Automating Mathematics

Working journal

Foundations: Objects, Types, Rules

Quoth Andrej Bauer:

Mathematicians like to imagine that their papers could in principle be formalized in set theory. This gives them a feeling of security, not unlike the one experienced by a devout man entering a venerable cathedral. It is a form of faith professed by logicians. Homotopy Type Theory is an alternative foundation to set theory.

In this series of posts, we explore the background behind, and the basics of, homotopy type theory. We begin by laying out the basic rules governing such foundations.

We regard almost everything in mathematics as an object - not just numbers or groups, but even theorems, proofs, axioms, constructions etc. This lets us consider functions acting on, and collections of, just about everything. Strictly speaking objects should be called terms, based on standard terminology of logic, but I shall use the word object as it better represents how I feel we should think about them.

Every object has a type, which is generally (but not always) unique. Types themselves are objects, so in particular have types. A type whose objects are themselves types is called a universe. Every set is a type, but not all types are sets.

Our foundations are governed by rules telling us the ways in which we can construct objects, which we will see as we go on. Further, we have rules letting us make two types of judgements:

  • that an object $x$ has a type $T$ (denoted $x : T$).
  • that two objects $x$ and $y$ are equal by definition.

Objects may be equal even if they are not so by definition. For instance, for a real number x, we have the equality

which it would be silly to say is true by definition. Rather, it is a proposition that it is true, and we say the two sides of these are propositionally equal (but not definitionally or judgementally equal). Similar considerations also apply to objects having specified types.

In addition to constructing objects by our rules, we can introduce objects and make some judgements related to them as axioms - this may of course introduce inconsistencies.

The Boolean type

Let us begin constructing objects. We shall do this in the language/formal proof system Agda, but I will try to be self-contained.

We start with a built in universe called Set - objects having type Set are sets. We shall use the data statement to construct the type of Booleans - which is a basic logical type used to represent whether a statement is true or false.

The Boolean type
data Bool : Set where
  true   : Bool
  false  : Bool

The above code gives the construction of three objects: a type called Bool and two objects true and false that have type Bool. This is a simple rule for constructing a type - give it a name and list objects in it.

Note that we do not have an explicit rule saying that the type Bool has no other objects, or even that true and false are different objects. Indeed we will not introduce any such rule, but rules for constructing objects will implicitly tell us that Bool has exactly two distinct objects, true and false.

A function

A central role in type theory is played by function types - one may even say that the principal virtue of type theory is treating functions with the respect they deserve (as any good programming language does), instead of trying to wrap them up as subsets of cartesian products that happen to satisfy some properties. We now define our first function, and our first function type.

Given types A and B, functions from A to B give a type

We construct the function $not$ from Booleans to Booleans, which is the logical negation.

Logical Not function
not : Bool -> Bool
not true = false
not false = true

We have defined the function not by giving the values on each Boolean constant, and these values are constants. This is the simplest form of pattern matching.

Note that being able to construct such a function means $true$ and $false$ are distinct objects as promised.

Currying functions

Let us now turn to functions of two variables. By a trick due to the logician Haskell Curry, we do not have to introduce a new type. Instead, observe that if we have a function $f(x,y)$ of two variables (of types $A$ and $B$, taking values of type $C$), then for fixed $x$ we get a function of $y$ only

$f(x , _ ) = y \mapsto f(x,y)$

so $f(x, _ )$ has the type of functions from $B$ to $C$. Now viewing $f(x, _)$ as a function of $x$, we get the curried form of $f$,

which has type

We define the logical and (in its curried form). A convenient Agda feature is that we can define functions so that their arguments can appear in the beginning, end, middle or any other combination, just by putting underscores as placeholders.

Logical And function
_&_ : Bool  Bool  Bool
true & true = true
false & _ = false
true & false = false

The definition is a small extension of pattern matching we used in defining not. If some argument does not affect the result, we can use an underscore to represent all cases.

Function application

So far we have defined functions by defining their values on each constant as a constant. In general we use variables to represent arguments, and the values are built from existing objects. Here is an example.

A function using function application
notnot : Bool -> Bool
notnot x = not (not x)

We used a variable for the argument of the function, another generalization of pattern matching. The right hand side was built from previously constructed objects using function application, a function $f$ from $A$ to $B$ can be applied to an object with type $A$ to get an object $f(a)$ with type $B$.

Lambda: Expressions giving functions

Functions can be specified by describing the image of each argument. These are given by λ-expressions, following the notation of Church’s λ-calculus. We define such a function, $verytrue$, below, by equating it with an anonymous function that forms the right hand side.

A function using lambda
verytrue : Bool  Bool
verytrue = λ x  x & x

We can define (curried) functions of more than one variable using λ-expressions without having to explicitly nest λs.

Logical “exclusive or” : nested lambdas
_xor_ : Bool  Bool  Bool
_xor_ = λ x y  (x & (not y)) || ((not x) & y)

We have now seen the most basic constructions of types and objects. We shall next turn to the more powerful constructions - inductive types and dependent types.