Mathematics and Computation

A blog about mathematics for computers

Seemingly impossible functional programs

Andrej has invited me to write about certain surprising functional programs. The first program, due to Ulrich Berger (1990), performs exhaustive search over the “Cantor space” of infinite sequences of binary digits. I have included references at the end. A weak form of exhaustive search amounts to checking whether or not a total predicate holds for all elements of the Cantor space. Thus, this amounts to universal quantification over the Cantor space. Can this possibly be done algorithmically, in finite time?

A stronger one amounts to finding an example such that the predicate holds, if such an example exists, and saying that there isn't any otherwise.

I will use the language Haskell, but it is possible to quickly translate the programs to e.g. ML or OCaml. The source code shown here is attached as seemingly-impossible.hs.

We could use the booleans to represent binary digits, or even the integers, but I prefer to use a different type to avoid confusions:

> data Bit = Zero | One
>          deriving (Eq)

The deriving clause tells Haskell to figure out how to decide equality of bits automatically.

For the type of infinite sequences, we could use the built-in type of lazy lists for most algorithms considered here. But, in order to illustrate certain points, I will take the mathematical view and regard sequences as functions defined on the natural numbers. The next version of the definition of Haskell will have a built-in type of natural numbers. For the moment, I implement it as the type of integers:

> type Natural = Integer
> type Cantor = Natural -> Bit

The operator (#) takes a bit x and a sequence a and produces a new sequence x # a with x as the head and a as the tail (very much like the built-in operation (:) for lists):

> (#) :: Bit -> Cantor -> Cantor
> x # a = \i -> if i == 0 then x else a(i-1)

Notice that the notation \i -> ... stands for $\lambda i. \dots$.

Next, we come to the heart of the matter, the functions that perform exhaustive search over the Cantor space. The specification of the function find is that, for any total p, one should have that find p is always a total element of the Cantor space, and, moreover, if there is a in the Cantor space with p a = True, then a = find p is an example of such an a.

> forsome, forevery :: (Cantor -> Bool) -> Bool
> find :: (Cantor -> Bool) -> Cantor

Because I will have several implementations of find, I have to choose one to be able to compile and run the program. A canonical choice is the first one,

> find = find_i

but you are invited to experiment with the other ones. For the following definition of find_i to make sense, you have to take the above choice.

The function find takes a predicate on the Cantor space, and hence it will typically have a $\lambda$-expression as argument. In the following definition this is not necessary, because (\a -> p a) = p by the $\eta$ rule. But I have adopted it for the sake of clarity, as then we can read “find(\a -> p a)” aloud as “find a such that p(a)“:

> forsome p = p(find(\a -> p a))
> forevery p = not(forsome(\a -> not(p a)))

Notice that the function forevery (universal quantification) is obtained from the function forsome (existential quantification) via the De Morgan Law. The functionals forsome and find_i are defined by mutual recursion:

> find_i :: (Cantor -> Bool) -> Cantor
> find_i p = if forsome(\a -> p(Zero # a))
>            then Zero # find_i(\a -> p(Zero # a))
>            else One  # find_i(\a -> p(One  # a))

The intuitive idea of the algorithm find_i is clear: if there is an example starting with zero, then the result is taken to start with zero, otherwise it must start with one. Then we recursively build the tail using the same idea. What may not be clear is whether the recursion eventually produces a digit, because of the indirect recursive call via the call to forsome. A mathematical proof proceeds by induction on the modulus of uniform continuity of p, defined below.

It may be more natural to return an example only if there is one, and otherwise tell there isn't any:

> search :: (Cantor -> Bool) -> Maybe Cantor
> search p = if forsome(\a -> p a) then Just(find(\a -> p a)) else Nothing

The Maybe type constructor is predefined by Haskell as

data Maybe a = Just a | Nothing

Type-theoretic remark: the type Maybe a corresponds to the sum type $A+1$, where the only element of $1$ is called Nothing and where Just is the insertion $A \to A+1$.

Exercise: show that both forsome and find can be defined directly from search assuming we had defined search first.

Common wisdom tells us that function types don't have decidable equality. In fact, e.g. the function type Integer -> Integer doesn't have decidable equality because of the Halting Problem, as is well known. However, common wisdom is not always correct, and, in fact, some other function types do have decidable equality, for example the type Cantor -> y for any type y with decidable equality, without contradicting Turing:

> equal :: Eq y => (Cantor -> y) -> (Cantor -> y) -> Bool
> equal f g = forevery(\a -> f a == g a)

This seems strange, even fishy, because the Cantor space is in some sense bigger than the integers. In a follow-up post, I'll explain that this has to do with the fact that the Cantor space is topologically compact, but the integers are not.

Let's run an example:

> coerce :: Bit -> Natural
> coerce Zero = 0
> coerce One = 1

> f, g, h :: Cantor -> Integer

> f a = coerce(a(7 * coerce(a 4) +  4 * (coerce(a 7)) + 4))

> g a = coerce(a(coerce(a 4) + 11 * (coerce(a 7))))

> h a = if a 7 == Zero
>       then if a 4 == Zero then coerce(a  4) else coerce(a 11)
>       else if a 4 == One  then coerce(a 15) else coerce(a  8)

Now we call the ghci interpreter:

$ ghci seemingly-impossible.lhs
   ___         ___ _
  / _  /  // __(_)
 / /_// /_/ / /  | |      GHC Interactive, version 6.6, for Haskell 98.
/ /_/ __  / /___| |
____// /_/____/|_|      Type :? for help.

Loading package base ... linking ... done.
[1 of 1] Compiling Main             ( seemingly-impossible.lhs, interpreted )
Ok, modules loaded: Main.


At this point we can evaluate expressions at the interpreter's prompt. First I ask it to print time and space usage after each evaluation:

*Main> :set +s

On my Dell 410 laptop running at 1.73GHz, I test the following expressions:

*Main> equal f g
(0.10 secs, 3490296 bytes)

*Main> equal f h
(0.87 secs, 36048844 bytes)

*Main> equal g h
(0.09 secs, 3494064 bytes)

*Main> equal f f
(0.91 secs, 38642544 bytes)

*Main> equal g g
(0.15 secs, 6127796 bytes)

*Main> equal h h
(0.83 secs, 32787372 bytes)

By changing the implementation of find, I'll make this faster and also will be able to run bigger examples. But let's carry on with the current implementation for the moment.

The following was Berger's main motivation for considering the above constructions:

> modulus :: (Cantor -> Integer) -> Natural
> modulus f = least(\n -> forevery(\a -> forevery(\b -> eq n a b --> (f a == f b))))

This is sometimes called the Fan Functional, and goes back to Brouwer (1920's) and it is well known in the higher-type computability theory community (see Normann (2006) below). It finds the modulus of uniform continuity, defined as the least natural number $n$ such that

$\forall \alpha,\beta(\alpha =_n \beta \to f(\alpha)=f(\beta),$


$\alpha =_n \beta \iff \forall i < n. \alpha_i = \beta_i.$

What is going on here is that computable functionals are continuous, which amounts to saying that finite amounts of the output depend only on finite amounts of the input. But the Cantor space is compact, and in analysis and topology there is a theorem that says that continuous functions defined on a compact space are uniformly continuous. In this context, this amounts to the existence of a single $n$ such that for all inputs it is enough to look at depth $n$ to get the answer (which in this case is always finite, because it is an integer). I'll explain all this in another post. Here I will illustrate this by running the program in some examples.

Notice that the Haskell definition is the same as the mathematical one, provided we define all the other needed ingredients:

> least :: (Natural -> Bool) -> Natural
> least p = if p 0 then 0 else 1 + least(\n -> p(n+1))

> (-->) :: Bool -> Bool -> Bool
> p --> q = not p || q

> eq :: Natural -> Cantor -> Cantor -> Bool
> eq 0 a b = True
> eq (n+1) a b = a n == b n  &&  eq n a b

To understand the modulus functional in practice, define projections as follows:

> proj :: Natural -> (Cantor -> Integer)
> proj i = \a -> coerce(a i)

Then we get:

*Main> modulus (\a -> 45000)
(0.00 secs, 0 bytes)

*Main> modulus (proj 1)
(0.00 secs, 0 bytes)

*Main> modulus (proj 2)
(0.01 secs, 0 bytes)

*Main> modulus (proj 3)
(0.05 secs, 820144 bytes)

*Main> modulus (proj 4)
(0.30 secs, 5173540 bytes)

*Main> modulus (proj 5)
(1.69 secs, 31112400 bytes)

*Main> modulus (proj 6)
(9.24 secs, 171456820 bytes)

So, intuitively, the modulus is the last index of the input that the function uses plus one. For a constant function, like the above, the modulus is zero, because no index is used.

Technical remark. The notion of modulus of uniform continuity needed for the proof of termination of find_i is not literally the same as above, but a slight variant (sometimes called the intensional modulus of uniform continuity, whereas ours is referred to as the extensional one). But I won't go into such mathematical subtleties here. The main idea is that when the modulus is $0$ the recursion terminates and one of the branches of the definition of find_i is followed, and a new recursion is started, to produce the next digit of the example. When the modulus of p is $n+1$, the modulus of the predicate \a -> p(Zero # a) is $n$ or smaller, and so recursive calls are always made with smaller moduli and hence eventually terminate. End of remark.

Now I'll try to get faster implementations of find. I'll modify the original implementation in several stages. Firstly, I will remove the mutual recursion by expanding the definition of the function forsome in the definition of the function find_i:

> find_ii p = if p(Zero # find_ii(\a -> p(Zero # a)))
>             then Zero # find_ii(\a -> p(Zero # a))
>             else One  # find_ii(\a -> p(One  # a))

This should have essentially the same speed. Now notice that the branches of the conditional are the same if we make zero and one into a parameter h. Hence one can “factor out” the conditional as follows:

> find_iii :: (Cantor -> Bool) -> Cantor
> find_iii p = h # find_iii(\a -> p(h # a))
>        where h = if p(Zero # find_iii(\a -> p(Zero # a))) then Zero else One

This is (exponentially!) faster for some examples. A clue for this is that h will be evaluated only if and when it is “used” (our language is lazy). Let's run an example, replacing the above definition of find by find = find_iii:

*Main> equal f h
(0.00 secs, 522668 bytes)

*Main> equal (proj 1000) (proj 1000)
(0.00 secs, 0 bytes)

*Main> equal (proj 1000) (proj 4000)
(0.03 secs, 1422680 bytes)

*Main> equal (proj 1000) (proj(2^20))
(7.02 secs, 336290704 bytes)

As you can see, the bigger the projection functions we try, the longer the comparison gets. To see how bad the first algorithm is, let's switch back to find = find_i:

*Main> equal (proj 10) (proj 10)
(0.05 secs, 1529036 bytes)

*Main> equal (proj 10) (proj 15)
(1.61 secs, 72659036 bytes)

*Main> equal (proj 10) (proj 20)
(60.62 secs, 2780497676 bytes)

The previous examples cannot be run with this algorithm unless we had more bits available than there are atoms in the observable universe and we were willing to wait several billion-billion years, because the algorithm is exponential in the modulus of continuity.

You probably noticed that there is another obvious improvement starting from find_ii:

> find_iv :: (Cantor -> Bool) -> Cantor
> find_iv p = let leftbranch = Zero # find_iv(\a -> p(Zero # a))
>             in if p(leftbranch)
>                then leftbranch
>                else One # find_iv(\a -> p(One # a))

Actually, I never thought about the performance of this algorithm or experimented with it. Let's see what we get (you need to replace find = find_iv):

*Main> equal (proj 10) (proj 20)
(0.00 secs, 522120 bytes)

*Main> equal (proj 10) (proj 200)
(0.04 secs, 1550824 bytes)

*Main> equal (proj 10) (proj 2000)
(3.71 secs, 146039744 bytes)

*Main> equal (proj 10) (proj 20000)

Much better than find_i, but much worse than find_iii! I gave up in the last example, because it started to slow down my edition of this post after a minute or so.

But there is a much better algorithm, which I now present. I won't attempt to explain the working of this algorithm in this post (see my LICS'2007 paper below if you are really interested), but I include a few remarks below:

> find_v :: (Cantor -> Bool) -> Cantor
> find_v p = \n ->  if q n (find_v(q n)) then Zero else One
>  where q n a = p(\i -> if i < n then find_v p i else if i == n then Zero else a(i-n-1))

All the above algorithms, except this one, can be easily rewritten to use lazy lists rather than functions defined on the natural numbers. This algorithm takes advantage of the fact that to access an element of a sequence represented as a function, it is not necessary to scan all the preceding elements. In a perhaps mysterious way, this algorithm implicitly figures out which entries of its argument p uses, and constructs only those explicitly. You can access the other ones if you wish, but the algorithm find_v doesn't force their evaluation. One way to see that find_v is correct is to show, by induction on n, that find_i p n = find_v p n, which is not too difficult, although the calculations get big at some stages if one doesn't carefully introduce suitable auxiliary notation. A better way is to understand this directly, as done in the above paper (you need to look for the product functional, which generalizes this).

Now this gets really fast (take find = find_v):

*Main> equal (proj (2^300)) (proj (2^300))
(0.00 secs, 522148 bytes)
*Main> equal (proj (2^300)) (proj (2^400))
(0.00 secs, 525064 bytes)

But if the functions use several of their arguments, not just one (see example below), this isn't so good any more. To fix this, first rewrite the above program as follows, introducing an auxiliary variable b to name the result, and replace one of the recursive calls (there are two) to use b instead:

> find_vi :: (Cantor -> Bool) -> Cantor
> find_vi p = b
>  where b = \n -> if q n (find_vi(q n)) then Zero else One
>        q n a = p(\i -> if i < n then b i else if i == n then Zero else a(i-n-1))

Lazy evaluation doesn't help here, because b is a function, and in fact this makes the program slightly slower. Now, to make it significantly faster, we apply the identity function to the definition of b. Or rather an elaborate implementation of the identity function, that stores b into an infinite binary tree in a breadth-first manner and then retrieves it back (this trick implements memoization with logarithmic overhead):

> find_vii :: (Cantor -> Bool) -> Cantor
> find_vii p = b
>  where b = id'(\n -> if q n (find_vii(q n)) then Zero else One)
>        q n a = p(\i -> if i < n then b i else if i == n then Zero else a(i-n-1))

> data T x = B x (T x) (T x)

> code :: (Natural -> x) -> T x
> code f = B (f 0) (code(\n -> f(2*n+1)))
>                  (code(\n -> f(2*n+2)))

> decode :: T x -> (Natural -> x)
> decode (B x l r) n |  n == 0    = x
>                    |  odd n     = decode l ((n-1) `div` 2)
>                    |  otherwise = decode r ((n-2) `div` 2)

> id' :: (Natural -> x) -> (Natural -> x)
> id' = decode.code

Now take find = find_vii, and test:

> f',g',h' :: Cantor -> Integer

> f' a = a'(10*a'(3^80)+100*a'(4^80)+1000*a'(5^80)) where a' i = coerce(a i)

> g' a = a'(10*a'(3^80)+100*a'(4^80)+1000*a'(6^80)) where a' i = coerce(a i)

> h' a = a' k
>     where i = if a'(5^80) == 0 then 0    else 1000
>           j = if a'(3^80) == 1 then 10+i else i
>           k = if a'(4^80) == 0 then j    else 100+j
>           a' i = coerce(a i)

*Main> equal f' g'
(6.75 secs, 814435692 bytes)

*Main> equal f' h'
(3.20 secs, 383266912 bytes)

*Main> equal g' h'
(6.79 secs, 813083216 bytes)

*Main> equal f' f'
(3.20 secs, 383384908 bytes)

*Main> equal g' g'
(3.31 secs, 400711084 bytes)

*Main> equal h' h'
(3.22 secs, 383274252 bytes)

Among all the above algorithms, only find_vii can cope with the above examples. A more interesting example is this. Two finite sequences $s$ and $t$ of natural numbers have the same set of elements iff the two functions

$\bigwedge_{i < |s|} \mathrm{proj}_{s_i}$ and $\bigwedge_{i < |t|} \mathrm{proj}_{t_i}$

are equal, where the above notation indicates the pointwise logical-and (conjunction) of the projections, and where $|s|$ is the length of $s$. Here is an implementation of this idea:

> pointwiseand :: [Natural] -> (Cantor -> Bool)
> pointwiseand [] = \b -> True
> pointwiseand (n:a) = \b -> (b n == One) && pointwiseand a b

> sameelements :: [Natural] -> [Natural] -> Bool
> sameelements a b = equal (pointwiseand a) (pointwiseand b)

*Main>  sameelements
  [6^60, 5^50, 1, 5, 6, 6, 8, 9, 3, 4, 6, 2, 4,6, 1, 6^60, 7^700, 1, 1, 1, 3, 3^30]
  [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 3^30, 5^50, 6^60, 7^70]
(0.14 secs, 21716248 bytes)

*Main> sameelements
  [6^60, 5^50, 1, 5, 6, 6, 8, 9, 3, 4, 6, 2, 4,6, 1, 6^60, 7^70, 1, 1, 1, 3, 3^30]
  [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 3^30, 5^50, 6^60, 7^70]
(0.10 secs, 14093520 bytes)

*Main> sameelements
  [6^60, 5^50, 1, 5, 6, 6, 8, 9, 3, 4, 6, 2, 4,6, 1, 6^60, 7^70, 1, 1, 1, 3, 3^30]
  [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 3^30, 5^50, 6^60, 7^70]
(0.10 secs, 12610056 bytes)

*Main> sameelements
 [6^60, 5^50, 1, 5, 6, 6, 8, 9, 3, 4, 6, 2, 4,6, 1, 6^60, 7^70, 1, 1, 1, 3, 3^30]
 [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 3^30, 5^50, 6^60, 7^700]
(0.12 secs, 17130684 bytes)

*Main> sameelements
[6^60, 5^50, 1, 5, 6, 6, 8, 9, 3, 4, 6, 2, 4,6, 1, 6^60, 7^700, 1, 1, 1, 3, 3^30]
[1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 3^30, 5^50, 6^60, 7^700]
(0.12 secs, 17604776 bytes)

It is natural to ask whether there are applications to program verification. I don't know, but Dan Ghica and I speculate that there are, and we are planning to investigate this.

An even faster search algorithm is offered in the first comment below.

References with comments

  1. Ulrich Berger. Totale Objekte und Mengen in der Bereichtheorie. PhD thesis, Munich LMU, 1990.
  2. M.H. Escardo. Infinite sets that admit fast exhaustive search. In LICS'2007, Poland, Wroclaw, July. Download companion Haskell program.This paper investigates which kinds of infinite sets admit exhaustive search. It gives several algorithms for systematically building new searchable sets from old. It also shows that, for a rich collection of types, any subset that admits a quantifier also admits a searcher. The algorithm for constructing the searcher from the quantifier is slow, and so at present this result is of theoretical interest only. But the other algorithms are fast.
  3. M.H. Escardo. Synthetic topology of data types and classical spaces. ENTCS, Elsevier, volume 87, pages 21-156, November 2004.I would nowadays call this algorithmic topology of program types, rather than synthetic topology of data types, and in future writings this is how I'll refer to it. It shows how notions and theorems from general topology can be directly mapped into programming languages (I use Haskell again). But it also shows how this can be mapped back to classical topology. Exhaustively searchable sets feature there as computational manifestations of compact sets.
  4. M.H. Escardo and W.K. Ho. Operational domain theory and topology of a sequential programming language. In Proceedings of the 20th Annual IEEE Symposium on Logic in Computer Science (LICS), June 2005, pages 427-436.If you want to learn a bit about the use of domain theory and topology for reasoning about programs, this is a possible starting point. Rather than defining a denotational semantics using domain theory and topology, we extract them directly from the operational semantics of the language (PCF, which can be regarded as a faithful subset of Haskell), side-stepping denotational semantics. Many definitions of domain theory and denotational semantics arise as theorems here. There is a proof of Berger's program, including the appropriate notion of modulus of uniform continuity needed for the proof.
  5. Dag Normann. Computing with functionals - computability theory or computer science? . Bulletin of Symbolic Logic, 12(1):43-59, 2006.This is a nice short history and survey of higher-type computability theory (the subject was established in the late 1950's by work of Kleene and Kreisel, but had some precursors). This theory is not well known among functional programmers, but it probably should be, at least among those with theoretical inclinations. Somebody someday should write an expository account to computer scientists.
  6. Alex Simpson. Lazy Functional Algorithms for Exact Real Functionals. In Mathematical Foundations of Computer Science 1998, Springer LNCS 1450, pp. 456-464, 1998.One can use infinite sequences to represent real numbers exactly. Using the universal quantification functional, Alex Simpson developed an algorithm for Riemann integration. The algorithm turns out to be inefficient, but this is not the universal quantifier's fault: the Haskell profiler tells me that the integration program performs about 10000 universal quantifications per second, 3000 of which return True.


I've found a way of making the fastest algorithm about 40 faster by avoiding the trees and instead treating functions as trees:

> find = find_viii
> findBit :: (Bit -> Bool) -> Bit
> findBit p = if p Zero then Zero else One
> branch :: Bit -> Cantor -> Cantor -> Cantor
> branch x l r n |  n == 0    = x
>                    |  odd n     = l ((n-1) `div` 2)
>                    |  otherwise = r ((n-2) `div` 2)
> find_viii :: (Cantor -> Bool) -> Cantor
> find_viii p = branch x l r
>  where x = findBit(\x -> forsome(\l -> forsome(\r -> p(branch x l r))))
>          l = find_viii(\l -> forsome(\r -> p(branch x l r)))
>          r = find_viii(\r -> p(branch x l r))

This doesn't need the memoization, because the things one needs to remember are bound to variables in the where-clause. Using this algorithm, comparing f' and g', and f' and h' for equality moves from 6.75 and 3.20 seconds to respectively 0.14 and 0.09 seconds (using the Glasgow interpreter in all cases).

[...] Actually this algorithm doesn’t quite work, as there are some a couple of details that I’ve omitted, but it is essentially correct.  For more information, see Alex Simpson’s paper, and for more on Berger’s work, see Martin Escardó’s blog post. [...]

[...] With Lazy Evaluation, an expression isn’t evaluated as soon as it is created; instead it is delayed until that expression’s value is needed. One of the neat tricks provided by lazy evaluation is the ability to work with infinite sets - for example, you can literally have a variable which holds all the natural numbers, all the primes, or all the Fibonacci numbers. This sometimes provides rather surprising results - such as the ability to exhaustively search over infinite spaces. [...]

Martin, this whole post was fascinating but even so those last two sentences pack the biggest punch of all. Where should I look for the follow-up?

Martin Escardo

The promised follow-up blog post hasn't been written, although there is a related one at

There are, however, a couple of papers that develop/apply these ideas, available from my web page, written after this post:

  1. Exhaustible sets in higher-type computation
  2. (With P. Oliva) Selection functions, bar recursion, and backward induction.
  3. Semi-decidability of may, must and probabilistic testing in a higher-type setting.
  4. Computability of continuous solutions of higher-type equations.

[...] few years ago, Martín Escardó wrote an article about a seemingly-impossible program that can exhaustively search the uncountably infinite [...]

[...] post was inspired by an interesting post I read called ‘Seemingly impossible functional programs‘, which is about how to write programs that search infinite spaces (elements of what I call [...]

Call me crazy, but I took the "You can't do this in Java" bet.

Here it comes: The seemingly impossible Java-implementation of a seemingly impossible functional problem:

Ok, I just implemented the first three find's and I admit that this implementation is a sure way to exhaust the Java-Stack quite easily (if you get a StackOverflow running this stuff you might have to use -Xss512m or something). For completeness I've added my own find-variant (FindJ), i.e. how would you solve this little problem in "regular Java", whatever that means (cough it's doing the examples above in <1ms cough).

Now, before the tomatoes fly: This is a hack! Also this is not about "my language is better than yours". Functional programming languages have their appeal and are able so solve certain types of problems in a very natural way, the Java-implementation is a syntactic mess in compassion. But: I seriously doubt that there are problems you can only solve with a functional programming language. After all the Haskell compiler can not do magic, even though it might seem so sometimes.

[...] infinite search algorithms, and indeed get them for free. This is a follow-up to my blog post Seemingly impossible functional programs. In the two papers Infinite sets that admit fast exhaustive search (LICS07) and Exhaustible sets in [...]

[...] Lorentz Center in Leiden, the Netherlands. I explain how to use computational effects to speed up Martin Escardo’s impossible functionals. December 6th, 2011 | Category: Talks, [...]

Ralph Loader

Do these work for functions that have state? To state precisely what's wanted one would have to be careful about extensionality (although you glossed over it, just as you need to be careful about totality in the pure functional setting).

[Even if the particular programs above don't work with stateful functions, the Kreisel-Lacombe-Shoenfield theorem makes one think that it is possible to do the same thing for stateful functions.]

@Ralph: This post is written in the context of purely functional programs, i.e., no state, and all functionals are presumed to be (hereditarily) total. With state things are more complicated (global state, local state, what does it mean for an extensional functional to use state?).

Yes, everything here is extensional and total, as Andrej says, and there are no effects. But Andrej gave a nice talk in MAP'2011 in the Lorentz Center showing how to do it faster with effects. But in this case, as you say, it is difficult to treat extensionality rigorously.

Ralph Loader

It turns out that you can give a sensible, negative, answer to my question. find can be parametrized with a monad pretty easily e.g., [conflating Bit and Bool to save typing].

module MFind where
import Control.Monad.State

findM :: Ord i => Monad m => ((i -> m Bool) -> m Bool) -> (i -> m Bool)
findM p n = do { x <- q (findM q) ; return (not x) }  where
   q a = p (\i -> if i == n then return False else
                 if i < n then findM p i else a i)

-- Make a dummy call to (c x), where x increments by 1 each time we're called.
-- Then return (c 5).
fifthWithDummy :: (Integer -> State Integer Bool) -> State Integer Bool
fifthWithDummy c = do
  x <- get
  put (x + 1)
  b <- c x
  if b then c 5 else c 5

-- Now compare
--   findM ($ 5) 0
-- with
--   runState (findM (fifthWithDummy) 0) 0

never returns.

@Martin: my talk about faster functionals using effects is on line.

[...] spaces and functions are secretly continuous. I have previously exploited this in the posts Seemingly impossible functional programs and A Haskell monad for infinite search in finite time, using the language Haskell. In languages [...]

[…] the post Seemingly impossible functional programs, I wrote increasingly efficient Haskell programs to realize the mathematical […]

Andrew Zabavnikov

Martin, please consider answering the following question:

Thanks in advance for attention :-)

[…] Seemingly impossible functional programs | Mathematics and Computation […]

[…] Escardó and Paulo Oliva on selection functions. For Haskell programmers, good places to start are Seemingly Impossible Functional Programs and What Sequential Games, the Tychonoff Theorem and the Double-Negation Shift Have in Common. I […]

[…] can also invert functions on infinite lazy data structures. And as a special case of this, we have Seemingly impossible functional programs. As you can see, in some sense, it is easier to invert a function on a domain containing infinitely […]

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