[FOM] f.o.m. documentary 2
Harvey Friedman
friedman at math.ohio-state.edu
Sun Feb 12 23:49:06 EST 2012
Continuing the discussion surrounding my plans for the f.o.m.
documentary
CAN EVERY MATHEMATICAL QUESTION BE ANSWERED?
THE DECLINE OF FOUNDATIONS OF MATHEMATICS.
The spectacular Golden Age of f.o.m. in the 1930s was followed by a
period of more than 2 decades of much more specialized f.o.m.
activity, where the results were no longer of general intellectual
interest - with some arguable exceptions.
Incompleteness was the principal topic that drove the general
intellectual interest in the 1930s, with associated issues surrounding
the formation of and justification of the "rule book" for mathematics.
This rule book, ZFC, is still in force today.
But Incompleteness became relatively dormant for about 25 years, until
the unfinished work on incompleteness (from ZFC) and the continuum
hypothesis left by Goedel was completed by Cohen in the early 1960s.
The Cohen development did bring f.o.m. back up to a substantial level
of general intellectual interest - at least temporarily. However, the
general intellectual interest steadily died down, for interesting
reasons, which we now elucidate. These reasons are interesting and
important, and we learn a lot by analyzing them - not ignoring them.
Mathematicians became aware of differences between the continuum
hypothesis - and later examples of incompleteness from ZFC - versus
what they work on and value in mathematics. Although generally not
able to articulate the differences, it became apparent to the
mathematicians that the differences were major and fundamental.
Soon after the Cohen development, Conventional Wisdom set in: that
mathematicians have a natural protection from Incompleteness, in that
simple, clear, transparent, well motivated, and concrete mathematical
questions are difficult to answer only for substantive mathematical
reasons - not because the ZFC rule book is inadequate.
For many decades, examples of simple, clear, transparent, well
motivated, and concrete mathematical questions independent of ZFC were
nowhere in sight, and the search for such was not regarded as a
credible research program.
Unable to capitalize properly on its great successes in
Incompleteness, f.o.m. lost its special status among mathematical
subjects as being of singular general intellectual interest. This
should not be taken too negatively. After all, very little is
"singular".
Of course, good, very good, and better than very good, things were
still being done in f.o.m. - just as good, very good, and better than
very good, things were being done in most areas of mathematics.
THE EMERGENCE OF MATHEMATICAL LOGIC IN MATHEMATICS.
Meanwhile, in the 1960s, US mathematics departments were expanding
rapidly, and the significant number of gifted mathematicians attracted
by the Goedel and Cohen results - and other results outside set theory
- were able to secure jobs in mathematics departments under the banner
of "mathematical logic". The name "mathematical logic" is highly
preferable to "foundations of mathematics" in the mathematics
community, as the former sounds more mathematical, whereas the latter
sounds more philosophical. Skepticism about philosophy within the
mathematics community has long been, and continues to be, very high.
Soon after people schooled in f.o.m. migrated to mathematics
departments, the scholars not only adopted the category "mathematical
logic", but also abandoned f.o.m. issues as the motivator of their
research programs.
The phrase "mathematical logic" has been around long before the 1960s,
and a good working definition of mathematical logic, sensitive to
current conditions, is: the mathematical spinoffs of f.o.m.
In the great events of f.o.m. up through the Golden Age in the 1930s,
certain fundamental mathematical structures were identified and used.
These fundamental mathematical structures formed the basis of what is
now known as "mathematical logic". The information needed to be
established about these fundamental mathematical structures for the
primary f.o.m. purposes was rather limited.
Accordingly, it is quite natural to inquire much more deeply into the
nature of these fundamental mathematical structures, far beyond the
classic f.o.m. purposes.
So after the Golden Age of f.o.m. in the 1930s, mathematical logic
developed in the mathematics departments generally independent of
f.o.m. issues of general intellectual interest.
The mathematical logicians were housed in mathematics departments, and
pursued detailed investigations of structures arising from f.o.m. -
but not grand issues in f.o.m. itself. They presented themselves as
working in a perfectly legitimate area of mathematics, like any other
area of mathematics, with its own problems, its own concerns, and its
own techniques. Since the mathematicians were not applying any
standard of general intellectual interest to their own work,
mathematical logicians did not feel that any standard of general
intellectual interest should be applied to their work.
However, there was a vulnerability. The core mathematical areas very
seriously interact with each other. They use theorems from each other,
definitions from each other, and combined viewpoints. Mathematicians
attach special interest to such interactions, especially when they are
unexpected, and lead to yet more such interactions.
Mathematical logic had few such interactions, at least compared to
interactions between other areas of mathematics. The status of
mathematical logic within mathematics began to suffer accordingly,
particularly as long term pressure on resources in pure mathematics
set in (partly because of dwindling student demand, and partly because
of the shift of resources to applied mathematics).
OPTIONS FOR MATHEMATICAL LOGIC.
Mathematical logicians saw four options in light of this situation.
1. Ignore this (the vulnerabilities created by lack of interaction
with core areas of mathematics) and continue work as usual - detailed
investigations of structures arising from grand issue f.o.m.
2. Focus on computer science issues, and join the computer science
community.
3. Focus on developing interactions between mathematical logic and
areas of core mathematics.
4. Focus on grand issue f.o.m. of general intellectual interest.
The majority of mathematical logicians chose 1, relying on the
momentum generated by the original decisions from the 1960s to accept
mathematical logic as a legitimate branch of mathematics.
A significant number of mathematical logicians chose 2, relying on the
emergence of computer science departments, resulting in very rapid
increased demand. This made sense for a number of mathematical
logicians due to the common heritage surrounding Turing and
theoretical computer science. A number of prominent mathematical
logicians benefitted greatly from 2.
A significant number of mathematical logicians focused on extending
interactions between mathematical logic and areas of core mathematics;
i.e., 3.
An insignificant number of mathematical logicians focused on 4.
In focusing on deeper interactions between mathematical logic and
areas of core mathematics, the mathematical logicians discovered some
notions that are at least related to grand issue f.o.m. Perhaps most
notable among these come under the general category of tameness.
Tameness is a semiformal notion that refers to the well behavedness of
certain fundamental structures. Mathematicians sense this well
behavedness, but generally don't have the tools to state it in the
most elegant and powerful way. Mathematical logicians often do, using
one of the great structures emanating from f.o.m. - the first order
predicate calculus with equality.
The mathematical logicians concerned with tameness issues generally
focus on interactions with mathematics and not on grand issue f.o.m.
Thus tameness is one of those notions important for f.o.m. that are
not being further developed specifically for f.o.m.
REASONS FOR THE SHIFT FROM F.O.M. TO MATHEMATICAL LOGIC.
A combination of factors are behind the move away from grand issue
f.o.m. to mathematical logic, and the focus on 3 above. Some of these
factors are obvious.
Being housed in mathematics departments, there are compelling reasons
to adopt many of the attitudes of mathematicians. The long term high
level of skepticism among mathematicians of philosophy is one relevant
attitude. Another relevant attitude is that mathematicians had long
since abandoned any standard of general intellectual interest as a
substantial component in the formation of research programs or in the
evaluation of research. This much is obvious.
But the less obvious reason for the shift from f.o.m. to mathematical
logic is that it is *extremely difficult* to make substantial progress
on grand issue f.o.m.
The grand issues in f.o.m. often are not represented by previously
stated purely mathematical questions. In fact, at this point in the
development of f.o.m., grand issues in f.o.m. are not represented by
previously stated purely mathematical questions - no exception comes
to mind.
Even from the early days of f.o.m., the invention of the predicate
calculus and the completeness theorem deal directly with grand issues,
and didn't correspond to previously stated purely mathematical
questions. The first and second incompleteness theorems did - perhaps
even here there is an issue, historically, since the distinction
between first and second order systems was so unclear at the time.
The work on the continuum hypothesis answered the grand issue "is
there a mathematical problem, arising in the natural course of doing
mathematics, or even a mathematical problem from the literature, that
cannot be settled with the usual axioms and rules of mathematics?".
This formulation of the grand issue of great general intellectual
interest does not correspond to a previously stated purely
mathematical question. However, depending on how fundamental one
regards the continuum hypothesis itself, the work on the continuum
hypothesis did answer a grand issue corresponding to a previously
stated purely mathematical question - can the continuum hypothesis be
settled within ZFC? But obviously, this formulation is of considerably
less general intellectual interest than the previous formulation.
More recently, the principal embodiments of tameness (e.g., o-
minimality) aren't answers to previously stated purely mathematical
questions. The invention of Reverse Mathematics (and Strict Reverse
Mathematics) aren't answers to previously stated purely mathematical
questions.
So the enormous challenge in grand issue f.o.m. today is to
i. recognize what the grand issues are, or should be.
ii. recognize which ones are of the highest general intellectual
interest.
iii. create appropriate formal structures that directly bear on the
grand issues.
iv. create appropriate purely mathematical questions associated with
the grand issues.
v. identify standards for evaluating success in attacking grand issues.
There is essentially no training in Universities for work of this
kind, and little recognition that this is even a legitimate mode of
mathematical research.
This kind of research, long since largely alien to mathematics, is now
largely alien to mathematical logic.
IDEOLOGY AWAY FROM F.O.M.
Recall these options
1. Ignore this (the vulnerabilities created by lack of interaction
with core areas of mathematics) and continue work as usual - detailed
investigations of structures arising from grand issue f.o.m.
2. Focus on computer science issues, and join the computer science
community.
3. Focus on developing interactions between mathematical logic and
areas of core mathematics.
4. Focus on grand issue f.o.m. of general intellectual interest.
As some successes with 3 built up, a certain ideology took hold,
popular among many, to varying degrees, of those involved in 3.
The ideology states that the point of mathematical logic is to provide
tools for core areas of mathematics.
There are various embellishments of this ideology, which also have
considerable adherents. For example,
a. Research in mathematical logic should be evaluated in terms of its
relevance to core mathematics.
b. Research in mathematical logic should be evaluated in terms of its
usefulness to core mathematicians.
Whenever I have heard these views, it has always been accompanied by a
rather uncritical acceptance of the intrinsic importance of
mathematics independently of its relevance or usefulness to anything
else.
One also encounters views of those engaged in 3, of this kind:
c. Foundations of mathematics is an outdated research paradigm that
has no relevance to modern mathematics, and outdated relevance even to
modern mathematical logic.
d. Foundations of mathematics never had a special place in the history
of mathematics, and its historical impact on mathematics is greatly
overblown.
e. Foundations of mathematics never had a special place in the history
of mathematical thought, and its historical impact on mathematical
thought is greatly overblown.
f. Foundations of mathematics never had a special place in the history
of ideas, and its historical impact is greatly overblown.
I don't have space to address the various issues raised by such views
a-f in this posting.
But I want now to emphasize that a major ingredient in the emergence
of such views has been the extreme difficulty involved in making major
progress on grand issue f.o.m.
Thus, in addition to practical considerations connected with being
housed in mathematics departments addressed above, mathematical
logicians didn't generally see the option of emphasizing grand issue
f.o.m. as viable.
In fact, given the great difficulties in dealing with grand issue
f.o.m., using grand issue f.o.m. as the major research paradigm was
viewed by many as risky. The danger is that it becomes difficult to
promote the importance of what people are actually achieving.
Consequently, mathematical logicians developed peer groups, without
connections to grand issue f.o.m. Each of the four main peer groups
have its roots in grand issue f.o.m. They are, alphabetically, model
theory, proof theory, recursion theory, and set theory.
Model theory from Frege's predicate calculus, Goedel's completeness
theorem, and Tarski's axiomatization of real closed fields and geometry.
Proof theory from Hilbert's program, Goedel's incompleteness theorems,
and Gentzen's completeness and consistency theorems.
Recursion theory from Church's Thesis, Turing's model of computation,
and its extension to oracle computation.
Set theory from ZFC, and the Goedel/Cohen work on the continuum
hypothesis.
NEW GOLDEN AGE OF F.O.M.?
Despite relatively quiet period for grand issue f.o.m. lasting several
decades, I now believe that we are entering a new Golden Age for
f.o.m. However, the full realization of this will require
i. a general realization that it is now feasible to seriously address
grand issue f.o.m. yet again - not just in the 1930s and briefly in
the 1960s.
ii. a general understanding of the great advantages in working much
closer to grand issues of general intellectual interest than has
become the norm in mathematical logic - or more widely, in mathematics.
iii. a general rejection of the ideology seeking to marginalize f.o.m.
as discussed above.
Here are some developments, which I have been involved with, to
varying degrees, that suggest a Golden Age. Many of them have
developed gradually. I think that all of them have reached a critical
level where great optimism is warranted.
1. Concrete Mathematical Incompleteness. After the Godel/Cohen work on
the independence of the continuum hypothesis from ZFC, the grand issue
was the extent of Incompleteness. It soon became clear that
Incompleteness pervaded virtually all of set theoretic mathematics.
However set theoretic mathematics had been largely marginalized as of
a wholly different character than core mathematical interests. After
many decades, Concrete Mathematical Incompleteness has now reached a
sufficiently ripe stage of development.
2. Reverse Mathematics. The mapping out of the logical structure of
mathematics from the RM point of view is well under way, and will
become yet more systematic and thorough. Here, the obvious grand issue
not addressed by RM is whether the theory can be reworked without a
base theory, in some appropriate sense. I.e, so that the logical
strength comes solely out of the mathematics itself. This leads to
2. Strict Reverse Mathematics. This is Reverse Mathematics without a
base theory. My initial paper on this is in LC06.
3. Set theory as an extrapolation of finite set theory. I have
lectured on this, and posted on this on the FOM.
4. Concept Calculus. I have lectured on this, and there are papers on
my website. My initial paper on this is has appeared in Infinity, New
Research Frontiers, Cambridge U. Press.
5. Tameness of mathematical structures. The most familiar well
developed part of this is o-minimality. But the subject is far
broader, and it will become more systematic and thorough. Also, when
structures appear to be wild in various standard senses, it will be
seen how they are still tame in various important ways.
These and other topics have a good chance of leading to grand issue
f.o.m. developments of clear general intellectual interest.
The f.o.m. documentary project CAN EVERY MATHEMATICAL QUESTION BE
ANSWERED? starts with that grand issue of general intellectual
interest, and flows naturally into, at least, 1-5.
The intention is that the documentary series become the place of
record for a clear and creative presentation of state of the art
f.o.m. for at least professional - and aspiring professional -
intellectuals. How deeply it penetrates into the general literate (and
illiterate!) culture remains to be seen. The science videos I think
have penetrated to a reasonable extent into (at least) the general
literate culture. I have the same hopes for this f.o.m. documentary
series.
Harvey Friedman
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