# The Lambda Calculus¶

Note

These slides are also available in PDF format: 4:3 PDF, 16:9 PDF, 16:10 PDF.

## A Quote to Start the Day¶

You realize that everything can be done with function composition?… It’s called lambda calculus.

—Joseph McKinsey

## The Lambda Calculus¶

The $$λ$$-calculus is a mathematical language of lambda terms bound by a set of transformation rules. The $$λ$$-calculus notation was introduced in the 1930s by Alonzo Church.

Just like programming languages, the $$λ$$-calculus has rules for what is a valid syntax:

Variables: A variable (such as $$x$$) is valid term in the $$λ$$-calculus. If $$t$$ is a term and $$x$$ is a variable, then the term $$λx.t$$ is a lambda abstraction. If $$t$$ and $$s$$ are terms, then $$ts$$ is the application term of $$t$$ onto $$s$$.

## Anonymous Functions¶

Lambda abstractions can be thought of as anonymous functions in the $$λ$$-calculus.

A lambda abstraction which takes an $$x$$ and returns a $$t$$ is written as so:

$λx.t$

Example

Suppose in mathematics we define a function $$f(x) = x + 2$$. This could be written as $$(λ x.x + 2)$$ in the $$λ$$-calculus . Of course, this function is anonymous and not bound to the name $$f$$.

  Of course, we haven’t said that either $$+$$ nor $$2$$ is valid in lambda calculus yet. We will get to that…

## Functions are First Class¶

In the $$λ$$-calculus, abstractions are not only first class functions, they are our only way of to encode data.

Abstractions are used to encode everything:

• Numbers
• Booleans (true/false)
• Conses

## Currying¶

Since abstractions in the $$λ$$-calculus may only take one argument, currying is typically used to denote functions of multiple arguments. For example, the function $$f(x, y) = x$$ might be written as:

$λx.(λy.x)$

Further, function application is left-associative, so $$fxy$$ means $$(fx)y$$.

## Free and Bound Variables¶

The $$λ$$ operator (which creates lambda abstractions) binds a variable to wherever it occurs in the expression.

• Variables which are bound in an expression are called bound variables
• Variables which are not bound in an expression are called free variables

Example

With your learning group, identify the free and bound variables in this expression:

$λx.(λy.zy)(zx)$

## Transformations¶

$$\alpha$$-conversion:
Allows variables to be renamed to non-colliding names. For example, $$λx.x$$ is $$\alpha$$-equivalent to $$λy.y$$.
$$\beta$$-reduction:
Allows functions to be applied. For example, $$(λx.λy.x)(λx.x)$$ is $$\beta$$-equivalent to $$λy.(λx.x)$$.
$$\eta$$-conversion:
Allows functions with the same external properties to be substituted. For example, $$(λx.(fx))$$ is $$\eta$$-equivalent to $$f$$ if $$x$$ is not a free variable in $$f$$.

## Examples: Alpha Equivalence¶

With your learning group, identify if each of the following are a valid $$\alpha$$-conversion. Turn in your answers on a sheet of paper with all of your names at the end of class for learning group participation credit for today.

1. $$λx.λx.x \to λy.λy.y$$
2. $$λx.λx.x \to λy.λx.x$$
3. $$λx.λx.x \to λy.λx.y$$
4. $$λx.λy.x \to λy.λy.y$$

## Examples: Beta Reductions¶

Fully $$\beta$$-reduce each of the following expressions:

1. $$(λx.λy.λf.fxy)(λx.λy.y)(λx.λy.x)(λx.λy.y)$$
2. $$(λa.λb.a(λb.λf.λx.f(bfx))b)(λf.λx.fx)(λf.λx.f(fx))$$

## Church Numerals¶

Since all data in the $$λ$$-calculus must be a function, we use a clever convention of functions (called Church numerals) to define numbers:

0: $$λf.λx.x$$ $$λf.λx.fx$$ $$λf.λx.f(fx)$$ $$λf.λx.f(f(fx))$$

… and so on. In fact, the successor to any number $$n$$ can be written as:

$λf.λx.f(nfx)$

Notice this

Defining numbers as functions in this way allows us to apply a Chuch numeral $$n$$ to a function to get a new function that applies the original function $$n$$ times.

## Shorthand Notations¶

While it’s not a defined part of the $$λ$$-calculus, we define common shorthands for some features:

• $$0, 1, 2, \ldots$$ are shorthand for their corresponding Church numerals
• $$\{\text{SUCC}\} = λn.λf.λx.f(nfx)$$

Note

The notation “$$=$$” above is not a part of the $$λ$$-calculus. I’m using it for saying “is shorthand for”.

Adding $$m$$ to $$n$$ can be thought of as taking the successor to $$n$$, $$m$$ times. Using our shorthand $$\text{SUCC}$$, this can be written as:

$\{\text{ADD}\} = λm.λn.(m \,\{\text{SUCC}\}\, n)$

Similarly, multiplying $$m$$ by $$n$$ can be thought of as repeating $$\text{ADD}\, n$$, $$m$$ times and then applying it to $$0$$, this can be written as:

$\{\text{MULT}\} = λm.λn.(m (\{\text{ADD}\}\, n) 0)$

## Boolean Logic¶

We use the following convention for true and false:

$\begin{split}\begin{split} \{\text{TRUE}\} &= λx.λy.x \\ \{\text{FALSE}\} &= λx.λy.y \qquad\text{(Church numeral zero}) \end{split}\end{split}$

From here, we can define some common boolean operators:

$\begin{split}\begin{split} \{\text{AND}\} &= λp.λq.p q p \\ \{\text{OR}\} &= λp.λq.p p q \\ \{\text{NOT}\} &= λp.p\ \{\text{FALSE}\}\ \{\text{TRUE}\} \\ \{\text{IF}\} &= λp.λa.λb.p a b \\ & \text{ (returns a if the predicate is TRUE, b otherwise)} \end{split}\end{split}$

## Cons Cells¶

By convention, we will represent a cons cell as a function that applies its argument to the CAR and CDR of the cons cell. This leads to the shorthand:

$\begin{split}\begin{split} \{\text{CONS}\} &= λx.λy.λf.f x y \\ \{\text{CAR}\} &= λc.c\ \{\text{TRUE}\} \\ \{\text{CDR}\} &= λc.c\ \{\text{FALSE}\} \\ \{\text{NIL}\} &= λx.\{\text{TRUE}\} \\ \end{split}\end{split}$

Using this, we can define lists:

$(\{\text{CONS}\}\, 1\ (\{\text{CONS}\}\, 2\ (\{\text{CONS}\}\, 3\ \{\text{NIL}\})))$

## What else is there in Lambda Calculus?¶

• Getting the predecessor ({PRD}) for a Church Numeral is hard, but doable (extra credit). To subtract $$m$$ from $$n$$, apply the {PRD} function $$m$$ times to $$n$$.
• For recursion, we need to reference ourselves in a lambda abstraction. This is done using a Y-combinator.
• The graduate level Theory of Computation (CSCI 561) class talks much more extensively about the $$λ$$-calculus.
• There are many extensions to the $$λ$$-calculus such as those encoded by the $$λ$$-cube. ## Why is any of this Useful?¶

• $$λ$$-calculus can emulate a Turing machine. That means that anything you can do with a classical computer, you can do with the $$λ$$-calculus. This fact underpins all of functional programming.
• Many functional programming languages (e.g., Haskell, Scheme, SlytherLisp) are just practical implementations of the $$λ$$-calculus.
• The $$λ$$-calculus gives us another perspective on type theory (using the generalization of the $$λ$$-calculus called typed $$λ$$-calculus).
• It is another way for us to quantify what is computable.