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The Search for Deep Inconsistency

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Mathematical, Foundational and Computational Aspects of the Higher Infinite

The hierarchy of large cardinals provides us with a canonical means to climb the hierarchy of consistency strength. There have been any purported inconsistency proofs of various large cardinal axioms. For example, there have been many proofs purporting to show that measurable cardinals are inconsistent. But to date the only proofs that have stood the test of time are those which are rather transparent and simple, the most notable example being Kunen’s proof showing that Reinhardt cardinals are inconsistent. The Kunen result, however, makes use of AC. And long standing open question is whether Reinhardt cardinals are consistent in the context of ZF.

In this talk I will survey the simple inconsistency proofs and then raise the question of whether perhaps the large cardinal hierarchy outstrips AC, passing through Reinhardt cardinals and reaching far beyond. There are two main motivations for this investigation. First, it is of interest in its own right to determine whether the hierarchy of consistency strength outstrips AC. Perhaps there is an entire “choicless” large cardinal hierarchy, one which reaches new consistency strengths and has fruitful applications. Second, since the task of proving an inconsistency result becomes easier as one strengthens the hypothesis, in the search for a deep inconsistency it is reasonable to start with outlandishly strong large cardinal assumptions and then work ones way down. This will lead to the formulation of large cardinal axioms (in the context of ZF) that start at the level of a Reinhardt cardinal and pass upward through Berkeley cardinals (due to Woodin) and far beyond. Bagaria, Woodin, and myself have been charting out this new hierarchy. I will discuss what we have found so far.

This talk is part of the Isaac Newton Institute Seminar Series series.

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