The Journal of Symbolic Logic

Research Article

Trial and error predicates and the solution to a problem of Mostowski  *

Hilary Putnam

Department of Humanities and Research Laboratory of Electronics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The purpose of this paper is to present two groups of results which have turned out to have a surprisingly close interconnection. The first two results (Theorems 1 and 2) were inspired by the following question: we know what sets are “decidable” — namely, the recursive sets (according to Church's Thesis). But what happens if we modify the notion of a decision procedure by (1) allowing the procedure to “change its mind” any finite number of times (in terms of Turing Machines: we visualize the machine as being given an integer (or an n-tuple of integers) as input. The machine then “prints out” a finite sequence of “yesses” and “nos”. The last “yes” or “no” is always to be the correct answer.); and (2) we give up the requirement that it be possible to tell (effectively) if the computation has terminated? I.e., if the machine has most recently printed “yes”, then we know that the integer put in as input must be in the set unless the machine is going to change its mind; but we have no procedure for telling whether the machine will change its mind or not.

The sets for which there exist decision procedures in this widened sense are decidable by “empirical” means — for, if we always “posit” that the most recently generated answer is correct, we will make a finite number of mistakes, but we will eventually get the correct answer. (Note, however, that even if we have gotten to the correct answer (the end of the finite sequence) we are never sure that we have the correct answer.)

(Received November 25 1963)


*  This work was supported in part by the U.S. Army, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Office of Naval Research.