Conjuncted: Indiscernibles – Philosophical Constructibility. Thought of the Day 48.1

Simulated Reality

Conjuncted here.

“Thought is nothing other than the desire to finish with the exorbitant excess of the state” (Being and Event). Since Cantor’s theorem implies that this excess cannot be removed or reduced to the situation itself, the only way left is to take control of it. A basic, paradigmatic strategy for achieving this goal is to subject the excess to the power of language. Its essence has been expressed by Leibniz in the form of the principle of indiscernibles: there cannot exist two things whose difference cannot be marked by a describable property. In this manner, language assumes the role of a “law of being”, postulating identity, where it cannot find a difference. Meanwhile – according to Badiou – the generic truth is indiscernible: there is no property expressible in the language of set theory that characterizes elements of the generic set. Truth is beyond the power of knowledge, only the subject can support a procedure of fidelity by deciding what belongs to a truth. This key thesis is established using purely formal means, so it should be regarded as one of the peak moments of the mathematical method employed by Badiou.

Badiou composes the indiscernible out of as many as three different mathematical notions. First of all, he decides that it corresponds to the concept of the inconstructible. Later, however, he writes that “a set δ is discernible (…) if there exists (…) an explicit formula λ(x) (…) such that ‘belong to δ’ and ‘have the property expressed by λ(x)’ coincide”. Finally, at the outset of the argument designed to demonstrate the indiscernibility of truth he brings in yet another definition: “let us suppose the contrary: the discernibility of G. A formula thus exists λ(x, a1,…, an) with parameters a1…, an belonging to M[G] such that for an inhabitant of M[G] it defines the multiple G”. In short, discernibility is understood as:

  1. constructibility
  2. definability by a formula F(y) with one free variable and no parameters. In this approach, a set a is definable if there exists a formula F(y) such that b is an element of a if F(b) holds.
  3. definability by a formula F (y, z1 . . . , zn) with parameters. This time, a set a is definable if there exists a formula F(y, z1,…, zn) and sets a1,…, an such that after substituting z1 = a1,…, zn = an, an element b belongs to a iff F(b, a1,…, an) holds.

Even though in “Being and Event” Badiou does not explain the reasons for this variation, it clearly follows from his other writings (Alain Badiou Conditions) that he is convinced that these notions are equivalent. It should be emphasized then that this is not true: a set may be discernible in one sense, but indiscernible in another. First of all, the last definition has been included probably by mistake because it is trivial. Every set in M[G] is discernible in this sense because for every set a the formula F(y, x) defined as y belongs to x defines a after substituting x = a. Accepting this version of indiscernibility would lead to the conclusion that truth is always discernible, while Badiou claims that it is not so.

Is it not possible to choose the second option and identify discernibility with definability by a formula with no parameters? After all, this notion is most similar to the original idea of Leibniz intuitively, the formula F(y) expresses a property characterizing elements of the set defined by it. Unfortunately, this solution does not warrant indiscernibility of the generic set either. As a matter of fact, assuming that in ontology, that is, in set theory, discernibility corresponds to constructibility, Badiou is right that the generic set is necessarily indiscernible. However, constructibility is a highly technical notion, and its philosophical interpretation seems very problematic. Let us take a closer look at it.

The class of constructible sets – usually denoted by the letter L – forms a hierarchy indexed or numbered by ordinal numbers. The lowest level L0 is simply the empty set. Assuming that some level – let us denote it by Lα – has already been

constructed, the next level Lα+1 is constructed by choosing all subsets of L that can be defined by a formula (possibly with parameters) bounded to the lower level Lα.

Bounding a formula to Lα means that its parameters must belong to Lα and that its quantifiers are restricted to elements of Lα. For instance, the formula ‘there exists z such that z is in y’ simply says that y is not empty. After bounding it to Lα this formula takes the form ‘there exists z in Lα such that z is in y’, so it says that y is not empty, and some element from Lα witnesses it. Accordingly, the set defined by it consists of precisely those sets in Lα that contain an element from Lα.

After constructing an infinite sequence of levels, the level directly above them all is simply the set of all elements constructed so far. For example, the first infinite level Lω consists of all elements constructed on levels L0, L1, L2,….

As a result of applying this inductive definition, on each level of the hierarchy all the formulas are used, so that two distinct sets may be defined by the same formula. On the other hand, only bounded formulas take part in the construction. The definition of constructibility offers too little and too much at the same time. This technical notion resembles the Leibnizian discernibility only in so far as it refers to formulas. In set theory there are more notions of this type though.

To realize difficulties involved in attempts to philosophically interpret constructibility, one may consider a slight, purely technical, extension of it. Let us also accept sets that can be defined by a formula F (y, z1, . . . , zn) with constructible parameters, that is, parameters coming from L. Such a step does not lead further away from the common understanding of Leibniz’s principle than constructibility itself: if parameters coming from lower levels of the hierarchy are admissible when constructing a new set, why not admit others as well, especially since this condition has no philosophical justification?

Actually, one can accept parameters coming from an even more restricted class, e.g., the class of ordinal numbers. Then we will obtain the notion of definability from ordinal numbers. This minor modification of the concept of constructibility – a relaxation of the requirement that the procedure of construction has to be restricted to lower levels of the hierarchy – results in drastic consequences.


Impasse to the Measure of Being. Thought of the Day 47.0


The power set p(x) of x – the state of situation x or its metastructure (Alain Badiou – Being and Event) – is defined as the set of all subsets of x. Now, basic relations between sets can be expressed as the following relations between sets and their power sets. If for some x, every element of x is also a subset of x, then x is a subset of p(x), and x can be reduced to its power set. Conversely, if every subset of x is an element of x, then p(x) is a subset of x, and the power set p(x) can be reduced to x. Sets that satisfy the first condition are called transitive. For obvious reasons the empty set is transitive. However, the second relation never holds. The mathematician Georg Cantor proved that not only p(x) can never be a subset of x, but in some fundamental sense it is strictly larger than x. On the other hand, axioms of set theory do not determine the extent of this difference. Badiou says that it is an “excess of being”, an excess that at the same time is its impasse.

In order to explain the mathematical sense of this statement, recall the notion of cardinality, which clarifies and generalizes the common understanding of quantity. We say that two sets x and y have the same cardinality if there exists a function defining a one-to-one correspondence between elements of x and elements of y. For finite sets, this definition agrees with common intuitions: if a finite set y has more elements than a finite set x, then regardless of how elements of x are assigned to elements of y, something will be left over in y precisely because it is larger. In particular, if y contains x and some other elements, then y does not have the same cardinality as x. This seemingly trivial fact is not always true outside of the domain of finite sets. To give a simple example, the set of all natural numbers contains quadratic numbers, that is, numbers of the form n2, as well as some other numbers but the set of all natural numbers, and the set of quadratic numbers have the same cardinality. The correspondence witnessing this fact assigns to every number n a unique quadratic number, namely n2.

Counting finite sets has always been done via natural numbers 0, 1, 2, . . . In set theory, the concept of such a canonical measure can be extended to infinite sets, using the notion of cardinal numbers. Without getting into details of their definition, let us say that the series of cardinal numbers begins with natural numbers, which are directly followed by the number ω0, that is, the size of the set of all natural numbers , then by ω1, the first uncountable cardinal numbers, etc. The hierarchy of cardinal numbers has the property that every set x, finite or infinite, has cardinality (i.e. size) equal to exactly one cardinal number κ. We say then that κ is the cardinality of x.

The cardinality of the power set p(x) is 2n for every finite set x of cardinality n. However, something quite paradoxical happens when infinite sets are considered. Even though Cantor’s theorem does state that the cardinality of p(x) is always larger than x – similarly as in the case of finite sets – axioms of set theory never determine the exact cardinality of p(x). Moreover, one can formally prove that there exists no proof determining the cardinality of the power sets of any given infinite set. There is a general method of building models of set theory, discovered by the mathematician Paul Cohen, and called forcing, that yields models, where – depending on construction details – cardinalities of infinite power sets can take different values. Consequently, quantity – “a fetish of objectivity” as Badiou calls it – does not define a measure of being but it leads to its impasse instead. It reveals an undetermined gap, where an event can occur – “that-which-is-not being-qua-being”.

Irrationality. Note Quote.


To mathematics it is unique, that two absolutely contrary opinions do not logically exclude each other but exist simultaneously while there seems to be no chance to pick out a false one and to establish a remaining truth. This case is realised by the philosophy and mathematics of the infinite. While transfinite set theory is impossible without different degrees of infinity, constructivists and intuitionists deny this notion without running into inconsistencies as is admitted by some of the foremost set theorists:

… the attitude of the (neo-)intuitionists that there do not exist altogether non-equivalent infinite sets is consistent, though almost suicidal for mathematics. [p. 62]

It would not be astonishing if in different axiomatic systems different results were obtained with respect to peculiarities of those systems. But set theorists on one side and constructivists and intuitionists on the other are certainly believing to address the same entities when speaking of “rational numbers” or of “irrational numbers”. In spite of that, the former are convinced that there are infinitely many more irrational numbers than rational numbers while the latter deny that:

Hence the continua of Weyl, Lebesgue, Lusin, etc. are denumerable … [p. 255]

This situation yields bewildering results:

Feferman and Levy showed that one cannot prove that there is any non-denumerable set of real numbers which can be well ordered. … Moreover, they also showed that the statement that the set of all real numbers is the union of a denumerable set of denumerable sets cannot be refuted. [p. 62]

Nevertheless, the great majority of mathematicians refuse to accept the thesis that Cantor’s ideas were but a pathological fancy. Though the foundations of set theory are still somewhat shaky. Most surprising and by no means to be expected of a pupil of Fraenkel’s is that Robinson states:

Infinite totalities do not exist in any sense of the word (i.e. either really or ideally). More precisely, any mention, or purported mention, of infinite totalities is, literally, meaningless. Nevertheless, we should act as if infinite totalities really existed. [3]

Does there exist a correct and an incorrect position? And, if so, who is right, who is wrong?

Following the advice of Fraenkel, namely to judge about the value and necessity of the basic axioms, in particular of the axiom of choice, by considering its consequences, in order to settle this question. These consequences will turn out to entail what, in an euphemistic way, by set theorists usually is called a “paradoxical result”, in order to avoid the term self-contradiction.

Apart from the well-ordering theorem some statements of quite different character – in particular geometrical statements – have been proved by means of the axiom of choice, which because of their paradoxical character induced some mathematicians to reject the axiom. Presumably the earliest statement of this kind is Hausdorff’s discovery that half of the sphere’s surface is congruent to a third of it. … It may surprise scholars working in the field … that even after more than half a century of utilising the axiom of choice and well-ordering theorem, a number of first-rate mathematicians (especially French) have not essentially changed their distrustful attitude.

Transfinite set theory arises from Cantor’s observation that the set of all irrational numbers has infinitely many more members than the set of all rational numbers. While the latter has the same cardinality χ0 as the set N of all natural numbers n, the cardinality χ of the set of all irrational numbers is larger, χ = 2χ0. It is proven to be uncountable, i.e., any bijection with N can be excluded.

Math Conundrum in Thomas Pynchon


Her idea of banter
Likely isn’t Cantor
Nor is she apt to murmur low Axioms of Zermelo,
She’s been kissed by geniuses, Amateur Frobeniuses
One by one in swank array, Bright as any Poincaré…

and so on in that vein.

It was when I came upon the word “automorphic”…Earth making its automorphic way round the sun again and yet again…periodic functions, and their generalized form, automorphic functions as a prelude to a scholarly discussion of time travel:

Time no longer ‘passes,’ with a linear velocity, but ‘returns,’ with an angular one. All is ruled by the Automorphic Dispensation. We are returned to ourselves eternally, or, if you like, timelessly.

You find an awful lot of hyperbolas in Against the Day. For example: the hyperbolic geometry in connection with automorphic functions; the “Automorphic Dispensation” which seems to be a “function… by which, almost as a by-product, ordinary Euclidean space is transformed to Lobachevskian”; and that “perfect hyper-hyperboloid” that “only Miles” Blundell, the one character to have comprehended the meaning of space-time, “can see in its entirety.” There are (hyperbolic) wave equations (and a whole family of Vibes) and the “noted Quaternionist V. Ganesh Rao of Calcutta University” who by rotating himself in an imaginary direction performs something “like reincarnation on a budget, without the element of karma to worry about.”

Or as the NewYorker puts it,

The readers will encounter many references to, and, frequently, extended disquisitions on, such matters as Hamilton’s Quaternions, Gibbsian vector analysis, Riemann spheres, Prandtl’s discovery of the boundary layer, the Hilbert Pólya Conjecture, the Minkowskian space-time track, and Zermelo’s Axiom of Choice. Inserting this stuff into novelistic situations produces passages like this one, describing a meeting of an outfit known as the Transnoctial Discussion Group.

“Time moves on but one axis,” advised Dr. Blope, “past to future—the only turnings possible being turns of a hundred and eighty degrees. In the Quaternions, a ninety-degree direction would correspond to an additional axiswhose unit is √-1. A turn through any other angle would require for its unit a complex number.”

“Yet mappings in which a linear axis becomes curvilinear—functions of a complex variable such as w=ez, where a straight line in the z-plane maps to a circle in the w-plane,” said Dr. Rao, “do suggest the possibility of linear time becoming circular, and so achieving eternal return as simply, or should I say complexly, as that.”. . . As if the hour itself in growing later had exposed some obscure fatality, the discussion moved to the subject of the luminiferous Æther, as to which exchanges of opinion—relying, like Quaternions, largely on faith—often failed to avoid a certain vehemence……..

Still coming to grips with this ?????????


Cantorian Diagonal Slash

What is Cantor’s diagonal slash? This is often considered to be an absurd argument from physics point of view. Why is that so? The argument says that “infinity of reals is uncountable, and infinity of integers is countable”, thus giving us two different quantifiable infinities.


What happens if we apply Cantor’s diagonal slash to the integers? How can this be done? Think of the infinite binary tree, which starts at ground level as the trunk and splits in two (bifurcates) as we ascend; if we take the left branch then we assign 0 to the first binary digit, if the right branch then 1. At the next level we do the same….0 if we go left, 1 if we go right…. and we ascend the binary tree all the way to infinity. In this way every possible infinite sequence of binary digits is represented somehow or other (mapped out) by a path up the tree; and every path up the tree corresponds to a unique infinite sequence of binary digits….“the number of routes up the tree is equal to 2n (where n is the number of levels), and the number of nodes (branches) in the tree is equal to (2n)-1.”

Now we can arrange all of these paths in an infinite x infinite binary matrix, of form similar to the infinite x infinite matrix of real numbers that Cantor used for his diagonal slash. What happens if we perform Cantor’s diagonal slash on this infinite binary matrix? According to Cantor, we produce a new infinite binary sequence which is NOT contained within the original matrix (nor is it contained on the infinite binary tree). But how can this be? The matrix contains every possible route up the binary tree, there IS no other route not contained in the matrix. What does this show? That Cantor’s diagonal slash argument is meaningless when applied to infinite matrices.