I gave a talk for the Food for Thought seminar for the Notre Dame philosophy department.

The topic concerned definite descriptions, particularly the semantics that might be given when one extends first-order logic to include the iota operator, by which $℩x\varphi(x)$ means “the $x$ such that $\varphi(x)$.” There are a variety of natural ways to define the semantics of iota assertions in a model, and we discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. We concentrated on what I call the strong semantics, the weak semantics, and the natural semantics, respectively. Ultimately, I argue for a deflationary perspective on the debate, as each of the semantics is conservative over the base language, with no iota operator, with no new expressive power. In this sense, I argue, the choice of one semantics over another is purely a matter of convenience or ease of expressibility, as all of the notions are expressible without definite descriptions at all.

Abstract. With a simple historical thought experiment, I should like to describe how we might easily have come to view the continuum hypothesis as a fundamental axiom, one necessary for mathematics, indispensable even for calculus.

This will be a talk at the conference Challenging the Infinite, March 11-12 at Oxford University. (Please register now to book a place.)

Abstract Many commonly considered forms of potentialism, I argue, are implicitly actualist in the sense that a corresponding actualist ontology and theory is interpretable within the potentialist framework using only the resources of the potentialist ontology and theory. And vice versa. For these forms of potentialism, therefore, there seems to be little at stake in the debate between potentialism and actualism—the two perspectives are bi-interpretable accounts of the same underlying semantic content. Meanwhile, more radical forms of potentialism, lacking convergence and amalgamation, do not admit such a bi-interpretation with actualism. In light of this, the central dichotomy in potentialism, to my way of thinking, is not concerned with any issue of height or width, but rather with convergent versus divergent possibility.

Abstract. The principle of covering reflection holds of a cardinal $\kappa$ if for every structure $B$ in a countable first-order language there is a structure $A$ of size less than $\kappa$, such that $B$ is covered by elementary images of $A$ in $B$. Is there any such cardinal? Is the principle consistent? This is joint work with myself, Nai-Chung Hou, Andreas Lietz, and Farmer Schlutzenberg.

Please enjoy my conversation with Rahul Sam for his podcast, a sweeping discussion of topics in the philosophy of mathematics—potentialism, pluralism, Gödel incompleteness, philosophy of set theory, large cardinals, and much more.

This will be an invited ASL address at the joint meeting of the ASL with the APA Eastern Division conference, held in New York 15-18 January 2024. My talk will be 16 January 2024 11:00 am.

Abstract. I shall give an account of the debate on set-theoretic pluralism and pluralism generally in the foundations of mathematics, including arithmetic. Is there ultimately just one mathematical universe, the final background context, in which every mathematical question has an absolute, determinate answer? Or do we have rather a multiverse of mathematical foundations? Some mathematicians and philosophers favor a hybrid notion, with pluralism at the higher realms of set theory, but absoluteness for arithmetic. What grounds are there for these various positions? How are we to adjudicate between them? What ultimately is the purpose of a foundation of mathematics?

Abstract. I shall discuss the computable model theory of forcing. To what extent can we view forcing as a computational process on the models of set theory? Given an oracle for the atomic or elementary diagram of a model (M,∈M) of set theory, for example, there are senses in which one may compute M-generic filters G⊂ℙ∈M over that model and compute the diagrams of the corresponding forcing extensions M[G]. Meanwhile, no such computational process is functorial, for there must always be isomorphic alternative presentations of the same model of set theory that lead by the computational process to non-isomorphic forcing extensions. Indeed, there is no Borel function providing generic filters that is functorial in this sense. This is joint work with myself, Russell Miller and Kameryn Williams.

Abstract. We consider the game of infinite Wordle as played on Baire space $\omega^\omega$. The codebreaker can win in finitely many moves against any countable dictionary $\Delta\subseteq\omega^\omega$, but not against the full dictionary of Baire space. The Wordle number is the size of the smallest dictionary admitting such a winning strategy for the codebreaker, the corresponding Wordle ideal is the ideal generated by these dictionaries, which under MA includes all dictionaries of size less than the continuum. The Absurdle number, meanwhile, is the size of the smallest dictionary admitting a winning strategy for the absurdist in the two-player variant, infinite Absurdle. In ZFC there are nondetermined Absurdle games, with neither player having a winning strategy, but if one drops the axiom of choice, then the principle of Absurdle determinacy has large cardinal consistency strength over ZF+DC. This is joint work in progress with Ben De Bondt (Paris).

This will be a talk for the First-order Modal Logic (FoMoLo) Seminar, 12 February 2024. The talk will take place online via Zoom—contact the organizers for access.

Abstract. What is or should be the potentialist account of classes? There are several natural implementations of second-order logic in a modal potentialist setting, which arise from differing philosophical conceptions of the nature of the second-order resources. I shall introduce the proposals, analyze their comparative expressive and interpretative powers, and explain how various philosophical attitudes are fulfilled or not for each proposal. This is joint work in progress with Øystein Linnebo.

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 is supercompact if and only if for every second-order sentence $\psi$ true in some structure $\langle M,\ldots\rangle$ (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 $\kappa$ with $m\cap\kappa\in\kappa$. This is joint work with Bokai Yao.

Abstract. What is or should be the potentialist account of classes? It turns out that there are several natural implementations of second-order logic in a modal potentialist setting, which arise from differing philosophical conceptions of the nature of the second-order resources. I shall introduce the proposals, analyze their comparative expressive and interpretative powers, and explain how various philosophical attitudes are fulfilled or not for each proposal. This is joint work in progress with Øystein Linnebo.

Welcome to the Infinite-Games Workshop, beginning Autumn 2023. The past ten years has seen an explosion in the study of infinite games, for researchers are now investigating diverse infinite games, including infinite chess, infinite draughts, infinite Hex, infinite Othello, infinite Go, indeed, we seem to have research projects involving infinitary analogues of all our familiar finite games. It is an emerging research area with many new exciting results.

This autumn, we shall set the workshop off with talks on several exciting new results in infinite chess, results which settle what had been some of the big open questions in the topic, including the question of the omega one of chess—the supremum of the ordinal game values that arise—as well as a finite position with game value $\omega^2$.

The workshop talks will be run at a high level of sophistication, aimed for the most part at serious researchers currently working in this emerging area. Mathematicians, computer scientists, infinitary game theorists, all serious researchers are welcome.

All talks will take place on Zoom at meeting 968 0186 3645 (password = latex code for the first uncountable ordinal). Contact dleonessi@gc.cuny.edu for further information.

Talks will be 90 minutes, with a workshop style welcoming questions. All talks will be recorded and placed on our YouTube channel. Talks will generally be held on Thursdays at 11:00 am New York time.

Abstract: In this talk I will introduce open infinite games, and then define a natural generalization of draughts (checkers) to the infinite planar board. Infinite draughts is an open game, giving rise to the game value phenomenon and expressing it fully—the omega one of draughts is at least true $\omega_1$ and every possible defensive strategy of the losing player can be implemented.

Abstract: I shall give a general introduction to the subject and theory of infinite games, drawing upon diverse examples of infinitary games, but including also infinite chess, infinite Hex, infinite draughts, and others.

2 November 2023 11:00 am ET

Complexity of the winning condition of infinite Hex

Abstract: Hex is a two-player game where the goal is to form a contiguous path of tokens from one side of a finite rectangular board to the opposite side. It is a famous classical result that Hex admits no draws: a completely filled board is a win for exactly one player. Infinite Hex is a variant introduced recently by Hamkins and Leonessi. It is played on the infinite two-dimensional grid $\mathbb{Z}^2$, and a player wins by forming a certain kind of two-way infinite contiguous path. Hamkins and Leonessi left open the complexity of the winning condition, in particular whether it is Borel. We present a proof that it is in fact arithmetic.

16 NOvember 2023 11:00 am ET

A finite position in infinite chess with game value $\omega^2+k$

Andreas Tsevas, Physics, Ludwig Maximalians Universität München

Abstract: I present a position in infinite chess with finitely many pieces and a game value of $\omega^2+k$ for $k\in\mathbb N$, thereby improving the previously known best result in the finite case of $\omega\cdot n$ for arbitrary $n \in\mathbb N$. This is achieved by exercising control over the movement of a white queen along two rows on the chessboard via precise tempo manipulation and utilization of the uniquely crucial ability of the queen to interlace horizontal threats with diagonal moves.

7 December 2023 11:00 am ET

All Countable Ordinals Arise as Game Values in Infinite Chess

Abstract: For every countable ordinal $\alpha$, we show that there exists a position in infinite chess with infinitely many pieces having game value $\alpha$.

We had a sweeping discussion touching upon many issues in the philosophy of mathematics, including the nature of mathematical truth, mathematical abstraction, the nature of mathematical existence, the meaning and role of proof in mathematics, the completeness theorem, the incompleteness phenomenon, infinity, and a discussion about the motivations that one might have for studying mathematics.

Abstract: Let us explore the nature of strategic reasoning in infinite games, focusing on the cases of infinite Wordle and infinite Mastermind. The familiar game of Wordle extends naturally to longer words or even infinite words in an idealized language, and Mastermind similarly has natural infinitary analogues. What is the nature of play in these infinite games? Can the codebreaker play so as to win always at a finite stage of play? The analysis emerges gradually, and in the talk I shall begin slowly with some easy elementary observations. By the end, however, we shall engage with sophisticated ideas in descriptive set theory, a kind of infinitary information theory. Some assertions about the minimal size of winning sets of guesses, for example, turn out to be independent of the Zermelo-Fraenkel ZFC axioms of set theory. Some questions remain open.

Abstract. There is an unexplained logical mystery in the foundations of mathematics, namely, 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 significance for foundations, perhaps pointing us, some have argued, 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 commonly used to illustrate these features, however, are often dismissed as unnatural or as Gödelian trickery. In this talk, however, I aim to rebut that criticism by presenting a variety of natural hypotheses that reveal illfoundedness in consistency strength, density in the hierarchy of consistency strength, and incomparability in consistency strength. This will lead to discussion of the role and meaning of “natural” in the foundations of mathematics.

The meeting will be in person and online. Those who wish to attend via Zoom, please write to Daniel Isaacson.