A survey of set-theoretic geology, Notre Dame Logic Seminar, January 2023

This will be a talk 31 January 2-3 for the Notre Dame Logic Seminar.

Abstract. I shall give a general introduction and account of the main elements of set-theoretic geology, the motivating questions, the central definitions, and the main results, including newer advances. We’ll discuss ground models, the ground axiom, the mantle, the ground-model definability theorem, Usuba’s results on downward directedness and more. 

Paradox, Infinity, & The Foundations of Mathematics, interview with Robinson Erhardt, January 2023

This was an interview with Robinson Erhardt on Robinson’s Podcast, part of his series of interviews with various philosophers, including many philosophers of mathematics and more.

We had a wonderfully wide-ranging discussion about the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of set theory, pluralism, and many other topics. The main focus was the topic of infinity, following selections from my new book, The Book of Infinity, currently being serialized on my substack, joeldavidhamkins.substack.com, with discussion of Zeno’s paradox, the Chocolatier’s Game, Hilbert’s Grand Hotel and more.

Robinson compiled the following outline with links to special parts of the interview:

  • 00:00 Introduction
  • 2:52 Is Joel a Mathematician or a Philosopher?
  • 6:13 The Philosophical Influence of Hugh Woodin
  • 10:29 The Intersection of Set Theory and Philosophy of Math
  • 16:29 Serializing the Book of the Infinite
  • 20:05 Zeno of Elea, Continuity, and Geometric Series
  • 39:39 Infinite Games and the Chocolatier
  • 53:35 Hilbert’s Hotel
  • 1:10:26 Cantor’s Theorem
  • 1:31:37 The Continuum Hypothesis
  • 1:43:02 The Set-Theoretic Multiverse
  • 2:00:25 Berry’s Paradox and Large Numbers
  • 2:16:15 Skolem’s Paradox and Indescribable Numbers
  • 2:28:41 Pascal’s Wager and Reasoning Around Remote Events
  • 2:49:35 MathOverflow
  • 3:04:40 Joel’s Impeccable Fashion Sense

Read the book here: joeldavidhamkins.substack.com.

Strategic thinking in infinite games, CosmoCaixa Science Museum, Barcelona, March 2023

I am deeply honored to be invited by la Caixa Foundation to give a talk in “The Greats of Science” talk series, to be held 16 March 2023 at the CosmoCaixa Science Museum in Barcelona. This talk series aspires to host “prestigious figures who have contributed towards admirable milestones, studies or discoveries,” who will bring the science to a general audience, aiming to “give viewers the chance to explore the most relevant parts of contemporary sicence through the top scientists of the moment.” Previous speakers include Jane Goodall and nearly a dozen Nobel Prize winners since 2018.

I hope to rise to those high expectations!

My topic will be: Strategic thinking in infinite games.

Have you time for an infinite game? Many familiar finite games admit natural infinitary analogues, infinite games that may captivate and challenge us with intriguing patterns and sublime complexity. Shall we have a game of infinite chess? Or how about infinite draughts, infinite Hex, infinite Wordle, or infinite Sudoku? In the Chocolatier’s game, the Chocolatier serves up an infinite stream of delicious morsels, while the Glutton aims to eat every one. These games and others illustrate the often subtle strategic aspects of infinite games, and sometimes their downright logical peculiarity. Does every infinite game admit of a winning strategy? Must optimal play be in principle computable? Let us discover the fascinating nature of infinitary strategic thinking.

The theory builds upon the classical finitary result of Zermelo (1913), the fundamental theorem of finite games, which shows that in every finite two-player game of perfect information, one of the players must have a winning strategy or both players have draw-or-better strategies. This result extends to certain infinitary games by means of the ordinal game-value analysis, which assigns transfinite ordinal values $\alpha$ to positions in a game, generalizing the familiar mate-in-$n$ idea of chess to the infinite. Current work realizes high transfinite game values in infinite chess, infinite draughts (checkers), infinite Go, and many other infinite games. The highest-known game value arising in infinite chess is the infinite ordinal $\omega^4$, and every countable ordinal arises in infinite draughts, the optimal result. Games exhibiting high transfinite ordinal game values have a surreal absurd character of play. The winning player will definitely win in finitely many moves, but the doomed losing player controls the process with absurdly long deeply nested patterns of forcing moves that must be answered, as though counting down from the infinite game value—when 0 is reached, the game is over.

Pointwise definable and Leibnizian extensions of models of arithmetic and set theory, MOPA seminar CUNY, November 2022

 This will be an online talk for the MOPA Seminar at CUNY on 22 November 2022 1pm. Contact organizers for Zoom access.

Abstract. I shall introduce a flexible new method showing that every countable model of PA admits a pointwise definable end-extension, one in which every individual is definable without parameters. And similarly for models of set theory, in which one may also achieve the Barwise extension result—every countable model of ZF admits a pointwise definable end-extension to a model of ZFC+V=L, or indeed any theory arising in a suitable inner model. A generalization of the method shows that every model of arithmetic of size at most continuum admits a Leibnizian extension, and similarly in set theory. 

Pointwise definable and Leibnizian models of arithmetic and set theory, realized in end extensions of a given model, Notre Dame Logic Seminar, October 2022

This will be a talk for the Notre Dame logic seminar, 11 October 2022, 2pm in Hales-Healey Hall.

Abstract.  I shall present very new results on pointwise definable and Leibnizian end-extensions of models of arithmetic and set theory. Using the universal algorithm, I shall present a new flexible method showing that every countable model of PA admits a pointwise definable $\Sigma_n$-elementary end-extension. Also, any model of PA of size at most continuum admits an extension that is Leibnizian, meaning that any two distinct points are separated by some expressible property. Similar results hold in set theory, where one can also achieve V=L in the extension, or indeed any suitable theory holding in an inner model of the original model.

The math tea argument—must there be numbers we cannot describe or define? Pavia Logic Seminar


This will be a talk for the Philosophy Seminar at the IUSS, Scuola Universitaria Superiore Pavia, 28 September 2022.

(Note: This seminar will be held the day before the related conference Philosophy of Mathematics: Foundations, Definitions and Axioms, Italian Network for the Philosophy of Mathematics, 29 September to 1 October 2022. I shall be speaking at that conference on the topic, Fregean abstraction in set theory, a deflationary account.)

Abstract. According to the math tea argument, perhaps heard at a good afternoon tea, there must be some real numbers that we can neither describe nor define, since there are uncountably many real numbers, but only countably many definitions. Is it correct? In this talk, I shall discuss the phenomenon of pointwise definable structures in mathematics, structures in which every object has a property that only it exhibits. A mathematical structure is Leibnizian, in contrast, if any pair of distinct objects in it exhibit different properties. Is there a Leibnizian structure with no definable elements? We shall discuss many interesting elementary examples, eventually working up to the proof that every countable model of set theory has a pointwise definable extension, in which every mathematical object is definable.

Workshop on the Set-theoretic Multiverse, Konstanz, September 2022

Masterclass of “The set-theoretic multiverse” ten years after

Focused on mathematical and philosophical aspects of the set-theoretic multiverse and the pluralist debate in the philosophy of set theory, this workshop will have a master class on potentialism, a series of several speakers, and a panel discussion. To be held 21-22 September 2022 at the University of Konstanz, Germany. (Contact organizers for Zoom access.)

I shall make several contributions to the meeting.

Master class tutorial on potentialism

I shall give a master class tutorial on potentialism, an introduction to the general theory of potentialism that has been emerging in recent work, often developed as a part of research on set-theoretic pluralism, but just as often branching out to a broader application. Although the debate between potentialism and actualism in the philosophy of mathematics goes back to Aristotle, recent work divorces the potentialist idea from its connection with infinity and undertakes a more general analysis of possible mathematical universes of any kind. Any collection of mathematical structures forms a potentialist system when equipped with an accessibility relation (refining the submodel relation), and one can define the modal operators of possibility $\Diamond\varphi$, true at a world when $\varphi$ is true in some larger world, and necessity $\Box\varphi$, true in a world when $\varphi$ is true in all larger worlds. The project is to understand the structures more deeply by understanding their modal nature in the context of a potentialist system. The rise of modal model theory investigates very general instances of potentialist system, for sets, graphs, fields, and so on. Potentialism for the models of arithmetic often connects with deeply philosophical ideas on ultrafinitism. And the spectrum of potentialist systems for the models of set theory reveals fundamentally different conceptions of set-theoretic pluralism and possibility.

The multiverse view on the axiom of constructibility

I shall give a talk on the multiverse perspective on the axiom of constructibility. Set theorists often look down upon the axiom of constructibility V=L as limiting, in light of the fact that all the stronger large cardinals are inconsistent with this axiom, and furthermore the axiom expresses a minimizing property, since $L$ is the smallest model of ZFC with its ordinals. Such views, I argue, stem from a conception of the ordinals as absolutely completed. A potentialist conception of the set-theoretic universe reveals a sense in which every set-theoretic universe might be extended (in part upward) to a model of V=L. In light of such a perspective, the limiting nature of the axiom of constructibility tends to fall away.

Panel discussion: The multiverse view—challenges for the next ten years

This will be a panel discussion on the set-theoretic multiverse, with panelists including myself, Carolin Antos-Kuby, Giorgio Venturi, and perhaps others.

Pointwise definable end-extensions of the universe, Sophia 2022, Salzburg

This will be an online talk for the Salzburg Conference for Young Analytical Philosophy, the SOPhiA 2022 Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis, with a special workshop session Reflecting on ten years of the set-theoretic multiverse. The workshop will meet Thursday 8 September 2022 4:00pm – 7:30pm.

The name of the workshop (“Reflecting on ten years…”), I was amazed to learn, refers to the period since my 2012 paper, The set-theoretic multiverse, in the Review of Symbolic Logic, in which I had first introduced my arguments and views concerning set-theoretic pluralism. I am deeply honored by this workshop highlighting my work in this way and focussing on the developments growing out of it.

In this talk, I shall engage in that discussion by presenting some very new work connecting several topics that have been prominent in discussions of the set-theoretic multiverse, namely, set-theoretic potentialism and pointwise definability.

Abstract. Using the universal algorithm and its generalizations, I shall present new work on the possibility of end-extending any given countable model of arithmetic or set theory to a pointwise definable model, one in which every object is definable without parameters. Every countable model of Peano arithmetic, for example, admits an end-extension to a pointwise definable model. And similarly, every countable model of ZF set theory admits an end-extension to a pointwise definable model of ZFC+V=L, as well as to pointwise definable models of other sufficient theories, accommodating large cardinals. I shall discuss the philosophical significance of these results in the philosophy of set theory with a view to potentialism and the set-theoretic multiverse.

Fregean abstraction in set theory—a deflationary account, Italian Philosophy of Mathematics, September 2022

This will be a talk for the conference Philosophy of Mathematics: Foundations, Definitions and Axioms, the Fourth International Conference of the Italian Network for the Philosophy of Mathematics, 29 September to 1 October 2022.

Abstract. The standard set-theoretic distinction between sets and classes instantiates in important respects the Fregean distinction between objects and concepts, for in set theory we commonly take the universe of sets as a realm of objects to be considered under the guise of diverse concepts, the definable classes, each serving as a predicate on that domain of individuals. Although it is commonly held that in a very general manner, there can be no association of classes with objects in a way that fulfills Frege’s Basic Law V, nevertheless, in the ZF framework, it turns out that we can provide a completely deflationary account of this and other Fregean abstraction principles. Namely, there is a mapping of classes to objects, definable in set theory in senses I shall explain (hence deflationary), associating every first-order parametrically definable class $F$ with a set object $\varepsilon F$, in such a way that Basic Law V is fulfilled: $$\varepsilon F =\varepsilon G\iff\forall x\ (Fx\leftrightarrow Gx).$$ Russell’s elementary refutation of the general comprehension axiom, therefore, is improperly described as a refutation of Basic Law V itself, but rather refutes Basic Law V only when augmented with powerful class comprehension principles going strictly beyond ZF. The main result leads also to a proof of Tarski’s theorem on the nondefinability of truth as a corollary to Russell’s argument. A central goal of the project is to highlight the issue of definability and deflationism for the extension assignment problem at the core of Fregean abstraction.

Nonlinearity and illfoundedness in the hierarchy of consistency strength and the question of naturality, Italy (AILA), September 2022

This will be a talk for the meeting of The Italian Association for Logic and its Applications (AILA) in Caserta, Italy 12-15 September 2022.

Abstract. Set theorists and philosophers of mathematics often point to a mystery in the foundations of mathematics, namely, that our best and strongest mathematical theories seem to be linearly ordered and indeed well-ordered by consistency strength. Why should it be? The phenomenon is thought to carry profound significance for the philosophy of mathematics, perhaps pointing us toward the ultimately correct mathematical theories, the “one road upward.” And yet, we know as a purely formal matter that the hierarchy of consistency strength is not well-ordered. It is ill-founded, densely ordered, and nonlinear. The statements usually used to illustrate these features, however, are often dismissed as unnatural or as Gödelian trickery. In this talk, I aim to rebut that criticism by presenting a variety of natural hypotheses that reveal ill-foundedness in consistency strength, density in the hierarchy of consistency strength, and incomparability in consistency strength.

Set theory inside out: realizing every inner model theory in an end extension, European Set Theory Conference, September 2022

This will be a talk for the European Set Theory Conference 2022 in Turin, Italy 29 August – 2 September 2022.

Abstract. Every countable model of ZFC set theory with an inner model satisfying a sufficient theory must also have an end-extension satisfying that theory. For example, every countable model with a measurable cardinal has an end-extension to a model of $V=L[\mu]$; every model with extender-based large cardinals has an end-extension to a model of $V=L[\vec E]$; every model with infinitely many Woodin cardinals and a measurable above has an end-extension to a model of $\text{ZF}+\text{DC}+V=L(\mathbb{R})+\text{AD}$. These results generalize the famous Barwise extension theorem, of course, asserting that every countable model of ZF set theory admits an end-extension to a model of $\text{ZFC}+{V=L}$, a theorem which was simultaneously a technical culmination of Barwise’s pioneering methods in admissible set theory and infinitary logic and also one of those rare mathematical theorems that is saturated with philosophical significance. In this talk, I shall describe a new proof of the Barwise theorem that omits any need for infinitary logic and relies instead only on classical methods of descriptive set theory, while also providing the generalization I mentioned. This proof furthermore leads directly to the universal finite sequence, a $\Sigma_1$-definable finite sequence, which can be extended arbitrarily as desired in suitable end-extensions of the universe, a result holding important consequences for the nature of set-theoretic potentialism.  This work is joint with Kameryn J. Williams.

  • [DOI] J. D. Hamkins and K. J. Williams, “The $\Sigma_1$-definable universal finite sequence,” Journal of Symbolic Logic, 2021.
    author = {Joel David Hamkins and Kameryn J. Williams},
    title = {The $\Sigma_1$-definable universal finite sequence},
    journal = {Journal of Symbolic Logic},
    year = {2021},
    volume = {},
    number = {},
    pages = {},
    month = {},
    note = {},
    abstract = {},
    keywords = {},
    eprint = {1909.09100},
    archivePrefix = {arXiv},
    primaryClass = {math.LO},
    source = {},
    doi = {10.1017/jsl.2020.59},

The ontology of mathematics, Japan Association for the Philosophy of Science, June 2022

I shall give the Invited Lecture for the Annual Meeting (online) of the Japanese Association for the Philosophy of Science, 18-19 June 2022.

Abstract. What is the nature of mathematical ontology—what does it mean to make existence assertions in mathematics? Is there an ideal mathematical realm, a mathematical universe, that those assertions are about? Perhaps there is more than one. Does every mathematical assertion ultimately have a definitive truth value? I shall lay out some of the back-and-forth in what is currently a vigorous debate taking place in the philosophy of set theory concerning pluralism in the set-theoretic foundations, concerning whether there is just one set-theoretic universe underlying our mathematical claims or whether there is a diversity of possible set-theoretic conceptions.

Infinite Games, Frivolities of the Gods, Logic at Large Lecture, May 2022

The Dutch Association for Logic and Philosophy of the Exact Sciences (VvL) has organized a major annual public online lecture series called LOGIC AT LARGE, where “well-known logicians give public audience talks to a wide audience,” and I am truly honored to have been invited to give this year’s lecture. This will be an online event, the second of the series, scheduled for May 31, 2022 (note change in date!), and further access details will be posted when they become available. Free registration can be made on the VvL Logic at Large web page.

Abstract. Many familiar finite games admit natural infinitary analogues, which often highlight intriguing issues in infinite game theory. Shall we have a game of infinite chess? Or how about infinite draughts, infinite Hex, infinite Go, infinite Wordle, or infinite Sudoku? Let me introduce these games and use them to illustrate various fascinating concepts in the theory of infinite games.

Come enjoy the lecture, and stay for the online socializing event afterwards. Hope to see you there!

The surprising strength of reflection in second-order set theory with abundant urelements, CUNY Set Theory seminar, April 2022

This was an online talk 15 April 12:15 for the CUNY Set Theory Seminar. Held on Zoom at 876 9680 2366.

Abstract. I shall give a general introduction to urelement set theory and the role of the second-order reflection principle in second-order urelement set theory GBCU and KMU. With the abundant atom axiom, asserting that the class of urelements greatly exceeds the class of pure sets, the second-order reflection principle implies the existence of a supercompact cardinal in an interpreted model of ZFC. The proof uses a reflection characterization of supercompactness: a cardinal $\kappa$ is supercompact if and only if for every second-order sentence $\psi$ true in some structure $M$ (of any size) in a language of size less than $\kappa$ is also true in a first-order elementary substructure $m\prec M$ of size less than $\kappa$. This is joint work with Bokai Yao.

See the article at: Reflection in second-order set theory with abundant urelements bi-interprets a supercompact cardinal

Infinite Wordle and the mastermind numbers, CUNY Logic Workshop, March 2022

This will be an in-person talk for the CUNY Logic Workshop at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York on 11 March 2022.

Abstract. I shall introduce and consider the natural infinitary variations of Wordle, Absurdle, and Mastermind. Infinite Wordle extends the familiar finite game to infinite words and transfinite play—the code-breaker aims to discover a hidden codeword selected from a dictionary $\Delta\subseteq\Sigma^\omega$ of infinite words over a countable alphabet $\Sigma$ by making a sequence of successive guesswords, receiving feedback after each guess concerning its accuracy. For any dictionary using the usual 26-letter alphabet, for example, the code-breaker can win in at most 26 guesses, and more generally in $n$ guesses for alphabets of finite size $n$. Meanwhile, for some dictionaries on an infinite alphabet, infinite play is required, but the code-breaker can always win by stage $\omega$ on a countable alphabet, for any fixed dictionary. Infinite Mastermind, in contrast, is a subtler game than Wordle because only the number and not the position of correct bits is given. When duplication of colors is allowed, nevertheless, the code-breaker can still always win by stage $\omega$, but in the no-duplication variation, no countable number of guesses (even transfinite) is sufficient for the code-breaker to win. I therefore introduce the mastermind number, denoted $\frak{mm}$, defined to be the size of the smallest winning no-duplication Mastermind guessing set, a new cardinal characteristic of the continuum, which I prove is bounded below by the additivity number $\text{add}(\mathcal{M})$ of the meager ideal and bounded above by the covering number $\text{cov}(\mathcal{M})$. In particular, the precise value of the mastermind number is independent of ZFC and can consistently be strictly between $\aleph_1$ and the continuum $2^{\aleph_0}$. In simplified Mastermind, where the feedback given at each stage includes only the numbers of correct and incorrect bits (omitting information about rearrangements), then the corresponding simplified mastermind number is exactly the eventually different number $\frak{d}(\neq^*)$.

I am preparing an article on the topic, which will be available soon.