[Haskell-cafe] Re: Fixed-Point Combinators

Jon Fairbairn jon.fairbairn at cl.cam.ac.uk
Thu Jul 17 04:07:59 EDT 2008

Adrian Neumann <aneumann at inf.fu-berlin.de> writes:

> Hello,
> while studying for a exam I came across this little pearl:
> Y = (L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L)
> where
> L = λabcdefghijklmnopqstuvwxyzr. (r (t h i s i s a f i x e d
> p o i n  t c o m b i n a t o r))
> posted by Cale Gibbard to this list. Now I'm wondering how
> exactly  does one finde such awesome λ expressions?

In this particular case, once one has seen the Turing fixed
point combinator, I think it's fairly obvious. The idea this
is, we want a fixpoint combinator; let's assume we can make
it by applying one thing to another. F G. We want 

(F G f) = f (F G f)

so F has got to look something like \g f -> f (F g f). Oh,
but where are we going to get another F without a fixpoint
combinator? I know, how about passing it in as g?  now F =
(\g f -> f (g g f)), which works so long as the argument
given for g is F. So Y = F F.

Now, one can look at this as "F is half of a fixpoint
combinator", so what about one third of a fixpoint
combinator?  ie T T T f = f (T T T f) Clearly T has to look
like (\t2 t3 f -> f (T T T f)), and the same reasoning
applies.  Obviously it doesn't matter what you call the
bound variables.

> Is there some mathemagical background that lets one
> conjure such beasts?

If you play around with lambda expressions and combinators
enough, they'll come to you in your dreams. To what extent
this is a Good Thing is a matter of personal taste.

Jón Fairbairn                                 Jon.Fairbairn at cl.cam.ac.uk
http://www.chaos.org.uk/~jf/Stuff-I-dont-want.html  (updated 2008-04-26)

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