nLab Markov's principle

Markovs Principle

Markov's Principle


In constructive mathematics, Markov's principle is the (classically trivial) statement that any infinite sequence of 00 and 11 that is not all 11s must have a 00 somewhere. Stated in a more logical form, if PP is a predicate on natural numbers, then

n(P(n)¬P(n))¬nP(n)n¬P(n). \forall{n}\, \big(P(n) \vee \neg{P(n)}\big) \Rightarrow \neg\forall{n}\, P(n) \Rightarrow \exists{n}\, \neg{P(n)} .

Compare this to

¬nP(n)n¬P(n), \neg\exists{n}\, P(n) \Rightarrow \forall{n}\, \neg{P(n)} ,

which is a theorem of intuitionistic logic. More generally, a set SS may be called Markovian if this principle holds for all predicates on SS. Every Kuratowski-finite set is Markovian, for example.

Markov's principle is often stated in terms of infinite sequences of natural numbers, using Greek letters for sequences and Latin letters for individual numbers:

α(¬n(α n=0)n(α n0)). \forall{\alpha}\, \big(\neg\forall{n}\, (\alpha_n = 0) \Rightarrow \exists{n}\, (\alpha_n \ne 0)\big) .

Here, P(n)P(n) is the statement that α n=0\alpha_n = 0, and the hypothesis n(P(n)¬P(n))\forall{n} (P(n) \vee \neg{P(n)}) is true for any sequence of natural numbers. Conversely, given any predicate PP satisfying this hypothesis, we can define α\alpha by α n=0\alpha_n = 0 if P(n)P(n) is true and α n=1\alpha_n = 1 if P(n)P(n) is false, so the two versions of Markov's principle are equivalent.


In standard constructive mathematics (such as in the internal logic of a topos), it is possible that the only Markovian sets are the Kuratowski-finite sets. Thus, Markov's principle, stating that the set of natural numbers is Markovian, is nontrivial. (It is true, of course, in a Boolean topos; that is, Markov's principle follows from the principle of excluded middle.)

Andrey Markov Jr (the one who proved undecidability theorems, and son of the great stochastician) belonged to the Russian school of constructivism, which saw mathematics as about computability. From this perspective, Markov's principle is justified as follows: We are justified in concluding n¬P(n)\exists{n}\, \neg{P(n)} if we can actually compute a value of nn such that ¬P(n)\neg{P(n)} can be proved; since PP is decidable, it's enough to compute nn such that ¬P(n)\neg{P(n)} is true. And to compute this, you just set a computer working, deciding P(0),P(1),P(2),P(0), P(1), P(2), \ldots, until it finds nn. Other constructivists find this argument unconvincing, since they're not convinced that the computer will ever stop, even though it's impossible that it continue forever.

Equivalent forms:

Note that the contrapositives of these are all valid regardless of Markov's principle.

The other major historical school of constructivism, Brouwer's intuitionism, rejects Markov's principle. Brouwer's viewpoint has since his time been formalized, and via this formalization Markov's principle can be proved false. Namely, Kripke's schema with MP proves Excluded Middle, and Excluded Middle is incompatible with continuity?. Several models have been built satisfying Kripke's schema and continuity, thereby falsifying MP. These include topological models (e.g. M. Krol, “Topological model for intuitionistic analysis with Kripke’s Scheme,“ Zeitschr. f. math. Logic und Grundlagen d. Math. 24, p. 427-436, 1978), Beth models (e.g. D. van Dalen, “ interpretation of intuitionistic analysis,” Annals of Mathematical Logic 13(1), p. 1-43), realizability models (e.g. J. van Oosten, Realizability, Elsevier, 2008), and a Kripke model BridgesRichman, p138. Note however that some intuitionists have advocated in favour of Markov's principle (and presumably then against Kripke's schema).

Weak Markov's Principle

More recently, a weakened form of Markov's principle has been identified (first in (Mandelkern 1988)) and seen to be of interest, aptly named Weak Markov's Principle. It states that if a binary sequence is pseudo-positive then it is positive:

α(β(¬¬n(β(n)=1)¬¬n((α(n)=1)(β(n)=0)))n(α(n)=1)). \forall \alpha \, \Big(\forall \beta \, \Big(\neg\neg\exists n \, (\beta(n)=1)\vee \neg\neg\exists n \, \big((\alpha(n)=1)\wedge(\beta(n)=0)\big)\Big)\rightarrow\exists n \, (\alpha(n)=1)\Big).

Analytic Markov's Principle

Markov's principle is equivalent to the assertion that for every modulated Cantor real number aa, if a0a \leq 0 is false, then a>0a \gt 0. Another way to say this is that the standard tight apartness relation on modulated Cantor reals is a stable relation.

The analogous statement for Dedekind real numbers might be called the analytic Markov's principle, by analogy with the analytic LPO. The Russian constructivists, who used Markov's principle most, accepted countable choice, or at least AC 0,0AC_{0,0}, which implies that these two principles are equivalent. However, in other varieties of constructive mathematics, the analytic Markov's principle is stronger.


  • Mark Mandelkern, Constructively Complete Finite Sets, Mathematical Logic Quarterly 34, issue 2 (1988) 97–103, doi:10.1002/malq.19880340202.

For a recent comparison see:

  • Matt Hendtlass and Robert Lubarsky, Separating fragments of WLEM, LPO, and MP, PDF.

  • Douglas Bridges and Fred Richman, Varieties of Constructive Mathematics.

Last revised on December 10, 2022 at 16:54:27. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.