28 Aug 2002 Bram   » (Master)

Axiomatic Bases

Raph quoted me as saying that ZF is a hack. I probably should explain.

PA seems logically compelling to me, even preexisting. I know what the number one is, what a successor is, and I absolutely believe in the principle of induction. ZF, on the other hand, has no obvious intuitive basis. What is a set? Is it a bag? A list? A data structure? A function? The inability of sets to contain themselves would seem to imply bag, but the ability to keep the same set in multiple other ones at once would seem to imply list. All around, ZF feels like something which was logically compelling but then had awkward restrictions placed on it to get rid of some paradoxes.

Perhaps if it were presented in some other way, using different names and metaphors, I wouldn't find ZF so awkward. I'm convinced of its practical utility for doing mathematics from the sheer amount of fiddling with has been done with it, but I'd still like for my intuition to naturally accept it as well.


Thanks, dmerrill! I think my work on BitTorrent is a reasonable qualification for master certification. I've spent over a year working on it, and it's now getting over a hundred downloads a day, as you can see on the statistics page.

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