Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A bad idea in the foundations of mathematics

The relativity of FOL-validity is the fact that whether a sentence ϕ of First Order Logic is valid (equivalently, provable from no axioms beyond any axioms of FOL itself) sometimes depends on the axioms of set theory, once we encode validity arithmetically as per Goedel.

More concretely, if Zermelo-Fraenkel-Choice (ZFC) set theory is consistent, then there is an FOL formula ϕ that is FOL-provable according to some but not other models of ZFC. So which model of ZFC should real provability be relativized to?

Here is a putative solution that occurred to me today:

  • Say that ϕ is really provable if and only if there is a model M of ZFC such that according to M, ϕ has a proof.

If this solution works, then the relativity of proof is quite innocent: it doesn’t matter in which model of ZFC our proofs live, because proofs in any ZFC model do the job for us.

It follows from incompleteness (cf. the link above) that real provability is strictly weaker than provability, assuming ZFC is true and consistent. Therefore, some really provable ϕ will fail to be valid, and hence there will be models of the falsity of ϕ. The idea that one can really prove a ϕ such that there is a model of the falsity of ϕ seems to me to show that my proposed notion of “really provable” is really confused.

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