Saturday, May 28, 2005

Finite Model Theory: Preliminaries (2)

We now focus on a very important concept in finite model theory: `k`-ary queries. In fact, one goal of finite model theory is to establish a useful, if possible complete, criterion for determining expressibility (ie, definability) of a query in a logic (such as, first-order logic) on finite structures. For example, we may ask if the query connectivity for finite graphs, which asks whether a finite graph is connected, is expressible in first-order logic. The answer is 'no', though we won't prove this now. [Curious readers are referred to Libkin's Elements of Finite Model Theory or Fagin's excellent survey paper.]

We shall start by recalling the notion of homomorphisms and isomorphisms between structures. Given two `sigma`-structures `fr A` and `fr B`, a homomorphism between them is a function `h: A -> B` such that `h(c^{fr A}) = c^{fr B}` for every constant symbol `c in sigma`, and `h(bb a) := (h(a_1), ..., h(a_r)) in R^{fr B}`, for every `r`-ary relation symbol `R in sigma` and `bb a := (a_1,...,a_r) in R^{fr A}`. So, homomorphisms are tuple-preserving functions (here, think of a tuple as an `r`-ary vector prepended by an `r`-ary relation symbol, eg, `R(1,2,3)`). Now isomorphisms are basically bijective homomorphisms whose inverse are also homomorphisms. Intuitively, this means that two isomorphic structures are the same after relabeling the elements of the universe in one of these structures. We write `fr A ~= fr B` to denote that `fr A` and `fr B` be isomorphic.

Now we define what we mean by queries. Fix a vocabulary `sigma` and a class `cc M` of (not necessarily all) finite `sigma`-structures. This class `cc M` will be referred to as a ground set. Now, for `k >= 0`, a `k`-ary query `cc Q` is a function associating each `fr A in cc M` to a subset of `A^k` such that `cc Q` is closed under isomorphisms, ie, whenever `h: A -> B` is an isomorphism, we have `h( cc Q(fr A)) = cc Q(fr B)`. Now this query `cc Q` is said to be expressible (or definable) in a logic `L` over `cc M` if there exists a `L`-formula `phi` over `sigma` with `k` free variables such that for every `fr A in cc M`, `cc Q(fr A) = phi(fr A)` where

`phi(fr A) := { (a_1,...,a_k) in A^k : fr A |= phi(a_1,...,a_k) }`.

Whenever `cc M` be the set of all finite structures, we shall omit mention of `cc M`.
An important special case occurs when `k = 0`. Such queries are normally called boolean queries or just properties. In this case, the image of `cc Q` can only be either a singleton `{()}` containing the trivial tuple `()`, or the empty set `O/`. We will identify `{()}` with `true` and `O/` with `false`. So, a property `cc Q` is expressible in a logic `L` over `cc M` if there exists an `L`-sentence `phi` over `sigma` such that `cc Q(fr A) = true` iff `fr A |= phi`, for each `fr A in cc M`. Examples of boolean queries (for finite graphs) are:

  • Hamiltonian: `cc Q(fr G) = true` iff the graph `fr G` is hamiltonian.
  • Self-loop: `cc Q(fr G) = true` iff the graph `fr G` has a self-loop (ie, `fr G |= EE x( E(x,x))`).
  • Isolated: `cc Q(fr G) = true` iff the graph `fr G` has an isolated vertex.
  • Connected: `cc Q(fr G) = true` iff the graph `fr G` is connected.
  • Acyclic: `cc Q(fr G) = true` iff the graph `fr G` is acyclic.

An example of 2-ary queries is the transitive closure query of finite graphs:

`Q: fr G |-> { (a,b) in G^2 : text{there exists a path from } a text{ to } b text{ in} fr G }`

Question: which of the above queries are expressible in first-order logic? Well, we already saw that Self-loop is expressible in first-order logic. So, it is enough to exhibit a first-order formula to show that a query be expressible in first-order logic. But how do we prove first-order inexpressibility results? In classical model theory, we have tools like compactness and Lowenheim-Skolem theorems for proving first-order inexpressibility. However, most of these tools including the two afore-mentioned theorems fail to "work" in the finite. The only one result that survives is the Ehrenfeucht-Fraisse games (a good exposition of the result can be found here). [Incidentally, does this imply that finite model theory is more difficult than classical model theory?] The games, for example, can be used to prove that the queries Hamiltonian, Connected, Acyclic, and Transitive Closure are not definable in first-order logic. These results will be discussed in subsequent postings.

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