Posted by: **Alexandre Borovik** | May 29, 2011

## More on abstract thinking and computer science

From FOM DIgest Vol 101, Issue 29, Tue, 24 May 2011 00:41:26 +0200, a post by Jeff Sarnat:

As a computer scientist, I found Cantor normal form for to be easy

to understand once I realized that exponentiation at base omega is exactly

the multiset ordering from term rewriting theory. If we choose to implement

multisets as lists sorted in descending order, then this becomes even more

straightforward: the empty list is smaller than all non-empty lists, and

non-empty lists are ordered lexicographically by their heads followed by

their tails. Moreover, ordinal addition and multiplication are easy to

explain in terms of their type-theoretic analogs, which makes it easy to

visualize how data structures built up from these three primitives would be

ordered, and why the resulting ordering should be well founded (although

multiplication is technically unnecessary, it is pedagogically helpful to

consider).

My experiences with introducing other computer scientists to the dark art of

ordinal analysis have led me to believe that this approach works well: I can

usually get people to count at least as high as [Feferman–Schütte ordinal –AB] in about an hours

worth of hand-waiving along these lines. For those who are interested, a

(slightly) more detailed account of this approach can be found in Section

3.1 of my dissertation.

Jeff Sarnat

http://www.pps.jussieu.fr/~sarnat/

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