Sunday, February 6, 2011

Angst Over the Ordinals

Ohhh, which of these three options is correct? Given my focus on philosophy of math it's mildly embarrassing not to have a fixed position on this, but I keep going back and forth...

1. Just say the hierarchy of sets goes "all the way up"

2. Say the hierarchy of sets goes "all the way up" in the sense that it contains ordinals corresponding to every distinct combinatorially possible way for some objects to be well ordered *except for the one that it, itself is an instance of*. (this would be appealing but i think it may be impossible to spell out in a consistent way)

3. Say that the hierarchy of sets goes up at least far enough to satisfy the axiom of infinity+ the rest of ZF, and leaves it vague what there is beyond the inacessables - much as our concept mountain leaves it vague how many really tiny mountains there are given that there is such and such a bit of lumpy terrain.

Five Reasons to be a Modal Carnapian

I currently believe mathematics is best understood in terms of combinatorial possibility plus Carnapian framework stipulations. One reason for thinking this is, of course, that understanding mathematical objects in this way lets you tell a nice story about access to abstract mathematical objects, like the one I tell in my dissertation! But here are 4 other reasons.

1. Thinking in terms of combinatoiral possibility lets you solve the bad company objection for neo-carnapianism about objects.

You can say: It is OK to stipulate that there are sets but not to make the stipulations for tonk, or for Boolos parities because...

One can safely extend one's language by introducing object stipulations S if and only if it would be combinatorially possible for the objects one's language currently acknowledges at each possible world to be supplimented by new objects in such a way as to satisfy S.

2. Thinking about things in terms of combinatorial possibility + carnapian framework stipulations explains why certain mathematical questions are substantive questions while others are not (substantive ones involve disagreement over combinatorial possibility as well as over which from among the many objects which it would be combinatorially possible to stipulate you actually do stipulate)

For example:

There is no substantive mathematical question about whether there are sets or categories or both, because everyone agrees that it would be combinatorially for there to be objects satisfy Carnapian framework stipulations phrased in terms of combinatorial possibility for the sets, and for the categories.

There is a substantive mathematical question about whether the Goldbach conjecture is true, because it is combinatorially impossible that the Fs and the Gs should satisfy the informal (non-first order logical!) framework stipulations for sets could yield different answers to Goldbach.

3. "Mathematical Hypothesis"-based alternatives like structuralism, fictionalism and plenetudinous platonism already need *some* powerful modal notion or a sense of possible and impossible which can take into account vocabulary that goes beyond the connectives of first order logic, if they want to capture intuitive claims about all questions in arithmetic having right answers.

Intuitively there are right answers to at least all questions about arithmetic. Each first order logical hypothesis about the numbers necessitates right answers to all questions about arithmetic. Therefore, any mathematical hypothesis that claims to cash out the truth conditions for our claim that phi in terms of the claim that if H then phi must crucially use non-first order vocabulary. Therefore if you want to make some hypothetical view of math work, you must either bite the bullet that some simple questions of arithmetic have no answer, or invoke a more mathematically powerful notion of possibilty/consequence

4. The notion of combinatorial possibility is very crisp and simple, indeed it maybe well the crispest and simplest notion that yields enough mathematical power to reconstruct intuitive verdics about truthvalues in arithmetic as per (3).

For example, if you accept Tarski's definition of logical truth in terms of facts about how it would be possible to reinterpret all properties and relations involved (where possible doesn't mean that a person could give a rule for how to do it, or somehow list the new extensions) then you pretty much already accept the powerful notion of how it would be in principle possible for an arbitrary n-place relation to apply to some objects which I have in mind when I talk about combinatorial possibility. So if you're not too much of a finitist/intuitionist to accept the very broad sense of in principle possible reassignment of extensions to predicates used in the Tarski definition, I think you should be OK with my notion of combinatorial possibility.

Secondly, combinatorial possibility faces none of the quandires that make people skeptical about the notion of metaphysical possibility e.g. it is possible for something to be both red all over and green all over, or for there to be zombies? We avoid these problem because facts about combinatorial possibility ignore all metaphysical facts about particular properties and relations involved. In some cases one might perhaps argue that some natural language sentences are vague with regard to what pattern of relationships between objects they assert. But once you specify that you are asking whether e.g. combiposs( Ex Redallover(x)&Greenallover(x)), it is perfectly clear that this is combinatorially possible, since it would be combinatorially possible to choose extensions for Redallover() and Greenallover() that make this true.

What is Combinatorial Possibility?

At the moment I think mathematics is best understood in terms of neo-carnapian/neo-logicist existence conditions for mathematical objects plus a kind of specifically mathematical modality (along the lines considered by Charles Parsons) which is looser than metaphysical possibility, and which I call "combinatorial possibility".

Here's a new way I thought of to explain what I mean by combinatorial possibility:

Combinatorial possibility is just like Tarski's notion of logical possibility, except a) we drop the assumption that you have to shanghai objects from the actual world to use in making a given claim true, allowing arbitrary choices of domain as well as arbitrary reassignments of extensions to properties and b) we allow more vocabulary to count as "logical vocabulary" in the sense that when reassigning extensions to predicates you can't change its meaning.

What more vocabulary?

In general anything like "finitely many" or "equinumerous" which functions like logical vocabulary in a sentence that its effect on the truthvalue of the whole sentence is systematically determined just by the domain and extension of relations in a set theoretic model is OK. Call these semi-logical expressions.

However I conjecture that we can cash out all of these all the semi-logical expressions, or at least all the ones that occur in modern mathematics and and its applications by merely using two things:
- an actuality opporator @F, so that you can say things about how it would be combinatorially possible for the things that are actually kittens, to be related by liking to the things that are actually baskets, e.g. there are enough different kittens and few enough baskets that it is combinatorially impossible that each kitten slept in a different basket last night.
- nesting, so that you can ask questions about the combinatorial possibility or impossibility of questions which are themselves described in terms of how it would be combinatorially possible to supplement them e.g. There are people at this party representing all combinatorially possible choices of whether to take sugar and/or milk in your tea = It would be combinatorially impossible to supplement the actual people with some additional person who differs from all actual people with respect to either whether they take coffee or whether they take tea = not combiposs(Ex person(x) & Ay [if @person(y) then ~x=y , and takessugar(x)iff~takessugar(y) and takesmilk(x) iff~takesmilk(y)) ] *

*yes, when you have multiple nesting of claims about combinatorial possibility, actuality opporators will need to be indexed to a particular instance "combiposs" so you will have combiposs_i and @F_i.