Lambda calculus (λ-calculus), originally created by Alonzo Church, is the world’s smallest programming language. Despite not having numbers, strings, booleans, or any non-function datatype, lambda calculus can be used to represent any Turing Machine!
Lambda calculus is composed of 3 elements: variables, functions, and applications.
||a variable named “x”|
||a function with parameter “x” and body “x”|
||calling the function “λx.x” with argument “a”|
The most basic function is the identity function:
λx.x which is equivalent to
f(x) = x. The first “x” is the function’s argument, and the second is the
body of the function.
λx.x, “x” is called a bound variable because it is both in the body of the function and a parameter.
λx.y, “y” is called a free variable because it is never declared before hand.
Evaluation is done via β-Reduction, which is essentially lexically-scoped substitution.
When evaluating the
(λx.x)a, we replace all occurences of “x” in the function’s body
You can even create higher-order functions:
Although lambda calculus traditionally supports only single parameter functions, we can create multi-parameter functions using a technique called currying.
(λx.λy.λz.xyz)is equivalent to
f(x, y, z) = ((x y) z)
λxy.<body> is used interchangeably with:
It’s important to recognize that traditional lambda calculus doesn’t have numbers, characters, or any non-function datatype!
There is no “True” or “False” in lambda calculus. There isn’t even a 1 or 0.
T is represented by:
F is represented by:
First, we can define an “if” function
b is True and
b is False
IF is equivalent to:
λb.λt.λf.b t f
IF, we can define the basic boolean logic operators:
a AND b is equivalent to:
λab.IF a b F
a OR b is equivalent to:
λab.IF a T b
a NOT b is equivalent to:
λa.IF a F T
IF a b c is essentially saying:
IF((a b) c)
Although there are no numbers in lambda calculus, we can encode numbers using Church numerals.
For any number n:
n = λf.fn so:
0 = λf.λx.x
1 = λf.λx.f x
2 = λf.λx.f(f x)
3 = λf.λx.f(f(f x))
To increment a Church numeral,
we use the successor function
S(n) = n + 1 which is:
S = λn.λf.λx.f((n f) x)
Using successor, we can define add:
ADD = λab.(a S)n
Challenge: try defining your own multiplication function!
Let S, K, I be the following functions:
I x = x
K x y = x
S x y z = x z (y z)
We can convert an expression in the lambda calculus to an expression in the SKI combinator calculus:
λx.x = I
λx.c = Kc
λx.(y z) = S (λx.y) (λx.z)
Take the church number 2 for example:
2 = λf.λx.f(f x)
For the inner part
= S (λx.f) (λx.(f x)) (case 3)
= S (K f) (S (λx.f) (λx.x)) (case 2, 3)
= S (K f) (S (K f) I) (case 2, 1)
= λf.λx.f(f x)
= λf.(S (K f) (S (K f) I))
= λf.((S (K f)) (S (K f) I))
= S (λf.(S (K f))) (λf.(S (K f) I)) (case 3)
For the first argument
λf.(S (K f)):
λf.(S (K f))
= S (λf.S) (λf.(K f)) (case 3)
= S (K S) (S (λf.K) (λf.f)) (case 2, 3)
= S (K S) (S (K K) I) (case 2, 3)
For the second argument
λf.(S (K f) I):
λf.(S (K f) I)
= λf.((S (K f)) I)
= S (λf.(S (K f))) (λf.I) (case 3)
= S (S (λf.S) (λf.(K f))) (K I) (case 2, 3)
= S (S (K S) (S (λf.K) (λf.f))) (K I) (case 1, 3)
= S (S (K S) (S (K K) I)) (K I) (case 1, 2)
Merging them up:
= S (λf.(S (K f))) (λf.(S (K f) I))
= S (S (K S) (S (K K) I)) (S (S (K S) (S (K K) I)) (K I))
Expanding this, we would end up with the same expression for the church number 2 again.
The SKI combinator calculus can still be reduced further. We can
remove the I combinator by noting that
I = SKK. We can substitute
The SK combinator calculus is still not minimal. Defining:
ι = λf.((f S) K)
I = ιι K = ι(ιI) = ι(ι(ιι)) S = ι(K) = ι(ι(ι(ιι)))
Originally contributed by Max Sun, and updated by 3 contributor(s).