Pluralism in mathematics: the multiverse view in set theory and the question of whether every mathematical statement has a definite truth value, Rutgers, March 2013

This is a talk for the Rutgers Logic Seminar on March 25th, 2013.  Simon Thomas specifically requested that I give a talk aimed at philosophers.

Abstract.  I shall describe the debate on pluralism in the philosophy of set theory, specifically on the question of whether every mathematical and set-theoretic assertion has a definite truth value. A traditional Platonist view in set theory, which I call the universe view, holds that there is an absolute background concept of set and a corresponding absolute background set-theoretic universe in which every set-theoretic assertion has a final, definitive truth value. I shall try to tease apart two often-blurred aspects of this perspective, namely, to separate the claim that the set-theoretic universe has a real mathematical existence from the claim that it is unique. A competing view, the multiverse view, accepts the former claim and rejects the latter, by holding that there are many distinct concepts of set, each instantiated in a corresponding set-theoretic universe, and a corresponding pluralism of set-theoretic truths. After framing the dispute, I shall argue that the multiverse position explains our experience with the enormous diversity of set-theoretic possibility, a phenomenon that is one of the central set-theoretic discoveries of the past fifty years and one which challenges the universe view. In particular, I shall argue that the continuum hypothesis is settled on the multiverse view by our extensive knowledge about how it behaves in the multiverse, and as a result it can no longer be settled in the manner formerly hoped for.

Some of this material arises in my recent articles:

The countable models of set theory are linearly pre-ordered by embeddability, Rutgers, November 2012

This will be a talk for the Rutgers Logic Seminar on November 19, 2012.

Abstract.  I will speak on my recent theorem that every countable model of set theory $M$, including every well-founded model, is isomorphic to a submodel of its own constructible universe. In other words, there is an embedding $j:M\to L^M$ that is elementary for quantifier-free assertions. The proof uses universal digraph combinatorics, including an acyclic version of the countable random digraph, which I call the countable random $\mathbb{Q}$-graded digraph, and higher analogues arising as uncountable Fraisse limits, leading to the hypnagogic digraph, a set-homogeneous, class-universal, surreal-numbers-graded acyclic class digraph, closely connected with the surreal numbers. The proof shows that $L^M$ contains a submodel that is a universal acyclic digraph of rank $\text{Ord}^M$. The method of proof also establishes that the countable models of set theory are linearly pre-ordered by embeddability: for any two countable models of set theory, one of them is isomorphic to a submodel of the other.  Indeed, the bi-embeddability classes form a well-ordered chain of length $\omega_1+1$.  Specifically, the countable well-founded models are ordered by embeddability in accordance with the heights of their ordinals; every shorter model embeds into every taller model; every model of set theory $M$ is universal for all countable well-founded binary relations of rank at most $\text{Ord}^M$; and every ill-founded model of set theory is universal for all countable acyclic binary relations. Finally, strengthening a classical theorem of Ressayre, the same proof method shows that if $M$ is any nonstandard model of PA, then every countable model of set theory—in particular, every model of ZFC—is isomorphic to a submodel of the hereditarily finite sets $HF^M$ of $M$. Indeed, $HF^M$ is universal for all countable acyclic binary relations.

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