Types and Cells

June 7, 2011

The doctrine of computational trinitarianism implies that there should be a categorial analogue of two-dimensional type theory … and indeed there is.  It is called, oddly enough, two-dimensional category theory, which arose first for numerous reasons.  What is two-dimensional category theory?  And how does it relate to two-dimensional type theory?

Two-dimensional category theory may be seen as an instance of the general concept of enriched categories in which the collection of morphisms between any two objects is endowed with some additional structure. A locally small category is one for which the maps between any two objects form a set, called the hom set.  An order-enriched category is one in which the morphisms form an ordered set, which is a set equipped with a pre-order (reflexive and transitive relation) on maps such that composition is monotone.  Order-enriched categories were used by Mitchell Wand and Gordon Plotkin and Mike Smyth in their development of the category-theoretic interpretation of recursive types.  Specifically, an O-category is an order-enriched category whose objects are cpo’s (pre-orders closed under sup’s of chains, and hence containing a least element) and whose hom sets are themselves cpo’s and for which composition is continuous (monotone and preserves suprema of chains).

More generally still, one may  consider (different forms of) category-enriched categories, in which the hom sets are structured as categories with their own vertical notion of identity and composition that meshes well with the horizontal notion of identity and composition of the category itself.  (I will not give here the precise meaning of “meshes well with”, since there are several possible notions and I will be discussing this structure in the type-theoretic setting below.)  The vertical maps are maps between maps that can be interpreted in several ways.  One way is as “witnesses” to an ordering relation among maps, viewing a category as a “pre-order with witnesses”, perhaps an approximation relation among maps such as arises in domain theory.  Another is to view these maps as homotopies between continuous functions on a space; these are the continuous deformations of one map into another.  (This is usually expressed by introducing a “time” coordinate ranging over the unit interval, and stating that a homotopy h between maps f and g is a continuous mapping such that at time zero h agrees with f, at time 1 agrees with g, and smoothly varies at times between.)  An important special case of category-enriched categories are those whose morphisms form (not just a category but also) a groupoid, a category in which each map is invertible.  These can be thought of as “equivalence relations with evidence”; the vertical maps are “proofs” that two horizontal maps are equivalent (for example, homotopic).

The sort of category-enriched categories that I have in mind are called (strict) 2-categories.  And as the terminology suggests, there is nothing special about the number 2 here; one can consider n-categories for any number n, and even \infty-categories that incorporate all of these into one grand structure (strictly or weakly).  To help manage this structure, the categorists have a uniform terminology that I wish to introduce here, called cells.  The objects in a category are the 0-cells, the maps are the 1-cells, the maps between maps (transformations, homotopies, …) are the 2-cells, and so forth.  A 2-category is one for which we stop at 2-cells; all higher cells being degenerate and hence ignored.  Often the 2-cells (and higher) form groupoids (in one of two senses that I will come back to later); a (2,1)-category is a 2-category in which the 2-cells form a groupoid (but the 1-cells need only form a category).  The class of (\infty,1)-categories are the subject of intense interest these days, in part because of their importance in homotopy theory.  They are, however, notoriously hard to manage, and, from what I understand, it is not yet clear what is even the correct definition.

Returning to two-dimensional type theory, and applying the types-as-categories correspondence, we get that types are 0-cells, terms (with free variables) are 1-cells, and transformations are 2-cells.  General terms are not invertible, but transformations are, giving rise to a (strict) groupoid structure expressed by the judgement \alpha::M\simeq N:A.  The rules for composition of transformations expresses the vertical structure as forming a strict groupoid.  Ordinary substitution expresses the horizontal structure of terms as maps (plugging in terms for free variables).  But how do these interact?  In strict two-dimensional type theory this interaction is expressed by definitional equalities that express the interchange law between horizontal and vertical composition.  Specifically, we have the following rule:

\displaystyle{  {x:B\vdash \alpha::M\simeq N:A \qquad \vdash \beta::P\simeq Q:B}\over{\alpha[\beta]::\textit{map}\{x:B.A\}[\beta](M[P/x])\simeq N[Q/x]:A[Q/x]}  }

(More generally one must consider arbitrary contexts, and transformations between substitutions, but this instance of the general case expresses the essential idea.)

This “substitution” principle must satisfy some equational laws that amount to the following conditions:

  1. Identity: \alpha[\textit{id}]\equiv\alpha.
  2. Composition: \alpha[\beta[\gamma]]\equiv \alpha[\beta][\gamma].
  3. Interchange: (\alpha\circ\alpha')[\beta\circ\beta'] = \alpha[\beta] \circ \textit{resp}\{map[\beta]\} (\alpha'[\beta']).
  4. Delegation: (\textit{id}_M)[\delta]\equiv M[\delta].

(Here \textit{resp} is the application of a transformation to a term; it is there to “get the types right”.)  The interchange law is the type-theoretic analogue of the required interaction between 1-composition and 2-composition in a (strict) 2-category.

This is the judgmental structure of strict two-dimensional type theory.  There are several directions we can go from here.  One is to clarify the strict/weak distinction that has been underlying our discussions so far.  Another is to consider how to extend this to three- and higher-dimensional (or, dare I say it, infinite-dimensional) type theory.  The crucial ingredient for both of these discussions is one particular type constructor (more precisely, family of type constructors) that internalizes the hom structure as a type.  In the groupoidal case, where the higher structure is symmetric (invertible), this corresponds to (a version of) the Martin-Löf identity type.  The introduction rule is reflexivity, and the elimination rule is, in essence, the Yoneda Lemma from category theory.  When interpreted in terms of homotopy theory, this is the type of paths in a space, which is critical for defining the fundamental group(oid) of a space, and to clarifying the hinted-at distinction between weak and strict structure in higher dimensions.  More on that later!

Higher-Dimensional Type Theory

May 30, 2011

Ideas have their time, and it’s not for us to choose when they arrive.  But when they do, they almost always occur to many people at more or less the same time, often in a slightly disguised form whose underlying unity becomes apparent only later.  This is perhaps not too surprising, the same seeds taking root in many a fertile mind.  A bit harder to explain, though, is the moment in time when an idea comes to fruition.  Often all of the ingredients are available, and yet no one thinks to put two-and-two together and draw what seems, in retrospect, to be the obvious inference.  Until, suddenly, everyone does.  Why didn’t we think of that ages ago?  Nothing was stopping us, we just didn’t notice the opportunity!

The recent development of higher-dimensional structure in type theory seems to be a good example.  All of the ingredients have been present since the 1970’s, yet as far as I know no one, until quite recently, no one quite put together all the pieces to expose the beautiful structure that has been sitting there all along.  Like many good ideas, one can see clearly that the ideas were foreshadowed by many earlier developments whose implications are only now becoming understood.  My plan is to explain higher type theory (HTT) to the well-informed non-expert, building on ideas developed by various researchers, including Thorsten Altenkirch, Steve Awodey, Richard Garner, Martin Hofmann, Dan Licata, Peter Lumsdaine, Per Martin-Löf, Mike Shulman, Thomas Streicher, Vladimir Voevodsky, and Michael Warren.  It will be useful in the sequel to be familiar with The Holy Trinity, at least superficially, and preferably well enough to be able to move back and forth between the three manifestations that I’ve previously outlined.

One-dimensional dependent type theory is defined by derivation rules for these four fundamental forms of judgement (and, usually, some others that we suppress here for the sake of concision):

\displaystyle \Gamma\vdash A\,\mathsf{type}

\displaystyle \Gamma\vdash M : A

\displaystyle \Gamma\vdash M \equiv N : A

\displaystyle \Gamma\vdash A\equiv B

A context, \Gamma, consists of a sequence of declarations of variables of the form x_1:A_1,\dots,x_n:A_n, where it is presupposed, for each 1\leq i\leq n, that x_1:A_1,\dots,x_{i-1}:A_{i-1}\vdash A_i\,\mathsf{type} is derivable.

The key notion of dependent type theory is that of a family of types indexed by (zero or more) variables ranging over a type.  The judgement \Gamma\vdash A\,\mathsf{type} states that A is a family of types indexed by the variables given by \Gamma.  For example, we may have \vdash\textit{Nat}\,\textsf{type}, specifying that \textit{Nat} is a closed type (a degenerate family of types), and x{:}\textit{Nat}\vdash\textit{Seq}(x)\,\textsf{type}, specifying that \textit{Seq}(n) is a type (say, of sequences of naturals of length n) for each \vdash n:\textit{Nat}.  The rules of type theory ensure, either directly or indirectly, that the structural properties of the hypothetical/general judgement are valid.  In particular families of types respect equality of indices:

\displaystyle{{\Gamma,x:A\vdash B\,\textsf{type}\quad \Gamma\vdash M\equiv N:A \quad \Gamma\vdash P:B[M/x]}\over  {\Gamma\vdash P:B[N/x]}}.

In words, if B is a family of types indexed by A, and if M and N are equal members of type A, then every member of B[M/x] is also a member of B[N/x].

The generalization to two- (and higher-) dimensional type theory can be motivated in several ways.  One natural source of higher-dimensional structure is a universe, a type whose elements correspond to types.  For example, we may have a universe of sets given as follows:

\displaystyle \vdash \textit{Set}\,\textsf{type}

\displaystyle x:\textit{Set}\vdash \textit{Elt}(x)\,\textsf{type}

\displaystyle \vdash \textit{nat}:\textit{Set}

\displaystyle \vdash \textit{Elt}(\textit{nat})\equiv\textit{Nat}

\displaystyle a:\textit{Set},b:\textit{Set}\vdash a\times b : \textit{Set}

\displaystyle a:\textit{Set},b:\textit{Set}\vdash \textit{Elt}(a\times b)\equiv \textit{Elt}(a)\times\textit{Elt}(b)

and so forth, ensuring that \textit{Set} is closed under typical set-forming operations whose interpretations are given by \textit{Elt} in terms of standard type-theoretic concepts.

In many situations, including much of informal (yet entirely rigorous) mathematics, it is convenient to identify sets that are isomorphic, so that, for example, the sets \textit{nat}\times\textit{nat} and \textit{2}\to\textit{nat} would be interchangeable.  In particular, these sets should have the “same” (type of) elements.  But obviously these two sets do not have the same elements (one consists of pairs, the other of functions, under the natural interpretation of the sets as types), so we cannot hope to treat \textit{Elt}(\textit{nat}\times\textit{nat}) and \textit{Elt}(\textit{2}\to\textit{nat}) as equal, though we may wish to regard them as equivalent in some sense.  Moreover, since two sets can be isomorphic in different ways, isomorphism must be considered a structure on sets, rather than a property of sets.  For example, \textit{2} is isomorphic to itself in two different ways, by the identity and by negation (swapping).  Thus, equivalence of the elements of two isomorphic sets must take account of the isomorphism itself, and hence must have computational significance.

It is precisely the desire to accommodate equivalences such as this that gives rise to higher dimensions in type theory.  Specifically, we introduce two-dimensional structure by adding a new judgement to type theory stating that two members of a type are related by a specified transformation:

\displaystyle \Gamma\vdash \alpha :: M\simeq N : A

Crucially, families of types must respect transformation:

\displaystyle{{\Gamma,x:A\vdash B\,\textsf{type}\quad \Gamma\vdash \alpha :: M\simeq N:A \quad \Gamma\vdash P:B[M/x]}\over  {\Gamma\vdash \textit{map}\{x:A.B\}[\alpha](P):B[N/x]}}.

A transformation should be thought of as evidence of interchangeability of the members of a type; the map operation puts the evidence to work.

Returning to our example of the universe of sets, let us specify that a transformation from one set to another is an pair of functions constituting a bijection between the elements of the two sets:

\displaystyle{  {\begin{array}{c}  \Gamma,x:\textit{Elt}(a)\vdash f(x):\textit{Elt}(b) \\  \Gamma,x:\textit{Elt}(b)\vdash g(x):\textit{Elt}(a) \\  \Gamma,x:\textit{Elt}(a)\vdash g(f(x))\equiv x:\textit{Elt}(a) \\  \Gamma,x:\textit{Elt}(b)\vdash f(g(x))\equiv x:\textit{Elt}(b)  \end{array}}  \over  {\Gamma\vdash\textit{iso}(f,g)::a\simeq b:\textit{Set}}}

(The equational conditions here are rather strong; I will return to this point in a future post.  For now, let us just take this as the defining criterion of isomorphism between two sets.)

Evidence for the isomorphism of two sets induces a transformation on types given by the following equation:

\displaystyle{  {\Gamma\vdash M:\textit{Elt}(a)}\over  {\Gamma\vdash \textit{map}\{\textit{Elt}\}[\textit{iso}(f,g)](M)\equiv f(M) : \textit{Elt}(b)}}

(suppressing the obvious typing premises for f and g).  In words an isomorphism between sets a and b induces a transformation between their elements given by the isomorphism itself.

This, then, is the basic structure of two-dimensional type theory, but there is much more to say!  In future posts I intend to develop the ideas further, including a discussion of these topics:

  1. The definition of \textit{map}\{x:A.B\} is given by induction over the structure of x:A.B.  The above equation covers only one case; there are more, corresponding to each way of forming a family of types x:A.B.  The extension to function types will expose the role of the inverse of the isomorphism between sets.
  2. The judgement \alpha::M\simeq N:A may be internalized as a type, which will turn out to correspond to the identity type in Martin-Löf’s type theory, albeit with a different interpretation given by Altenkirch.  The identity type plays an important role in the extension to all higher dimensions.
  3. To ensure coherence and to allow for greater expressiveness we must also discuss equality and equivalence of transformations and how these influence the induced transformation of families of types.  In particular transformations admit a groupoid structure which expresses reflexivity, symmetry, and transitivity of transformation; these conditions can be considered to hold strongly or weakly, giving rise to different applications and interpretations.
  4. Higher-dimensional type theory admits a fascinating interpretation in terms of homotopy theory which types are interpreted as spaces, members as points in those spaces, and transformations as paths, or homotopies.  This, together with a generalization of the treatment of universes outlined above, is the basis for Voevodsky’s work on univalent foundations of mathematics.
  5. One may consider relaxing the groupoid structure on transformations to a “monoidoid” (that is, category) structure by not requiring symmetry (inverses).  The structure of type theory changes significantly in the absence of symmetry, posing significant open problems, but admitting a wider range of applications of higher-dimensional structure in both CS and mathematics.
To keep up to date with the latest developments in this area, please visit the Homotopy Type Theory blog!

The Holy Trinity

March 27, 2011

The Christian doctrine of trinitarianism states that there is one God that is manifest in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who together form the Holy Trinity.   The doctrine of computational trinitarianism holds that computation manifests itself in three forms: proofs of propositions, programs of a type, and mappings between structures.  These three aspects give rise to three sects of worship: Logic, which gives primacy to proofs and propositions; Languages, which gives primacy to programs and types; Categories, which gives primacy to mappings and structures.  The central dogma of computational trinitarianism holds that Logic, Languages, and Categories are but three manifestations of one divine notion of computation.  There is no preferred route to enlightenment: each aspect provides insights that comprise the experience of computation in our lives.

Computational trinitarianism entails that any concept arising in one aspect should have meaning from the perspective of the other two.  If you arrive at an insight that has importance for logic, languages, and categories, then you may feel sure that you have elucidated an essential concept of computation—you have made an enduring scientific discovery.  Advances in our understanding of computation may arise from insights gained in many ways (any data is useful and relevant), but their essential truth does not depend on their popularity.

Logic tells us what propositions exist (what sorts of thoughts we wish to express) and what constitutes a proof (how we can communicate our thoughts to others).  Languages (in the sense of programming) tells us what types exist (what computational phenomena we wish to express) and what constitutes a program (how we can give rise to that phenomenon).  Categories tell us what structures exist (what mathematical models we have to work with) and what constitutes a mapping between them (how they relate to one another).  In this sense all three have ontological force; they codify what is, not how to describe what is already given to us.  In this sense they are foundational; if we suppose that they are merely descriptive, we would be left with the question of where these previously given concepts arise, leading us back again to foundations.  It is the foundations that I wish to describe here, because I believe it will help to clarify some common misunderstandings about the notions of proposition, type, and structure.  Of particular interest here is that a “type system” is not, under this conception, an arbitrary collection of conditions imposed on a previously given notion of program (whether written with horizontal lines, or not).  It is, rather, a way to say what the programs are in the first place, and what they mean as proofs and as mappings.

Here I will outline the basic correspondences between logic, languages, and categories by examining their structural properties (and, for now, nothing more).

The fundamental notion in logic is that of entailment, written P_1,\dots,P_n\vdash P, expressing derivability of P from P_1,\dots, P_n.  This means that P is derivable from the rules of logic, given the P_i as axioms.  In contrast to admissibility (which I will not discuss further here) this form of entailment does not express implication!  In particular, an entailment is never vacuously true.  Entailment enjoys at least two crucial structural properties, making it a pre-order:

\displaystyle{\strut\over{P\vdash P}}

\displaystyle{{P\vdash Q\quad Q\vdash R}\over{P\vdash R}}.

In addition we often have the following additional structural properties:

\displaystyle{{P_1,\dots,P_n\vdash Q}\over{P_1,\dots,P_n,P_{n+1}\vdash Q}}

\displaystyle{{P_1,\dots,P_i,P_{i+1},\dots,P_n\vdash Q}\over{P_1,\dots,P_{i+1},P_{i},\dots,P_n\vdash Q}}

\displaystyle{{P_1,\dots,P_i,P_i,\dots,P_n\vdash Q}\over{P_1,\dots,P_i,\dots,P_n\vdash Q}}.

These state that “extra” axioms do not affect deduction; the “order” of axioms does not matter; “duplication” of axioms does not matter.  (These may seem inevitable, but in substructural logics any or all of these may be denied.)

In languages we have the fundamental concept of a typing judgement, written x_1{:}A_1,\dots,x_n{:} A_n\vdash M{:}A, stating that M is an expression of type $A$ involving variables x_i of type $A_i$.  A typing judgement must satisfy the following basic structural properties:

\displaystyle{\strut\over{x:A\vdash x:A}}

\displaystyle{{y:B\vdash N:C \quad x:A\vdash M:B}\over{x:A\vdash [M/y]N:C}}

We may think of the variables as names for “libraries”, in which case the first states that we may use any library we wish, and the second states closure under “linking” (as in the Unix tool ld or its relatives), with [M/x]N being the result of linking x in N to the library M.  Typically we expect analogues of the “extra”, “reordering”, and “duplication” axioms to hold as well, though this ain’t necessarily so.  I will leave their formulation as an exercise for the reader.

In categories we have the fundamental concept of a mapping f:X\longrightarrow Y between structures X and Y.  The most elementary structures, perhaps, are sets, and mappings are functions, but it is more common to consider, say, that X and Y are topological spaces, and $f$ is a continuous function between them.  Mappings satisfy analogous structural properties:

\displaystyle{\strut\over{\textit{id}_X : X \longrightarrow X}}

\displaystyle{{f:X\longrightarrow Y \quad g : Y\longrightarrow Z}\over{g\circ f:X\longrightarrow Z}}

These express, respectively, the existence of the identity map, and the closure of maps under composition.  They correspond to reflexivity and transitivity of entailment, and to the library and linking rule of languages.  As with types, one may expect additional closure conditions corresponding to the “extra”, “reordering”, and “duplication” axioms by giving suitable meaning to multiple assumptions.  I will not go into this here, but numerous standard sources treat these conditions in detail.

What I find captivating about computational trinitarianism is that it is beautiful!  Imagine a world in which logic, programming, and mathematics are unified, in which every proof corresponds to a program, every program to a mapping, every mapping to a proof!  Imagine a world in which the code is the math, in which there is no separation between the reasoning and the execution, no difference between the language of mathematics and the language of computing.  Trinitarianism is the central organizing principle of a theory of computation that integrates, unifies, and enriches the language of logic, programming, and mathematics.  It provides a framework for discovery, as well as analysis, of computational phenomena.  An innovation in one aspect must have implications for the other; a good idea is a good idea, in whatever form it may arise.  If an idea does not make good sense logically, categorially, and typically (sorry for the neologism), then it cannot be a manifestation of the divine.


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