Experiments with a little lisper tutorial

I used the excellent lambda calculus tutorial by Mayer Goldberg from the little-lisper.org for some experiments in chemlambda.

UPDATE: See also the post The working factorial and the video


There are five of them.

The mentioned tutorial is the source for the lambda term which I translated into chemlambda and then used in the Ackermann function demos. The most outrageously successful is the computation of Ack(2,2) while self-multiplicating. The daughter molecules do not end at the same time, moreover.

Here is a video of a screen recording at 2X speed.

Now, there is a very puzzling thing here. In chemlambda with a random, purely local graph rewriting algorithm I can compute the Ackermann function. But what about simpler functions, like the factorial?

I tried the easy way consisting into translation of lambda terms for the factorial into chemlambda and the results are ugly. As a geometer who wants to decipher computation without using variables, values, variable passing or evaluations, I know that chemlambda is different because of this feature it has: it uses something like signal transduction instead of gates-and-wires general model from IT. So there has to be consequences of that.

Let’s see what happens in the case of the factorial. In this demo I took the lambda term from the same tutorial, par. 57, page 14. I hoped will work better than other proposals, based on the experience with the Ackermann function. I noticed in other experiments with terms for the factorial that the reduction in chemlambda is extremely wasteful, producing thousands of nodes and lots of trash. Moreover, there is a problem with the fix point combinator, explained in the article with Louis Kauffman Chemlambda, universality and self multiplication, and described in the older demos like this one. In chemlambda, the molecule which corresponds to the Y combinator reduces to a very simple one (which does not has an equivalent as a lambda term), made by only two nodes, fanout and application. Then the molecule becomes a gun which shoots pairs of fanout and application node. There is no mystery about the Y combinator in chemlambda, the real mechanism of it consists in the self-multiplication by the fanout node. [Note: in the old demo and in the article linked there is no FOE fanout. The FOE and the moves associated to it are a recent addition to the formalism, see the page of moves.]

The problem of using the Y combinator is that it never stops generating pairs of A and FOE nodes. In a computation which implements recurrence by the Y combinator, at some point, according to a IFTHENELSE or ISZERO, the cycle of Y is broken. But in chemlambda the Y gun molecule continues to exist and this leads to a never ending computation. From one side this is OK, see for example the life-like computations with chemlambda quines. Actually there is a stronger relation between chemlambda quines and the Y combinator molecule. One can design the computation to be such that when the Y molecule is no longer needed, it is encapsulated into a quine, but this is for another time to explain in detail.

I come back to the factorial example. In the demo I linked you can see that the computation of the factorial is wasteful (and paradoxically leads to a Y molecule), even if it does not use a fix point combinator.


First I thought it is because of currying and uncurrying. In chemlambda, because it is a graph rewrite system, there is no particular need to use currying all the time.

Then, to check this, I modified the molecule from the little lisper tutorial in order to geometrically compute the repeated application of a function f(a,b)=(succ(a), succ(a)b). The function is a piece of a graph with two in and two out links which is self-multiplying under the action of a number in the Church encoding.

Here is a successful computation with this molecule. But does it work all the time or have I been lucky? The reduction algorithm is random and different runs may give different results. It is the case with the Ackermann function computation as well, but that one was successful all the time.

Oh, it turns out that the computation with that molecule works well in about 20% of the runs. Here is an unsuccessful run.

So there is still a problem, but which one?

Under close examination the computation is still wasteful, because of the term (piece of molecule) c0, for the 0 in the Church encoding. In chemlambda this term corresponds to a small molecule which has a termination node inside.

When we want to thrash, like programmers do, something useless, in chemlambda the useless piece does not disappear. Is like in nature, the thing continues to exist and continues to interact, while in the process of degradation, with the rest of the environment.

The termination node, via the PRUNING moves, destroys slowly the useless part, but pother pieces form the useless part continue to interact with the rest of the graph.

Is this the problem?

In order to check this I further modified the molecule which was successful 20% of the time. I just replaced c0 by c1, which is the (molecule for) the lambda term for 1 in the Church encoding. Now, c1 does not have any termination node inside.

The price is that I no longer compute the factorial, but instead I compute the repeatedly applied function

F(a,b)=(succ(a), tms(a,b))

where tms(a,b)=ab+1. Here is a demo for the computation of tms(3,3) in chemlambda., and further is a video for tms(5,5)=26, where you can see a new creature, more complex than the walker discover in the predecessor.

I checked to see what is the closed expression, if any, for the function I compute, namely

f(0)=1, f(n+1) = (n+1)f(n) + 1

and the Wolfram Alpha engine has an interesting answer.

Well, this time I hit the right spot. The computation works, again and again and again.

So we have to learn to program ecologically with chemlambda.



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