Is Logic Programming Mathematical Logic

Is Logic Programming Mathematical Logic?

The means of combination used in the query language may at first seem identical to the operations and, or, and not of mathematical logic, and the application of query-language rules is in fact accomplished through a legitimate method of inference. This identification of the query language with mathematical logic is not really valid, though, because the query language provides a control structure that interprets the logical statements procedurally. We can often take advantage of this control structure. For example, to find all of the supervisors of programmers we could formulate a query in either of two logically equivalent forms:

(and (job ?x (computer programmer))
     (supervisor ?x ?y))


(and (supervisor ?x ?y)
     (job ?x (computer programmer)))

If a company has many more supervisors than programmers (the usual case), it is better to use the first form rather than the second because the data base must be scanned for each intermediate result (frame) produced by the first clause of the and.

The aim of logic programming is to provide the programmer with techniques for decomposing a computational problem into two separate problems: "what" is to be computed, and "how" this should be computed. This is accomplished by selecting a subset of the statements of mathematical logic that is powerful enough to be able to describe anything one might want to compute, yet weak enough to have a controllable procedural interpretation. The intention here is that, on the one hand, a program specified in a logic programming language should be an effective program that can be carried out by a computer. Control ("how" to compute) is effected by using the order of evaluation of the language. We should be able to arrange the order of clauses and the order of subgoals within each clause so that the computation is done in an order deemed to be effective and efficient. At the same time, we should be able to view the result of the computation ("what" to compute) as a simple consequence of the laws of logic.

Our query language can be regarded as just such a procedurally interpretable subset of mathematical logic. An assertion represents a simple fact (an atomic proposition). A rule represents the implication that the rule conclusion holds for those cases where the rule body holds. A rule has a natural procedural interpretation: To establish the conclusion of the rule, establish the body of the rule. Rules, therefore, specify computations. However, because rules can also be regarded as statements of mathematical logic, we can justify any "inference" accomplished by a logic program by asserting that the same result could be obtained by working entirely within mathematical logic.

Infinite Loops

A consequence of the procedural interpretation of logic programs is that it is possible to construct hopelessly inefficient programs for solving certain problems. An extreme case of inefficiency occurs when the system falls into infinite loops in making deductions. As a simple example, suppose we are setting up a data base of famous marriages, including

(assert! (married Minnie Mickey))

If we now ask

(married Mickey ?who)

we will get no response, because the system doesn't know that if A is married to B, then B is married to A. So we assert the rule

(assert! (rule (married ?x ?y)
               (married ?y ?x)))

and again query

(married Mickey ?who)

Unfortunately, this will drive the system into an infinite loop, as follows:

  • The system finds that the married rule is applicable; that is, the rule conclusion (married ?x ?y) successfully unifies with the query pattern (married Mickey ?who) to produce a frame in which ?x is bound to Mickey and ?y is bound to ?who. So the interpreter proceeds to evaluate the rule body (married ?y ?x) in this frame -- in effect, to process the query (married ?who Mickey).
  • One answer appears directly as an assertion in the data base: (married Minnie Mickey).
  • The married rule is also applicable, so the interpreter again evaluates the rule body, which this time is equivalent to (married Mickey ?who).

The system is now in an infinite loop. Indeed, whether the system will find the simple answer (married Minnie Mickey) before it goes into the loop depends on implementation details concerning the order in which the system checks the items in the data base. This is a very simple example of the kinds of loops that can occur. Collections of interrelated rules can lead to loops that are much harder to anticipate, and the appearance of a loop can depend on the order of clauses in an and or on low-level details concerning the order in which the system processes queries.

Problems with not

Another quirk in the query system concerns not. Given the Microshaft data base introduced earlier, consider the following two queries:

(and (supervisor ?x ?y)
     (not (job ?x (computer programmer))))
(and (not (job ?x (computer programmer)))
     (supervisor ?x ?y))

These two queries do not produce the same result. The first query begins by finding all entries in the data base that match(supervisor ?x ?y), and then filters the resulting frames by removing the ones in which the value of ?x satisfies(job ?x (computer programmer)). The second query begins by filtering the incoming frames to remove those that can satisfy (job ?x (computer programmer)). Since the only incoming frame is empty, it checks the data base to see if there are any patterns that satisfy (job ?x (computer programmer)). Since there generally are entries of this form, the not clause filters out the empty frame and returns an empty stream of frames. Consequently, the entire compound query returns an empty stream.

The trouble is that our implementation of not really is meant to serve as a filter on values for the variables. If a not clause is processed with a frame in which some of the variables remain unbound (as does ?x in the example above), the system will produce unexpected results. Similar problems occur with the use of lisp-value -- the Lisp predicate can't work if some of its arguments are unbound.

There is also a much more serious way in which the not of the query language differs from the not of mathematical logic. In logic, we interpret the statement "not P" to mean that P is not true. In the query system, however, "not P" means that P is not deducible from the knowledge in the data base. For example, given the Microshaft data base, the system would happily deduce all sorts of not statements, such as that Ben Bitdiddle is not a baseball fan, that it is not raining outside, and that 2 + 2 is not 4.78 In other words, the not of logic programming languages reflects the so-called closed world assumption that all relevant information has been included in the data base.


In this subsection, you learned:

  • Logical programming is a procedurally interpretable subset of mathematical logic.
  • There are pitfalls: loops and not.