Index

# Successor

(There's a list with all the lambda notes here.)

We have made some numbers and some functions for working with numbers. Also some other datatypes.

We haven’t really done so here, but sometimes when we define numbers we fuss more about how they are constructed, about what the constructors are. We say things like: “A natural number is zero or it is the successor of a natural number.” (In a Standard ML we might say: `datatype nat = Zero | Succ of nat`)

We can do something similar but with the lambdas.

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We already know what zero looks like:

We do not know that successor looks like:

It takes a number, `n`, as its argument. `S` applied to `n` should return a number that is one larger than `n`.

(Remember: The number `n` is a function that, if given two arguments, applies the first argument `n` times to the second.)

So, `S` takes a number, `n`, as its argument, and returns one of those `λf.λx.`-functions. Within that function we do `n f x` (we apply `n` to `f` and `x`). This should amount to applying `f``n` times” to `x`. And then we apply `f` to the result of `n f x”, so that in total `f` should be applied “`n`+1 times” to `x`.`

We can test it some and see if it looks right:

And like that’s it, that’s our successor. Maybe less impressive than the addition and multiplication functions we did earlier. But it’s kind of cool:

• We have zero-and-successor constructors. Much like the grown-ups have.
• We can build any natural number with `0` and `S`. We have `0`, and we can throw `S`es at it until we have the number we really want.
• Related: We kind of don’t really have to write the `λf.λx.`-bit ever again. Unless we want to. If we’re defining addition and we stick to `0` and `S`, we won’t have to do the `λf.λx.`-bit in order to construct the result-number.

Will take a look at that last ting later.