of $n$, is precisely ${\ulcorner}\varphi(\text{Sub}(n,n)){\urcorner}$, and this is the same as ${\ulcorner}\varphi(t){\urcorner}$, as desired. QED

This lemma essentially provides strong fixed points in the expanded language; but one difference is that we don't have $\psi=\varphi({\ulcorner}\psi{\urcorner})$, where the number is substituted as a term of the form $1+\cdots+1$ of the right length, but rather we have $\psi=\varphi(t)$, where $t$ is a term whose actual value is ${\ulcorner}\psi{\urcorner}$.

Can one prove an analogue of this theorem using terms in the ordinary language of arithmetic $\{+,\cdot,0,1,\lt\}$?

  • $\begingroup$ Your first link (to Graham Priest's talk) is not working (for me). $\endgroup$ – Quinn Culver Dec 11 '11 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ Quinn, sorry, the server seems to be momentarily down. The link is correct, so try again later. Meanwhile, I'll look into it. $\endgroup$ – Joel David Hamkins Dec 11 '11 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ Am I right in noting that the symbol < is useless since no term can contain it? $\endgroup$ – Russell O'Connor Dec 21 '11 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ Russell, yes, a term contains no relation symbol. Terms in the ordinary language of arithmetic are essentially just polynomial expressions. $\endgroup$ – Joel David Hamkins Dec 21 '11 at 22:36

The existence of a Gödel-numbering that supports a strong fixed point was claimed by Kripke in his famous essay Outline of a Theory of Truth, Journal of Philosophy vol. 72 pp.690–716 (the only online copy of the paper I could locate is on JSTOR, so those of you with an academic connection can easily access it).

On p.693, second paragraph, Kripke makes it clear that he has a proof of the existence of strong fixed points, but he writes "The argument must be omitted from this outline".

Thankfully, Albert Visser has provided a detailed exposition of the existence of strong fixed points (in the usual language of arithmetic) in his majestic 2002 paper Semantics and the Liar Paradox, Handbook of Philosophical Logic, vol. 10 pp.159-245.

An online copy of Visser's paper is available on Googlebooks; see pp.168-170 for the details of nonstandard Gödel-numbering that supports a strong fixed point.

Here is the link to Visser's paper on Googlebooks:



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