§ Topology is really about computation --- part 1

Most people believe that topology is about some notion of "nearness" or "closeness", which has been abstracted out from our usual notion of continuity that we have from a metric space. Here, I make the claim that topology is really about computation , and more specifically, decidability . These are not new ideas. I learnt of this from a monograph Synthetic topology of data types and classical spaces. Martın Escardo . This does not seem very well known, so I decided to write about it. The idea is this: We have turing machines which can compute things. We then also have a set SS. Now, a topology τ2S\tau \subset 2^S precisely encodes which of the subsets of SS can be separated from the rest of the space by a turing machine. Thus, a discrete space is a very nice space, where every point can be separated from every other point. An indescrete space is one where no point can be separated. Something like the reals is somewhere in between, where we can separate stuff inside an open interval from stuff clearly outside, but there's some funny behaviour that goes on at the boundary due to things like (0.999... = 1), which we'll see in detail in a moment.

§ Semidecidability

A subset QSQ\subseteq S is semidecidable , if there exists a turing machine Q^:Q{,}\hat Q: Q \rightarrow \{ \bot, \top \}, such that:
Q^(q)=    qQQ^(q)=    qQ \begin{aligned} \hat Q(q) = \top \iff q \in Q \\ \hat Q(q) = \bot \iff q \notin Q \\ \end{aligned}
Where \top signifies stopping at a state and returning TRUE, and \bot signifies never halting at all !. So, the subset QQ is semidedicable , in that, we will halt and say TRUE if the element belongs in the set. But if an element does not belong in the set, we are supposed to never terminate.

§ Deep dive: semidecidability of the interval (1,2)(1, 2)

Let's start with an example. We consider the interval I=(1,2)I = (1, 2), as a subset of R\mathbb{R}.Let the turing machine recieve the real number as a function f:N{0,1,9}f: \mathbb N \rightarrow \{0, 1, \dots 9\}, such that given a real number (a0a1a2){(a_0 \cdot a_1 \cdot a_2 \dots)}, this is encoded as a function fa(i)=ai{f_a(i) = a_i}. We now build a turing machine I^\hat I which when given the input the function faf_a, semi-decides whether aI{a \in I}. Let's consider the numbers in II:
0NO0.9NO1.00NO1.a1a2YES1.9NO2.0NO2.a1a2NO \begin{aligned} &0 \rightarrow \texttt{NO} \\ &0.\overline{9} \rightarrow \texttt{NO} \\ &1.00\dots \rightarrow \texttt{NO} \\ &1.a_1 a_2 \dots \rightarrow \texttt{YES} \\ &1.\overline{9} \rightarrow \texttt{NO} \\ &2.0 \rightarrow \texttt{NO} \\ &2.a_1 a_2 \rightarrow \texttt{NO} \end{aligned}
So, we can write a turing machine (ie, some code) that tries to decide whether a real number aa's encoding faf_a belongs to the interval I=(1,2)I = (1, 2) as follows:
def decide_number_in_open_1_2(f):
  # if the number is (1.abcd)
  if f(0) == 1:
    # (1.0...0<NOT0>) | look for the <NOT0>
    # If the number is 1.00..., do not terminate.
    if f(1) == 0: while f(i) == 0: i += 1
    # (1.99...9<NOT9>) | look for the <NOT9>
    # If the number is 1.99..., do not terminate.
    if f(1) == 9:  while f(i) == 9: i += 1
    else: return
  # if the number is not 1.abcd, do not terminate
  while True: pass
Hence, we say that the interval I=(1,2)I = (1, 2) is semi-decidable , since we have a function I^decide-number-in-open-1-2\hat I \equiv \texttt{decide-number-in-open-1-2} such that I^(fa) terminates     aI\hat I (f_a) \text{ terminates } \iff a \in I. We don't make any claim about what happens if aIa \notin I. This is the essence of semidecidability: We can precisely state when elements in the set belong to the set, but not when they don't.

§ Semi decidability in general

To put this on more solid ground, we define a topology on a set SS by considering programs which recieve as input elements of SS, suitably encoded. For example, the way in which we encoded real numbers as functions from the index to the digit. Similarly, we encode other mathematical objects in some suitable way. Now, we define:
  • For every program PP which takes as inputs elements in SS, the set halts(P)sSP(s)halts{halts(P) \equiv \\{ s \in S \vert P(s) \text{halts} \\}} is called as a semidecidable set .
  • Alternatively, we can say for a subset TS{T \subset S}, if there exists a program T^{\hat T}, such that sT    T^(s) halts{s \in T \iff \hat T(s) \text{ halts}}, then TT is semi-dedecidable.
These are just two viewpoints on the same object. In one, we define the set based on the program. In the other, we define the program based on the set.

§ Semi decidability of the empty set and the universe set.

The empty set is semi-decidable, due to the existence of the program:
def semidecide_empty(x):
  while True: continue
The universe set is semi-decidable, due to the existence of the program:
def semidecide_univ(x): return

§ Semi decidability of the union of sets

infinite unions of sets are semi decidable, since we can "diagonalize" on the steps of all programs. That way, if any program halts, we will reach the state where it halts in our diagonalized enumeration. Let A00, A01... A0n be the initial states of the machines. We are trying to semidecide whether any of them halt. We lay out the steps of the machines in an imaginary grid:
A00 A01 A02 ... A0n
A10 A11 A12 ... A1n
A20 A21 A22 ... A2n
Am0 Am1 Am2 ... Amn
For example, machine A0 has states:
A00 -> A10 -> .. -> Am0
We can walk through the combined state-space of the machines as:
A01 A10
A02 A11 A20
A03 A12 A21 A30
Where on the k'th line, we collect all states AijA_{ij} such that (i+j=k)(i + j = k). Now, if any of the machines have a state that is HALT, we will reach the state as we enumerate the diagonals, and the machine that explores the combined state space can also return HALT.

§ Semi decidability of the intersection of sets

infinite intersections of sets are not semi decidable, since by running these programs in parallel, we cannot know if an infinite number of programs halt in finite time. We can tell if one of them halts, but of if all of them halt. For example, consider the sequence of machines produced by machine_creator:
# creates a machine that stops after n steps
def machine_creator(n):
    # f terminates after n steps
    def f(x):
      for _ in range(n):

    return f
We wish to check if the intersection of all machine_creator(n) halt, for all n0,nNn \geq 0, n \in \mathbb N. Clearly, the answer is an infinite number of steps, even though every single machine created by machine_creator halts in a finite number of steps.

§ An even deeper dive: re-examining the topology of the reals

We generally think of the topology of reals as being generated from the base of intervals (a,b)(a, b). But really, this is a perverse perspective from the point of view of computation. Structurally speaking, the only comparison operator we have on the reals is a << operator. So we should ideally start by taking as a base the sets (,r)(-\infty, r). This is elegant, because:
  1. it relates to the order theoretic notion of downward closed set
  2. By yoneda , the downward closed set (,r)(-\infty, r) contains the exact same order theoretic information as rr itself.
  3. It makes our "code" easier to write:
z = 10 # arbitrary fixed integer
def is_in_downward_closed_set(x_int, x_frac):
    return true if x_int.x_frac < z
    if x_int < z:
        i = 0
        while True:
           elif x_frac[i] == 9: i += 1 # examine next number.
           else: return True # x_frac[i] < r_frac[i]
        # loop forever

def loop(): while True: pass

§ References