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Godel's Theorem

  1. Nov 17, 2005 #1
    Newby here.

    Can someone summarize Godel's Theorems for me?
    I'm not very knowledgeable on such things, but would like to be
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 17, 2005 #2


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    Welcome to the Forums SigurRos.

    In few words:

    When a logic system becomes complex enough that you can define basic arithmetic operations on it, it also becomes able to represent true statements that cannot be proven with the same system.
  4. Nov 17, 2005 #3


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    There is also another, similarly deep theorem by Goedel: for those systems (i.e., axiomatic systems that are at least as complex as to define arithmetic on them), you cannot prove their internal consistency unless you use a more elaborate system (the consistency of which, then, you cannot be certain about).
  5. Nov 17, 2005 #4


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    And then there's his completeness theorem: if a statement must be true, it can be proven.

    Incidentally, there's an upper bound to the complexity too -- you could, in principle, have a theory whose axioms consist of every possible statement (or its negation), and that would be complete, even if it can model the arithmetic of the natural numbers.
  6. Nov 17, 2005 #5


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    (disclaimer: I'm only speaking about first-order logic in what follows)

    Let me describe the difference between a theory and a model: you can't really understand Gödel's incompleteness theorems without them.

    I probably don't have to start quite as far back as I do, but I hope it will better set the mood. :smile:

    It all begins with an alphabet. Before you can speak about anything, you have to have selected an alphabet to use. Alphabets often contain letters, like "x", "y", "z", "a", "b", and "c". They often contain numerals1, like "0", "1", et cetera. They often contain other symbols, such as [itex]\forall,\wedge=\Rightarrow([/itex]. We usually assume that the alphabet contain infinitely many symbols.

    Then, we can get into a language. A language is essentially a specification of what combinations of symbols are meaningful. It also assigns "types" to the symbols. For example, in the language of undergraduate calculus, R denotes the type "real numbers", = is a binary relation on real numbers, t, x, y, and z are often specified to be real number variables, f, g, and h are function symbols from reals to reals, and a, b, and c are real number constants.

    Now that we have a language, we can speak about the sentences of that language. For example, a sentence in the language of Euclidean geometry might be:

    For any points P and Q: P = Q or there exists a line L such that P and Q lie on L.

    Well, actually we might say it in a much more stuffy way -- if we let p and q be variable symbols of type "point", l be a variable symbol of type "line", and I be a ternary relation that operates on a point, a point, and a line, then:

    [tex]\forall p: \forall q: p = q \vee \exists l: I p q l[/tex]

    is a sentence. Of course, we like to think of this sentence as being the one that says given any two distinct points, there exists a unique line containing those two points.

    Now, a theory is just a collection of statements from a language. Generally, we specify a theory by listing some statements which we call axioms, and then say that the theory is the collection of all statements that can be deduced from the axioms. (By the rules of logic that you select to use for your theory)

    (Please note that I've said absolutely nothing about truth, thus far)

    This is all very abstract -- we like things to be concrete! We would like the type of "points" to actually mean something, such as the collection of all of the things we would like to call a point in Euclidean geometry!

    So, we move on to the concept of a model. A model is simply a way to give "meaning" to the components of a language. For example, a model in the language of Euclidean geometry is an actual set of points, an actual set of lines, and the appropriate relation symbols on those sets.

    We say that we have a model of a theory if the statements of the theory are actually true in the model. For example, we can actually look into our two sets of lines and points, and look at our ternary relation "incidence", and decide if the statement [itex]\forall p: \forall q: p = q \vee \exists l: I p q l[/itex] is true in our model!

    In general, we can talk about modelling any set of statements. For example, we might merely want to model the axioms of a theory, rather than the whole theory itself.

    There are lots of questions you might ask about these concepts:

    (1) Is every statement in the language either provable or disprovable from the axioms? (this is one sense of completeness)

    The content of Gödel's first incompleteness theorem is that the answer must be "no" for most systems of interest. Any theory sufficiently capable of encoding the notion of the arithmetic of the natural numbers (and satisfying certain other conditions, such as having finitely many axioms) must be an incomplete theory.

    This is popularly, and misleadingly, characterized by saying "There must be a true statement that cannot be proven". The important thing to note is that provability is a property of the theory, but truth is a property of the model.

    When I say "P is a true statement about natural numbers, but cannot be proven from the axioms", I mean that P is true in a particular model of the natural numbers. There must also exist some other model of the natural numbers in which P is false.

    Now, this isn't true for all theories of interest. Paradoxically, we have Tarski's theorem that says the theory of the arithmetic of the real numbers is complete! (The resolution is that while the real numbers contains the natural numbers, there is nothing in the theory of real numbers that allows one to speak of the notion of being a natural number)

    (2) If a statement is provable from the axioms, must it be true in every model of those axioms? (soundness)

    Intuitively speaking, this asks "If I can prove it, must it be true?" The answer to this question is yes!

    In other words, if you have a model the axioms of a theory, it must actually be a model the entire theory.

    (3) If a statement is true in every model of the axioms, must it be provable from the axioms? (another meaning of completeness)

    Intuitively speaking, this asks "If it must be true, can I prove it?" The answer to this question is also yes! That is the content of Gödel's completeness theorem.

    (4) If collection of statements is consistent, must it have a model?

    The answer is, again, yes. In fact, via the compactness theorem (which essentially says that any contradiction only takes finitely much work to derive), this one lets us do some very weird, but cool things with formal logic. (e.g. nonstandard analysis)

    I'm less clear on the precise meaning of Gödel's second incompleteness theorem -- I know ahrkron has given the right intuitive explanation, but I don't know it's precise meaning.

    1: I did not say numbers! A numeral is just a symbol, devoid of any meaning.
  7. Nov 18, 2005 #6
    That is a very clear explanation of this Hurkyl. Thanks for writing it.

    It makes me wonder, what happens with second order logic?

    I have heard second order logic is when you are allowed to quantify over a predicate, that is, say things like (P)(Ex)(Px) "For all predicates P, there exists an x such that Px."

    Is that right?

    I know that Frege used second order logic, and his work fell victim to Russel's paradox. Does second order logic always have this problem?
  8. Nov 18, 2005 #7


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    More specifically, in second-order logic, you can quantify over all first-order propositions. If you mistakenly allow yourself to quantify over all propositions (including second-order ones), then you run into trouble.

    I'm not familiar with what Frege did.

    I have a sneaky suspicion that second-order logic is simply a first-order theory of first-order logic, but I don't really know for sure.
  9. Jul 2, 2007 #8
    How important is the Goedel theorem? I think many nonmathematicians believe its importance is immense, but is that really so?
  10. Jul 2, 2007 #9

    matt grime

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    I can't say that is important in any great sense. Perhaps occasionally things like the (generalized) continumm hypothesis crop up, but it doesn't actually matter - the result is still true for alpeh_1, say, but there may or may not be infinitely many cardinals between aleph_0 and aleph_1 depending on your model.
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