Approximation and cover properties propagate upward

I should like to record here the proof of the following fact, which Jonas Reitz and I first observed years ago, when he was my graduate student, and I recall him making the critical observation.

It concerns the upward propagation of the approximation and cover properties, some technical concepts that lie at the center of my paper, Extensions with he approximation and cover properties have no new large cardinals, and which are also used in my proof of Laver’s theorem on the definability of the ground model, and which figure in Jonas’s work on the ground axiom.

The fact has a curious and rather embarrassing history, in that Jonas and I have seen an unfortunate cycle, in which we first proved the theorem, and then subsequently lost and forgot our own proof, and then lost confidence in the fact, until we rediscovered the proof again. This cycle has now repeated several times, in absurd mathematical comedy, and each time the proof was lost, various people with whom we discussed the issue sincerely doubted that it could be true.  But we are on the upswing now, for in response to some recently expressed doubts about the fact, although I too was beginning to doubt it again, I spent some time thinking about it and rediscovered our old proof! Hurrah!  In order to break this absurd cycle, however, I am now recording the proof here in order that we may have a place to point in the future, to give the theorem a home.

Although the fact has not yet been used in any application to my knowledge, it strikes me as inevitable that this fundamental fact about the approximation and cover properties will eventually find an important use.

Definition. Assume $\delta$ is a cardinal in $V$ and $W\subset V$ is a transitive inner model of set theory.

  • The extension $W\subset V$ satisfies the $\delta$-approximation property if whenever $A\subset W$ is a set in $V$ and $A\cap a\in W$ for any $a\in W$ of size less than $\delta$ in $W$, then $A\in W$.
  • The extension $W\subset V$ satisfies the $\delta$-cover property if whenever $A\subset W$ is a set of size less than $\delta$ in $V$, then there is a covering set $B\in W$ with $A\subset B$ and $|B|^W\lt\delta$.

Theorem. If $W\subset V$ has the $\delta$-approximation and $\delta$-cover properties and $\delta\lt\gamma$ are both infinite cardinals in $V$, then it also has the $\gamma$-approximation and $\gamma$-cover properties.

Proof. First, notice that the $\delta$-approximation property trivially implies the $\gamma$-approximation property for any larger cardinal $\gamma$. So we need only verify the $\gamma$-cover property, and this we do by induction. Note that the limit case is trivial, since if the cover property holds at every cardinal below a limit cardinal, then it trivially holds at that limit cardinal, since there are no additional instances of covering to be treated. Thus, we reduce to the case $\gamma=\delta^+$, meaning $(\delta^+)^V$, but we must allow that $\delta$ may be singular here.

If $\delta$ is singular, then we claim that the $\delta$-cover property alone implies the $\delta^+$-cover property: if $A\subset W$ has size $\delta$ in $V$, then by the singularity of $\delta$ we may write it as $A=\bigcup _{\alpha\in I}A_\alpha$, where each $A_\alpha$ and $I$ have size less than $\delta$. By the $\delta$-cover property, there are covers $A_\alpha\subset B_\alpha\in W$ with $B_\alpha$ of size less than $\delta$ in $W$.  Furthermore, the set $\{B_\alpha\mid\alpha\in I\}$ itself is covered by some set $\mathcal{B}\in W$ of size less than $\delta$ in $W$. That is, we cover the small set of small covers. We may assume that every set in $\mathcal{B}$ has size less than $\delta$, by discarding those that aren’t, and so $B=\bigcup\mathcal{B}$ is a set in $W$ that covers $A$ and has size at most $\delta$ there, since it is small union of small sets, thereby verifying this instance of the $\gamma$-cover property.

If $\delta$ is regular, consider a set $A\subset W$ with $A\in V$ of size $\delta$ in $V$, so that $A=\{a_\xi\mid\xi\lt\delta\}$. For each $\alpha\lt\delta$, the initial segment $\{a_\xi\mid\xi\lt\alpha\}$ has size less than $\delta$ and is therefore covered by some $B_\alpha\in W$ of size less than $\delta$ in $W$.  By adding each $B_\alpha$ to what we are covering at later stages, we may assume that they form an increasing tower: $\alpha\lt\beta\to B_\alpha\subset B_\beta$. The choices $\alpha\mapsto B_\alpha$ are made in $V$.  Let $B=\bigcup_\alpha B_\alpha$, which certainly covers $A$. Observe that for any set $a\in W$ of size less than $\delta$, it follows by the regularity of $\delta$ that $B\cap a=B_\alpha\cap a$ for all sufficiently large $\alpha$.  Thus, all $\delta$-approximations to $B$ are in $W$ and so $B$ itself is in $W$ by the $\delta$-approximation property, as desired. Note that $B$ has size less than $\gamma$ in $W$, because it has size $\delta$ in $V$, and so we have verified this instance of the $\gamma$-cover property for $W\subset V$.

Thus, in either case we’ve established the $\gamma$-cover property for $W\subset V$, and the proof is complete. QED

(Thanks to Thomas Johnstone for some comments and for pointing out a simplification in the proof:  previously, I had reduced without loss of generality to the case where $A$ is a set of ordinals of order type $\delta$; but Tom pointed out that the general case is not actually any harder.   And indeed, Jonas dug up some old notes to find the 2008 version of the argument, which is essentially the same as what now appears here.)

Note that without the $\delta$-approximation property, it is not true that the $\delta$-cover property transfers upward. For example, every extension has the $\aleph_0$-cover property.

Jonas Reitz

Jonas Reitz earned his Ph.D under my supervision in June, 2006 at the CUNY Graduate Center.  He was truly a pleasure to supervise. From the earliest days of his dissertation research, he had his own plan for the topic of the work: he wanted to “undo” forcing, to somehow force backwards, from the extension to the ground model. At first I was skeptical, but in time, ideas crystalized around the ground axiom (now with its own Wikipedia entry), formulated using a recent-at-the-time result of Richard Laver.  Along with Laver’s theorem, Jonas’s dissertation was the beginning of the body of work now known as set-theoretic geology.  Jonas holds a tenured position at the New York City College of Technology of CUNY.

Jonas Reitz

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Jonas Reitz, “The ground axiom,” Ph.D. dissertation, CUNY Graduate Center, June, 2006.  ar$\chi$iv

Abstract.  A new axiom is proposed, the Ground Axiom, asserting that the universe is not a nontrivial set-forcing extension of any inner model. The Ground Axiom is first-order expressible, and any model of ZFC has a class-forcing extension which satisfies it. The Ground Axiom is independent of many well-known set-theoretic assertions including the Generalized Continuum Hypothesis, the assertion V=HOD that every set is ordinal definable, and the existence of measurable and supercompact cardinals. The related Bedrock Axiom, asserting that the universe is a set-forcing extension of a model satisfying the Ground Axiom, is also first-order expressible, and its negation is consistent. As many of these results rely on forcing with proper classes, an appendix is provided giving an exposition of the underlying theory of proper class forcing.

Set-theoretic geology

  • G. Fuchs, J. D. Hamkins, and J. Reitz, “Set-theoretic geology,” Annals of Pure and Applied Logic, vol. 166, iss. 4, pp. 464-501, 2015.  
    author = "Gunter Fuchs and Joel David Hamkins and Jonas Reitz",
    title = "Set-theoretic geology",
    journal = "Annals of Pure and Applied Logic",
    volume = "166",
    number = "4",
    pages = "464--501",
    year = "2015",
    note = "",
    MRCLASS = {03E55 (03E40 03E45 03E47)},
    MRNUMBER = {3304634},
    issn = "0168-0072",
    doi = "10.1016/j.apal.2014.11.004",
    eprint = "1107.4776",
    archivePrefix = {arXiv},
    primaryClass = {math.LO},
    url = "",

The Inner Core

A ground of the universe V is a transitive proper class W subset V, such that W is a model of ZFC and V is obtained by set forcing over W, so that V = W[G] for some W-generic filter G subset P in W . The model V satisfies the ground axiom GA if there are no such W properly contained in V . The model W is a bedrock of V if W is a ground of V and satisfies the ground axiom. The mantle of V is the intersection of all grounds of V . The generic mantle of V is the intersection of all grounds of all set-forcing extensions of V . The generic HOD, written gHOD, is the intersection of all HODs of all set-forcing extensions. The generic HOD is always a model of ZFC, and the generic mantle is always a model of ZF. Every model of ZFC is the mantle and generic mantle of another model of ZFC. We prove this theorem while also controlling the HOD of the final model, as well as the generic HOD. Iteratively taking the mantle penetrates down through the inner mantles to what we call the outer core, what remains when all outer layers of forcing have been stripped away. Many fundamental questions remain open.


Pointwise definable models of set theory

  • J. D. Hamkins, D. Linetsky, and J. Reitz, “Pointwise definable models of set theory,” J. Symbolic Logic, vol. 78, iss. 1, pp. 139-156, 2013.  
    @article {HamkinsLinetskyReitz2013:PointwiseDefinableModelsOfSetTheory,
    AUTHOR = {Hamkins, Joel David and Linetsky, David and Reitz, Jonas},
    TITLE = {Pointwise definable models of set theory},
    JOURNAL = {J. Symbolic Logic},
    FJOURNAL = {Journal of Symbolic Logic},
    VOLUME = {78},
    YEAR = {2013},
    NUMBER = {1},
    PAGES = {139--156},
    ISSN = {0022-4812},
    MRCLASS = {03E55},
    MRNUMBER = {3087066},
    MRREVIEWER = {Bernhard A. K{\"o}nig},
    DOI = {10.2178/jsl.7801090},
    URL = {},
    eprint = "1105.4597",
    archivePrefix = {arXiv},
    primaryClass = {math.LO},

One occasionally hears the argument—let us call it the math-tea argument, for perhaps it is heard at a good math tea—that there must be real numbers that we cannot describe or define, because there are are only countably many definitions, but uncountably many reals.  Does it withstand scrutiny?

This article provides an answer.  The article has a dual nature, with the first part aimed at a more general audience, and the second part providing a proof of the main theorem:  every countable model of set theory has an extension in which every set and class is definable without parameters.  The existence of these models therefore exhibit the difficulties in formalizing the math tea argument, and show that robust violations of the math tea argument can occur in virtually any set-theoretic context.

A pointwise definable model is one in which every object is definable without parameters. In a model of set theory, this property strengthens V=HOD, but is not first-order expressible. Nevertheless, if ZFC is consistent, then there are continuum many pointwise definable models of ZFC. If there is a transitive model of ZFC, then there are continuum many pointwise definable transitive models of ZFC. What is more, every countable model of ZFC has a class forcing extension that is pointwise definable. Indeed, for the main contribution of this article, every countable model of Godel-Bernays set theory has a pointwise definable extension, in which every set and class is first-order definable without parameters.

The ground axiom is consistent with $V\ne{\rm HOD}$

  • J. D. Hamkins, J. Reitz, and W. Woodin, “The ground axiom is consistent with $V\ne{\rm HOD}$,” Proc.~Amer.~Math.~Soc., vol. 136, iss. 8, pp. 2943-2949, 2008.  
    AUTHOR = {Hamkins, Joel David and Reitz, Jonas and Woodin, W.~Hugh},
    TITLE = {The ground axiom is consistent with {$V\ne{\rm HOD}$}},
    JOURNAL = {Proc.~Amer.~Math.~Soc.},
    FJOURNAL = {Proceedings of the American Mathematical Society},
    VOLUME = {136},
    YEAR = {2008},
    NUMBER = {8},
    PAGES = {2943--2949},
    ISSN = {0002-9939},
    MRCLASS = {03E35 (03E45 03E55)},
    MRNUMBER = {2399062 (2009b:03137)},
    MRREVIEWER = {P{\'e}ter Komj{\'a}th},
    DOI = {10.1090/S0002-9939-08-09285-X},
    URL = {},
    file = F

Abstract. The Ground Axiom asserts that the universe is not a nontrivial set-forcing extension of any inner model. Despite the apparent second-order nature of this assertion, it is first-order expressible in set theory. The previously known models of the Ground Axiom all satisfy strong forms of $V=\text{HOD}$. In this article, we show that the Ground Axiom is relatively consistent with $V\neq\text{HOD}$. In fact, every model of ZFC has a class-forcing extension that is a model of $\text{ZFC}+\text{GA}+V\neq\text{HOD}$. The method accommodates large cardinals: every model of ZFC with a supercompact cardinal, for example, has a class-forcing extension with $\text{ZFC}+\text{GA}+V\neq\text{HOD}$ in which this supercompact cardinal is preserved.

The Ground Axiom

  • J. D. Hamkins, “The Ground Axiom,” Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach Report, vol. 55, pp. 3160-3162, 2005.  
    AUTHOR = "Joel David Hamkins",
    TITLE = "The {Ground Axiom}",
    JOURNAL = "Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach Report",
    YEAR = "2005",
    volume = "55",
    number = "",
    pages = "3160--3162",
    month = "",
    note = "",
    abstract = "",
    keywords = "",
    source = "",
    eprint = {1607.00723},
    archivePrefix = {arXiv},
    primaryClass = {math.LO},
    url = {},
    file = F

This is an extended abstract for a talk I gave at the 2005 Workshop in Set Theory at the Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach.

Oberwolfach Research Report 55/2005 | Ground Axiom on Wikipedia